It All Comes Down To Texas vs. Oklahoma

For the 98<SUP>th</SUP> time, it&#146;s Texas versus Oklahoma.

It is the only time all year that no superstar athlete or hotshot coach on either sideline is bigger than the game itself. It is an epic event where heroes are made, hearts are broken, and legacies are forged. It is the State Fair, Big Tex, Commerce Street, Fletchers Corny Dogs, Funnel Cakes, the Golden Hat Trophy, Bevo, the Sooner Schooner, the Show Band of the Southwest, The Eyes of Texas, the Prrrrr-ide of Oklahoma, and, of course, the Tunnel.

And that’s only before kickoff.

Once we tee it up at 2:30 p.m. (CDT) Saturday at the Cotton Bowl, what we’ve got is a No. 11 Longhorn team loaded with playmakers who will not earn national respect (no matter what else it does) until it beats Oklahoma. What we’ve also got is "the best Oklahoma team that I’ve seen since I’ve been here," head coach Mack Brown said. "I think they’re better across the board. They’re very well coached, they’re tough, and they’ve got great players two-deep."

They’re also the No. 1 team in the country, but with a recent tendency to lose to teams that the Horns have beaten.


Oklahoma rallied from a 14-3 deficit with a string of 24 unanswered points in 2002, taking the lead for the first time on its first possession of the fourth quarter. The Sooners are gunning for their fourth straight win in the bitter rivalry, something they have not done since 1985-88. From 1989 and up until that debacle in 2000, Texas went 8-2-1 against OU.

This marks the 11th time that one of the two teams has entered the game ranked No. 1. Overall, the top-ranked team is 8-1-1 in this game. The Sooners are 5-1 when bringing the top national ranking into the Red River shootout.

Texas leads the overall series, 55-37-5.


In our weekly preview, Inside Texas usually begins with the opponent’s offense. But, with the Sooners, it all starts with their defense.

Oklahoma is No. 2 nationally in total defense (245.4 ypg), trailing only Nebraska (218.6). The Sooners are No. 4 against the pass (141.2 ypg) and No. 27 against the run surrendering 104.2 ypg

The Sooners base out of 50 front, and it all begins with their poster child DT (and Texan) Tommie Harris (6-3, 289).

"Tommie Harris is as good of a down lineman as we’re going to see all year," offensive coordinator Greg Davis said. "He’s got a great first step and he plays with a great passion."

On preseason watch lists for the Lombardi, Nagurski and Outland, Harris was slowed by a groin injury n 2002 but showed plenty of burst last Saturday when he chased down an Iowa State WR to force a fumble.

"Tommie Harris creates havoc in the middle," Brown said. "Nobody’s blocked him -- at all. He’s playing like he did as a freshman. He was banged up some last year but he’s making plays all over the place."

Harris’ counterpart is junior DT (and Texan) Dusty Dvoracek, tied for the team’s sack lead with four. The Sooner defense has posted 18 sacks through five games. A pair of juniors, Texan Jonathan Jackson (17 career starts, a team-leading 16 QB hurries) and Dan Cody (tied with Dvoracek as OU’s sack leader).

"You’re not going to block OU all the time and that’s the hardest thing," Brown said. "When those guys get ready to play, they play great defense. And they’re going to get ready to play this weekend. We’ve got to try to figure out ways to move the ball better. We haven’t moved it against them the last two years."

Make that three years. Texas has a net 73 yards rushing against the Sooners these past three seasons.

MLB Lance Mitchell, OU’s top tackler last season with 124, is out for the season after tearing his left ACL against Fresno State on Sept. 13. Sophomore Wayne Chambers stepped in and posted 10 tackles in his first start against UCLA. The Sooners will also be without starting SLB Pasha Jackson. The senior injured his knee in OU's 53-7 thrashing of Iowa State last weekend. Sophomore Russell Dennison or redshirt freshman Zach Latimer will replace Jackson in the Sooner starting lineup. The leader of the pack, though, is WLB Teddy Lehman, a Butkus Award finalist last season. His best game in 2003 came against UCLA where he was credited with 17 stops and one interception.

"Their linebackers are really aggressive," Davis said. "They’ll come after you and blitz a lot. Lehman is all over the field."

The Sooners have shown more of a dime package during the past two years and led the nation in interceptions last season with 24 (half of them, it seems, came against Chris Simms). FS (and Texan) Brandon Everage was a Thorpe Award semifinalist last season.

"Their free safety will come after you," Davis said. "Everage has been one of the best tacklers that we’ve seen since we’ve been here."

CB (and Texan) Derrick Strait was OU’s career leader for consecutive starts but saw his streak end when coaches sidelined him for the UCLA game. He recovered a fumble against Iowa State but sophomore (and Texan) Eric Bassey (who started every game at SS last season) has opened with the first team the past two ballgames. Junior CB Antonio Perkins earned his first start this season but has made his mark on special teams (see below). OU coaches are high on JUCO transfer Donte Nicholson, who turned in a TD-saving interception at Alabama.

"They blitz well and they cover you man-to-man," Brown said. "They play two deep and change up coverages enough to where you have trouble just calling certain routes. Normally, you go into a ballgame trying to get matchups, but they change their defensive look enough that it’s hard to get them in a matchup."

