When Oklahoma and Texas take the field at the Cotton Bowl on Saturday they will look eerily similar. The two teams are ranked No. 2 and No. 3 in the country depending on what poll you follow. Their stats are similar. Their offenses are similar and they run their kicking games almost the same.
However, the big difference going into this game is attitude of the two teams and their head coaches. Oklahoma is the underdog, but from watching, listening and reading about them they might as well be the favorites. Oklahoma is loose, confident and they have a total belief that their game plan and team will beat the favored Longhorns for the third straight year.
"We have had great practices this week, probably the best week of practice since I have been the coach here," said Head Coach Bob Stoops following Thursday's workout. "We love our game plan and the guys are executing it very well. Nate is throwing the ball great and our wide receivers have really stepped up and caught the ball. We are running well on defense and our offensive line seems ready to go."
Stoops also isn't worried about being overconfident.
"Why shouldn't we be confident? We are a good football team," Stoops continued. "We are not cocky, but I think we are confident and should be confident."
"We have won a lot of big football games around here and we have a lot of guys on this football team that have played and won a lot of big football games. We have a lot of guys who have beaten Texas the last two years and won a national championship. We know how to prepare for a big game, how to get ready mentally and how to play in a big game. So, yes, we are confident going into the game. We like the gameplan and we like how we have practiced. We are ready to go play the game. I only wish it was already here. We can't wait for Saturday."
It's no surprise that I feel the key for the Sooners on Saturday will be their offensive line, Nate Hybl and defensive line.
Texas is going to go all out to put pressure on Hybl and their offensive line must be up to the challenge. Davin Joseph will get more work at offensive guard against Texas and Jerod Fields will spell Wes Sims some. This will give both Sims and Mike Skinner a blow from time to time.
"We had a great week of practice and now it is time to strap it on and see who is better," said offensive line coach Kevin Wilson. "We are tired of talking and we are ready to go hit somebody in Orange."
The Sooners are determined to run the ball and they feel they can run it against Texas. OU will make every effort to establish a running game. Renaldo Works took some snaps in the I-formation this week and let's hope that he gets more snaps in the game.
Hybl has been fantastic for the Sooners thus far this year. What is ironic is that his counterpart, Chris Simms, is much more highly-regarded, but in reality Hybl is having the better year. Hybl is second in passing in the Big 12 Conference and the Sooners have a better passing offense than Texas entering the game.
Hybl is calm before the big game and he has gained the confidence of his entire team. Hybl knows this is his opportunity to lead the Sooners to greatness and he is poised and ready to go.
"I have never been more ready for a game than I am for this one," said Hybl. "I have never wanted to play in a game more than this one, but I am not anxious about it. I have played in big games here before. I came to OU to play in big games and I expected to be playing in them, so the fact I will play in one doesn't scare me. In fact, it is what I want and I can't wait until Saturday."
Oklahoma's defensive line is being called out. Texas believes that they have the better defensive line and from what they have seen this year, the OU defensive line is not as good as advertised.
Tommie Harris had a good week of practice, but he is not 100 percent. Tommie limps off the field after every practice, but does go through every practice. Tommie indicated this week that he is not 100 percent as said, and he hopes to be at 90 percent for the Longhorns. Is a Tommie Harris at 90 percent good enough to beat Texas? Yes.
Jimmy Wilkerson hasn't been Jimmy Wilkerson yet either, however he has dropped five more pounds this week and says he feels quicker. Wilkerson told me he will have a break out game against Texas. I am not sure what that means, but maybe it means he comes home with Simms head.
Look for Pasha Jackson to play more this week and blitz from his strongside linebacker spot. All three linebackers will be called upon to blitz through much of the game as the Sooner defensive coaches feel their secondary can matchup and cover Texas long enough for the blitz to get to Simms.
Andre Woolfolk is totally healthy and has looked great at practice. In fact, the two weeks off must have helped Woolfolk get his legs back. Woolfolk and Derrick Strait have kicked Longhorn tail the last two years and why should anything be different? The Longhorns' star wide receiver Roy Williams isn't healthy and that hurts the Texas.
The Sooners had both Travis Wilson and Hybl punt this week and Wilson was pretty impressive. The Sooner coaches were giving some serious discussion on whether to punt Wilson instead of Blake Ferguson on Saturday.
I don't think Wilson will get the first kick against the Longhorns, but Ferguson better kick it well, because Wilson was impressive enough for Bob Stoops to go to.
The Sooners will also look for ways to get Mark Clayton and Will Peoples on the field at the same time. They have been playing the same positions, but Clayton is versatile and can play all three positions.
Finally, and couple of big points. Oklahoma is firmly in the mind of Mack Brown and Chris Simms, and no matter how hard they try they can not get Oklahoma out of their heads.
The thoughts are negative and scary for Simms. Simms is terrible in big games and he has been worse against Oklahoma. What is worse for Simms is that his team knows that Simms has been horrible against Oklahoma and this time there is no Major Applewhite to bail him out. However, Applewhite does critique him on his weekly radio show. That has to be fun for Chris.
Mack hasn't won the big game either. He has never won a conference championship or beaten the Sooners in a big game. To be honest, I don't hold it against him for not winning an ACC title at North Carolina. He did a great job at UNC, but Florida State was just too good at the time.
Mack has been good at Texas and the Longhorns are definitely contenders for the Big 12 and national title. However, Stoops has his number and he knows it. Stoops is as confident as Mack would like to be. Stoops coaches on the edge like Mack would like to and Stoops is even better when he speaks to the media and the general public. No, Mack can't get Stoops out of his head and this is not good in the fourth quarter of a tight ballgame.
If Simms and Mack aren't on solid mental ground then the edge goes to OU.
Finally, I had a chance to talk to Oklahoma's Roy Williams this week. Roy said that he only talked about OU/Texas to one reporter this week and I am proud to say that was me. Now, here is what Roy wanted me to pass along to you loyal Sooner fans.
"I hate Texas and have hated Texas ever since we lost to them my sophomore year," said Williams on KREF Tuesday morning. After we lost I was walking up the ramp and Major Applewhite was talking trash to me. I couldn't believe that Major Applewhite of all people was talking trash to me and I couldn't do anything about it. Well, the next two years I did do something about it and paid them back in a big way. I didn't really talk trash to them, because that is not my style."
"However, this Saturday I am going to get back at Texas," Williams continued. "I know that Chris Simms thinks that I am gone and he won't have to deal with me this year, well he is wrong."
"I am going to be on that sideline Saturday and I am going to be talking trash to Simms and the rest of the Longhorns. I am going to be on his sideline and standing right beside him and talking trash to him. He thinks I am gone, but he is going to see me all over the place. It is going to screw him up and I am going to talk trash to him the entire game. That is not normally what I like to do, but duty calls and I am going to take up for my boys at Oklahoma. And as for Simms, please throw me another pass."
Oklahoma 21 Texas 17.
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