Keep dreaming, you say?
Offensively, Texas has the best chance since 1998 to move the sticks and to control the clock against a Sooner defense where its only apparent weakness is a couple of inexperienced guys on the D-line. Texas knows what it wants to do offensively this year, and this should be in stark contrast to last year's identity crises. QB Vince Young thrives in this kind of high-pressure, high-profile environment (so much so that he said one of the most important things he has to do Saturday is to keep his unit relaxed, loose and even laughing).
The O-line seems confident and enjoys opening holes for Cedric Benson. The thing you gotta love about Ced is just how personally he is taking the game Saturday. Everything he has done since the Holiday Bowl (giving up baseball, working out every day with the team during the off-season) is all about winning this game in order to win the Big 12 title in order to win the Heisman. (It's not an either-or for Cedric when it comes to beating OU and possibly winning the Heisman, it's a natural progression.)
Benson could be the difference-maker Saturday if the defense gives him the chance and if the offense doesn't give away the football as if it was government cheese. Texas committed six turnovers last OU game but is 37-0 under Mack Brown when it holds the statistical edge in both turnover and explosive plays (runs of 12+ yards and completions of 16+ yards).
"Cedric has been phenomenal in his career," OC Greg Davis said. "He's been really good at protecting the football. He fumbled his very first carry in his (first) start at Oklahoma State (2001). Not that I remember things like that. They didn't touch him. He actually knocked it out himself. Then he carried 33 other times."
Benson, of course, got knocked out early in the 2001 Big 12 Title game so Saturday's game marks the biggest stage of his career. Benson is looking to bust out after generating just 75 yards on 34 carries the past two seasons. If Davis will dance with the one who brung him (and not push the Holiday Bowl panic button) Texas should move the ball against OU for the first time this millennium.
But it's impossible for me to pick Texas when there are too many unanswered questions about the pass rush, pass defense, passing game and kicking game. And Brown has yet to prove he can go toe-to-toe against Bob Stoops when the talent pool is generally level. When I make my pre-game picks, I generally follow the principle of WWCD (What Would Culpepper Do). Current Inside Texas columnist and former Longhorn great Pat Culpepper picked Texas earlier this week, and the world is a better place because of it.
But I have twice been on record as stating that I will not pick Texas again until after they prove they can win this game. I hope Pat Culpepper is right but... Oklahoma 27, Texas 21.
Pearle -- OU's dominance of Texas over the last four years has been much more about confidence and swagger -- the Sooners have it and the Horns don't -- than talent.
You look back at last season for example. Texas beats Kansas State in Austin the week before heading to the Cotton Bowl to face OU and then barely gives up a fight in a 65-13 embarrassment. Less than two months later, those same K-State Wildcats give those same Sooners a pretty sound thrashing in the Big 12 title game. For that matter, the Horns had beaten LSU less than a year earlier on that same Cotton Bowl turf, and LSU managed to pummel the Sooners only weeks after the Wildcats got done with them. I know these were different games, different situations, etc., but the point is, Texas clearly had the talent to play with OU last October and possibly even beat them. Instead, as soon as things started going bad, the Horns just caved. That is as much a fault of the coaches as the players.
We've all spent a good part of the last six years playing armchair psychologist, trying to dissect Mack Brown's behavior and that of his teams. With Texas, for years now, it has been a question of whether the team is too "soft," too pampered, and if so, and they certainly have played baby-butt soft against OU, to what extent it is a result of the team taking on the personality of its coaches, particularly Brown. Man, you could write a PhD dissertation on the subject.
I think the answer is clearly that in this game, Brown's nice guy, let's give-'em-a-hug demeanor, one that just comes naturally to him and is charming in some situations, is bad for his team, because it doesn't instill the mental edge his guys need to get it done in this arena. Conversely, Bob Stoops is all about "bring it on Horns, we're gonna take you out and get one step closer to the Big 12 and National Championships." OU co-D-coordinator Brent Venables just came right out and said it after last year's blowout -- the Sooners had the attitude and the Horns didn't.
This season, I had been waiting and hoping that come OU week, we'd see signs that Brown had gotten the message that in this game of all games, he must get aggressive in his public posture as well as in his private time with the players to give them a mental edge, that he would come out and challenge his team and the Sooners, that he'd say something outlandishly out-of-character, that he'd put his guys' backs to the wall, that he'd by god shake things up!
But all we get from Brown is the same passive aggressive patter about how this is a big game, but so is Missouri and Baylor, at Texas any loss is a big loss, but oh, by the way, that's a good thing, blah blah blah. While Brown is sweating to keep the pressure of OU week off for just a few more hours, telling his team to "enjoy the Baylor win," Stoops, before the scoreboard lights are even shut off from the Tech victory, is already saying "we can't wait for Texas."
So I don't see the Horns getting much help from their head coach this week in terms of gaining a mental edge. As one poster on the IT boards this week stated, it just doesn't look like Brown has figured out how to approach this game. But I still have hope, because of the senior leadership of guys like Cedric Benson and Derrick Johnson, because of a maturing, fantastic talent in Vince Young, and because of new defensive coaches who will be on the field, interacting with the players personally, in Greg Robinson and Dick Tomey, coaches that are untainted by the last four years.