Added Brown, "One of the problems that they give you is if you (use) max protection and they show blitz and then back out and play zone, you don’t have enough guys out. There’s some chess game involved here, and they’ve done a good job of that."

So, how do you beat these guys?

"I think you have to do whatever you can do," Davis said, so that we can all sleep better at night.

Much has been said in this space, as well as in national sports coverage of the Red River Shootout, that successful offenses against OU these past two seasons have boasted mobile quarterbacks who can throw (Texas A&M’s Reggie McNeal, while Missouri’s Brad Smith nearly pulled the upset) and/or world class receivers (Oklahoma State’s Rashaun Woods). For the first time against the patented Stoops’ defense, Texas has that kind of combination.

Frankly, it doesn’t matter which Texas quarterback starts as long as Vince Young is able to finish. The Oklahoma defense is predicated upon being in position, plus its amazing closing speed and making plays in space. The intangible that Young brings to the table is his ability to make a defender miss even when the opponent is in the right spot. With either Chance Mock or Young behind center, Texas will present a look that it has not shown against the Sooners in the Mack Brown era.

And, to keep hope alive, few Sooners have faced a healthy Roy Williams when he’s in the starting lineup. Now, if Texas QBs can just get the pass off…

"Their front seven is really good," Williams said. "They can get pressure on the quarterback every time so the secondary really doesn’t have to work. With the pressure, so many things are going through the quarterback’s mind. He’s just going to throw it up, and that’s where the big plays come from."


For old-school types, this will seem like a misprint: The Sooners bring the nation’s No. 11 passing attack (313.6 ypg) and just the No. 72 rushing offense (140.2 ypg).

"This is a pass-rush game," defensive coordinator Carl Reese said.

It should be, but you never know with Sideshow Bob.

Last year, Bob Stoops and company came up with an old gap blocking scheme called the "Frog Draw" to spring RB (and Texan) Quentin Griffin for 248 yards. So named because TCU ran it in the early 1980s, OU coaches dusted off the little-used formation because they figured correctly they could run it effectively against Texas.

This year, OU’s offense is all about senior QB Jason White. Averaging 294.4 ypg, White has the Big 12’s best completion percentage (67.5) after being true on 112 of 166 attempts. He is off to the best five-game start for any QB in Oklahoma history -- not that there’s much of a ‘passing’ history in Norman but the fact remains that White is No. 3 nationally this week in passing efficiency (170.2). White has tossed 16 TDs against just three interceptions.

Of note: Mock’s efficiency rating checks in at No. 5. If Young had enough of the requisite snaps under his belt, his efficiency rating (177.4) would lead the nation.

"Jason White is getting the ball to the right people," Brown said. "He has an amazing knack to throw the ball deep for touchdowns. He’s been on target and he’s playing with great confidence. He’s become the general. He’s got such a command of their offense right now. After a turnover or a sudden change, he’s been able to throw the deep ball and he’s been perfect. He’s been on the money."

White was one of those QBs that nobody talked much about last spring outside of Norman. Unless, of course, the conversation centered around how long it would take to blow out one of his knees again. He tore his left ACL in the 2001 game at Nebraska and then tore his right ACL in last season’s game against Alabama. Neither injury was the direct result of contact.

"I’ve got so much respect for what he’s been able to do because I’ve had knee operations and I know how hard that is, emotionally," Brown said. "You think, that day, that you’re career is gone. You have to give that young man all the credit in the world. He’s got to be a tough guy and a competitive guy. He’s made it work for him."

White spreads the wealth but his favorite target has been 6-3, 208-pound junior (and Texan) Brandon Jones (313 yards on 28 receptions). OU entered this season minus the top four pass catchers in school history (by receptions) while top returning receiver junior WR (and Texan) Will Peoples missed the first two games of the season with knee and ankle ailments.

"Their receivers are under publicized," Brown said. "They’re really good. They make so many plays with their feet. They’re really good runners and they make great catches."

Texas counters with the top ranked pass defense (110 ypg), but that usually means that teams are running on you. The UT run defense is dead last in the Big 12, and (no misprint) No. 100 in the NCAA. Not to make excuses (because, after three years of poor tackling, there really are none) but this is a unit that has seen two MLBs, a DE, a FS and two SSs miss significant snaps due to injury.

Fortunately, this is not a Sooner offense that will remind old-schoolers of Billy Sims or young whippersnappers of Quentin Griffin. No Sooner has rushed for more than 100 yards in a game this season, although senior RB Renaldo Works came close with 95 yards on 19 totes against Iowa State. Works and sophomore RB Kejaun Jones (first career start against Alabama) have turned it up a notch, helping their team average 174 yards the past three games.

RT Jammal Brown is being touted for All-America honors. Through four games he has 40 knockdowns and has given up no sacks.


PR/CB Antonio Perkins made his name with three TD returns against UCLA, a school record for a single game and one shy of the NCAA record. He ranks No. 11 nationally with his 15.48 return average (by comparison, CB/PR Nathan Vasher ranks fifth with a 16.3 average).

K (and Texan) Trey DiCarlo has made 9-of-10 field goals this season, including all five from 40 or more yards. He equaled his career long with a 46-yarder in the season opener against North Texas. He has 16 touchbacks on kickoffs through five games this season after posting just nine all of last season.

Both Oklahoma and Texas are averaging 35.5 yards per punt.

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