NORMAN - Having grown up on the West Coast, far removed from the hype and competitive chaos known as the Red River Rivalry, one might forgive Lance Mitchell if he treated the annual OU-Texas battle as just another game. After all, the 6-foot-3, 244-pound linebacker had no idea what a Longhorn was until he became a Sooner.
But that's not how Mitchell operates.
With the big game less than 24 hours away, Mitchell's anticipation level is rising by the minute and it?s almost certain he's already putting his game face on.
Sooners Illustrated editor Jay C. Upchurch caught up with the Sooner senior this week and talked about Saturday's showdown and everything involved.
SI: How is this game different than the other big games you play during the season?
Mitchell: Being politically correct, I'd probably say every game is the same for us. But the truth is this one has a lot more meaning to it. It's a lot different. We don't play many games where the intensity reaches this kind of level. The whole atmosphere is crazy and the outcome always seems to mean more.
SI: Do you approach it differently?
Mitchell: I always prepare the same. Work hard, know what to expect and be strong mentally - it doesn't change much.
SI: What are the keys for this defense to be successful?
Mitchell: Shut down the running game, like always. We'll stick to the same game plan we always use. Prepare hard and try to stop the run.
SI: How big is it to stop Vince Young?
Mitchell: The most important thing we'll do outside of containing (Cedric) Benson. We feel if we can handle those two guys pretty well we'll be successful.
SI: Are there areas with the defense right now that you guys need to 'fix' before Saturday?
Mitchell: Not really. We haven't played a great game yet, but we're improving every time out and I suspect we'll be at our best against Texas.
SI: Talk about the atmosphere of an OU-Texas game. Is there anything else
Mitchell: Nothing. As soon as you ride into the fairgrounds, it's pretty easy to see it's different. Police escorts and fans cheering for you and against you on either side of the bus. Once you're in the stadium. that's when you
really feel the energy. It's everything you expect and more.
SI: What were your first impressions from your initial OU-Texas game?
Mitchell: It was a hard-fought game. Just the atmosphere and the way we battled from behind. I loved it. I had never been in a game like that, with that kind of excitement and that kind of electricity.
SI: When do you start letting yourself think about OU-Texas?
Mitchell: It's a gradual process. It starts right after the game the week before and just kind of builds the whole week long. The keys for me are to stay calm and stay focused - you don't want to get too overly excited too soon. By the time Friday gets here, you're ready to go. The butterflies start until that first moment of contact. That's why I like to play defense to start the game. I get to hit someone and that gets me going.
Mitchell gearing up for big rivalry
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