All of these matchups are important, but this one could well decide the game. How well can McCoy throw the ball? It better be well enough to push the Sooners into more two-deep looks, otherwise Oklahoma is simply going to load up the box with more defenders than the Longhorns can block. Texas would love to run the ball in this contest, but in order to do so effectively, McCoy has to present a credible threat through the air. It would especially help if McCoy could somehow catch one of them over the top on a deep ball. And of course, McCoy will have to avoid turnovers if Texas is going to have any chance at all.
Texas linebackers versus Blake Bell, Oklahoma quarterback
Wondering why Texas is pairing Dalton Santos and Steve Edmond? A big part of that decision has to stem with the fact that the Longhorns have to throw some extra bulk at the Sooners' 250-plus-pound battering ram of a quarterback, especially considering that he's going to have some power runs where he gets behind another 250-pounder in fullback Trey Millard. Texas has struggled to stop the quarterback run game at times, and the burly Bell represents a different kind of challenge than the one presented by the speed threats Texas has seen. At the same time, Bell thrives as a passer when he can make quick reads and get the ball out of his hands quickly on short and intermediate throws. The linebackers have a brutal job … they'll have to rally quickly to slow Bell's momentum while at the same time showing well on the horizontal and quick throws that Oklahoma loves to utilize.
Texas interior offensive line versus the Oklahoma defensive tackles
Texas has struggled with two kinds of defensive linemen in the past two seasons. First, the Longhorns have had some issues with big, powerful nose tackles who align head-up on center Dominic Espinosa. And recently, they've had some troubles with quick defensive linemen running stunts and twists. Oklahoma can present both of those challenges, particularly if massive nose tackle Jordan Phillips is able to play at a high level after last week's injury. Either way, Texas will have to handle the challenge and come out and play physically up front to open up holes for the running game. The Longhorns won't be able to win without them.
Texas cornerbacks versus the Oklahoma wide receivers
Texas may need to allocate extra defenders itself to stop the Oklahoma running game, and that means that the cornerbacks are going to be on islands against a talented Sooner receiving corps. But this doesn't just relate to limiting big plays or shutting down their men. Oklahoma will try to stress the defense horizontally with stretch plays and bubble screens. That means that Texas's cornerbacks are going to have to man up on the boundaries and not allow themselves to be blocked. They'll have to shed, set the edge and tackle in space. It's a tall order, particularly on some of the Sooners' receivers, but it's also necessary.
Texas wide receivers versus the Oklahoma cornerbacks
This relates to the first matchup. Texas's receivers have to win their matchups against Aaron Colvin and Zack Sanchez. I'm not just talking about deep balls either (though getting free for a couple big plays wouldn't hurt). The receivers have to make McCoy's job easier, and that involves getting open on key downs and also slipping tackles in space. Texas wasn't able to take advantage of Iowa State crowding the box because the Cyclones were able to play one-on-one on the outside, taking away the quick hitch that Texas wanted to run. The Longhorns have to make it to where they can't be defended with one man to help stretch out the linebackers and add a need for safety help.
X-Factor: Stopping the run
Both teams enter Saturday's matchup as significantly better running teams than they are passing teams. So the key, then, will be which team does a better of stopping the other team's running game. At first glance, the Sooners have a huge advantage here. Not only do they have the more dynamic running game thanks to Bell's abilities in that area, but they've been significantly better at stopping the run than Texas has. But at the same time, Oklahoma will be without top linebacker Corey Nelson, and Phillips's situation is in doubt. That would leave the Sooners without their top two run defenders, and this is a defense that can be hurt by Johnathan Gray and Co.
In a rivalry game, there really aren't too many shocking outcomes. Momentum swings, turnovers, big plays, injuries — all can tilt a game one way or another. The only outcome that would SHOCK me would be for Texas to blow Oklahoma out. Other than that, I think everything is in play. Having said that, on paper, this matchup is clearly tilted one way. There's just so much that Texas has to do right … that the Longhorns haven't done right, either this season or in recent Red River matchups. That's not to say it CAN'T be done, but simply that I don't think it's likely. The Longhorns will probably be more competitive than people think, but I think this is probably a two-score game for much of the contest that gets away from the 'Horns late.
TEXAS — 24
Oklahoma — 41