Because of the character of many of the Texas players, because Texas is more settled in its offensive philosophy than it was a year ago, and because there is new blood in the coaching ranks on the Texas as well as OU sidelines (read: Mike Stoops gone), I think Texas keeps this game relatively close, and perhaps with a few crazy bounces of the ball, pulls off an upset. They've got the players to do it.
But I ain't picking 'em. As well documented this week on our site by Mark Kissinger, and as Clendon and Bill and I discussed in our football preview, it looks on paper like OU is at least as good as they were last year, and maybe better, while Texas, minus the Big Three receivers and with a thin, banged-up defensive line and a shaky kicking game, does not look dramatically improved.
Texas stays in this game until the fourth quarter, but OU, with the confidence of having owned this series for four years, hangs on and notches it's fifth straight: OU 34, Texas 21.
Ross -- As I walked out of DKR-Memorial Stadium following the Baylor game, I had a truly dire assessment of the Oklahoma game floating in my head. I had just watched Bears QB Dane King find open receiver after open receiver in the Longhorn defensive secondary. Luckily for the Horns defensive statistics, Baylor's wideouts dropped several of those wide open chances. I knew, though, that Texas would face a far better quarterback, with an excellent offensive line, a credible and dangerous running threat and a talented and experienced receiving corps, this weekend. That's why thoughts of another historic blowout haunted my thoughts as I walked to the post-game tailgate.
As this week has progressed, I've searched for reasons to believe, because I want desperately to believe in this team, in this coach. I want the Longhorn seniors on the field and in the stands to feel the thrill of a Texas-OU win again, a long time comin' win like I did in 1989, my final year as a student on the Forty Acres. I want a Texas win for a list of reasons a football field long, not least of which is to see this Longhorn program, under Mack Brown, reach the heights that it should be capable of reaching. I'd want the "can't win the big one" meme retired from the mouths of the talking heads.
I've searched: Greg Robinson and Dick Tomey here. Mike Stoops, Tommie Harris, Derrick Strait, Teddy Lehman and Dusty Dvoracek gone. The Sooners' "struggles" with Tech. The Horns' new, often lethal identity as a running football team. I've weighed those things and more, plugged 'em into the Texas-OU win-loss equation, looking for the matter that tips the scales from Crimson and Cream to Burnt Orange. I want to believe. But no calculus I apply shows a reasonable chance for the result we all crave.
Yes, the Horns have a chance to win. Stranger things have happened, even in this series, that exhilarating 1989 game being just one of the many examples. But an analysis based on objective measures rather than want or hope gives the advantage to the guys in red, and a pretty large advantage at that.
Against the best offense Texas has faced this year, the Longhorn D surrendered 458 yards (283 passing, 175 rushing)! And Arkansas is no OU; Matt Jones is no Jason White. Flip the number of returning/new starters (1/10 for the Pigs and 10/1 for the Sooners) and you get a picture of the difference in experience, and that doesn't even take into account the talent advantage at just about every offensive position the Sooners have over the Hogs. One component of that is White. This guy is typically dead-on accurate. In that regard, if UT's defensive performance vs. the Bears last Saturday didn't absolutely frighten you, it should.
Oklahoma is balanced offensively and is thus capable of beating you through the air and on the ground, and the Texas defense has yet to show it can deliver any consistent pressure on a QB and thus relieve pressure on its secondary, a deadly combination for the guys in Orange. Perhaps Robinson, Tomey and Co. have held back defensively, risking defeat in Fayetteville so as not to tip their hand to the OU coaches. If so, genius! But scheme alone can not cover the deficiencies in personnel. Defensive end play, as feared, has proven to be a liability (although Aurmon Satchell showed promise in the Baylor game, but banking on another converted journeyman at such a crucial spot doesn't instill confidence in the results) while the tackles have been adequate but not great (and that was with a healthy Rod Wright, which we probably won't see Saturday; if he plays, he's unlikely to be at 100-percent). Derrick Johnson so far has lived up to every preseason billing, firing like a cruise missile at opposing defenses. But he's one proven difference-maker among the front seven, not a recipe for success against very good offenses.
I'm not as concerned about the other side of the ball per se, because I believe the Texas offense is fairly well suited this year to move the football against the Sooners. I really like the combination of the dual-threat running attack, behind a good and getting better offensive, with the tight ends also a utilized threat. The Longhorn offense should be more physical in this one than it has been, oh, since the 1998 match-up. What concerns me is more situational. If the Sooners score often, as I expect they will, forcing Texas to play from behind, I envision turnovers as Vince Young tries to bring the team from behind with his arm. This is where blowouts are made.
I've picked the Sooners in each of the last three years. Matter of fact, I predicted a blowout of 21 points last year (and I was only 32 points off the actual margin!) while many picked Texas to win. But I'm no soothsayer. I'm simply someone who looks at the facts and calls it like I see it. If Texas can play from ahead, due to early offensive and defensive success (particularly turnovers), I believe the Horns will have a chance to win. If, as I expect, it's the Sooners straight out of the gate, I fear it'll be another disastrous afternoon in Big D. Oklahoma 40, Texas 20.