Some will disagree with this, but a win over No. 10 Oklahoma could help change the narrative around Charlie Strong and his Longhorns. But it will be a difficult task to leave the Cotton Bowl with win No. 2 of the season if Texas cannot put the last few weeks in the past.
While there are many areas where Texas needs to improve upon coming off the 50-7 loss to TCU, here are my top five changes the Longhorns need to make in order to compete with the Sooners.
No. 1: Special Teams: Do your job!
Whether it was Samantha Ponder and David Pollack calling out Nick Rose's missed PAT against Oklahoma State on College Gameday’s #YouHadOneJob segment, or CBS Sports tweeting a video of Kyle Ashby’s botched snap that led to TCU safety, Texas special teams have become a college football punch line this season.
The number of miscues and errors by Texas special teams is larger than I have ever witnessed in my years covering and watching college football. I cannot recall a special teams unit that has played worse than Texas, and quite frankly, it needs to stop. The crowd noise, which typically causes a huge shift of momentum in one team’s favor, is simply one of the reasons why the Red River Shootout is one of the greatest atmospheres in college football. But if that momentum is shifting against you, it can be kryptonite to the team’s success.
As corny as the segment may be, Ponder and Pollack’s message to Rose was spot on, but it’s time for the message to expand beyond Rose.
So I offer Michael Dickson, Kyle Ashby, Rose and any other specialists on the roster a word of advice: YOU HAVE ONE JOB. If you mess it up against Oklahoma, it could destroy your team’s chances for success.
No. 2: Dominate the line of scrimmage
Texas has failed to dominate the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball this season. That needs to change.
It’s no secret the offensive line has struggled to protect the QB and open holes for the run game, but it needs to snap out of it against Oklahoma. The Sooners are coming off of a game where the defense forced five turnovers and sacked West Virginia quarterback Skyler Howard seven times.
But the Sooners defense has shown signs of weakness in other games this season, including giving up 603 total yards at home to Tulsa.
Heading into this season, coaches and players praised the Longhorns defensive line, and even mentioned it as a strength of the team. Sure the d-line has gotten pressure on opposing quarterbacks and the defense has accumulated 16 quarterback hurries thus far, but how many of those QBH should have been sacks if the defense managed to finish the play? I don’t know the number off of the top of my head, but my guess would be A LOT.
When the Longhorns upset the Sooners in 2013, many people mentioned Chris Whaley’s pick-6 or Daje Johnson’s punt return for a touchdown and even Bob Stoops’ poor game plan as a reason for the outcome of the game. An area that deserved plenty of praise but rarely received it was the Longhorns entirely dominated the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball.
The same needs to happen Saturday against the Sooners.
No. 3: Get rid of the ball
While the offensive line has to do a better job of protecting the quarterback, Jerrod Heard has to learn to get rid of the ball and not always rely on his legs to make plays. Yes, he is a talented player when he can get past defenses, but he cannot expect to rush for 100 yards against every opponent. Heard has been sacked 15 times in five games, and while the offensive line is partly to blame for some of those sacks, his unwillingness to get rid of the ball when he has the chance is also to blame. This issue is something that will likely change with experience, but the sooner it changes, the better for the Longhorns offense.
No. 4: Create Momentum Through Turnovers and Big Plays
Big plays create momentum, and as repetitive as it sounds, the momentum shift in the Red River Shootout can make or break a team’s chances of winning the game. It’s difficult to put into words how the crowd noise sounds on the field, but as someone who has been on the sideline of the game for the last three years, it’s apparent it plays a factor in the outcome of the game.
Texas needs to create its own momentum Saturday against Oklahoma. An easy way to do so is with big plays and defensive turnovers. In 2013, the game shifted heavily in the Longhorns favor following Chris Whaley’s pick-6. And Daje Johnson’s punt return for the touchdown was the nail in the Sooners’ coffin.
Whether it is big plays on offense or the defense creating turnovers, the Longhorns need to create momentum and keep it in their favor Saturday.
No. 5: Stay off your phone
This point needs no explanation.