Norman Invasion

Though the national luster of the Texas-OU game has faded a bit with each team suffering a loss in its respective Big 12 opener, the rivalry remains just as intense as the Longhorns and Sooners descend upon Dallas and Texas faces the Norman Invasion for the 102nd time in each teams' storied history.

The whole world might not be watching, but it won't matter to No. 19 Texas (4-1) or No. 10 Oklahoma (4-1) as they face off once again in Dallas.

The Longhorns now come into the game as heavy underdogs after starting the year ranked above the Sooners. Texas shares the same win-loss record that OU holds, with both teams sitting at 4-1, but the road that the Horns have taken has been much more rocky.

Despite four consecutive wins to begin their 2007 campaign, the Longhorns were sliding in the rankings thanks to the less than impressive and surprisingly close nature of each game. Oklahoma, conversely, was being spoken in the same breath as LSU and USC after smashing opponent after opponent in convincing fashion.

Still, each team was expected to roll in their Big 12 openers against unranked opponents. Instead, each team was dealt a crippling defeat, with Texas losing 41-21 to Kansas State at home and Oklahoma dropping one on the road against Colorado.

But the losses were also quite different from each other.

Texas' defeat came down to, among other things, the old stand-bys of special teams and turnovers, giving up kick, punt and interception returns for touchdowns. On the game, the Horns turned the ball over four times, all picks, while not generating a turnover of their own on defense.

The Sooners, on the other hand, weren't killed by turning the ball over, injuries or by giant special teams plays. While Oklahoma's three turnovers didn't help, the Sooner defense grabbed a pair of interceptions for themselves, both by safety D.J. Wolfe. The offensive production was low (230 total yards), especially when compared with the previous four games, but the main reason the Oklahoma offense couldn't put up the yards was it never had to ball in the first place. OU had only 46 total plays in the entire game, compared to 82 by Colorado, resulting in a time of possession difference of almost 18 minutes. Oklahoma actually averaged more yards per play than the Buffs (5 to 4.65), but could only convert a single third down in nine attempts.

From this, the key to the game clearly emerges: Control the ball.

A high-flying offense can't put up points if it doesn't have the football. Turnovers have been a concern for the Longhorns this season and have been a primary focus this week on both the offensive (preventing) and the defensive (generating) sides of the ball. As the the Colorado Buffaloes proved last Saturday, this Oklahoma team, considered an offensive juggernaut during the first four weeks of the season, is certainly beatable. But alternately, the Longhorns have proven the same is true of themselves.

Kick-off at the Cotton Bowl for the 102nd edition of the Red River Rivalry is set for 2:30 p.m. on Saturday.

In the early goings of the 2007 season, the Sooner offense has been one of the strongest in the country. It's no surprise, either. What last year was a young, inexperienced offensive line has gelled into one of the best in the country. There's a talented wide receiver corps to throw to and a stable of running backs that only the likes of USC or West Virginia could rival.

The one and only question mark on the offensive side of the ball heading into the season, and it was a big one, was quarterback. Oklahoma didn't decide upon a signal-caller until a week before the season and reports out of Norman had not been overwhelming positive about any of the Sooners' options. The job was given to redshirt freshman Sam Bradford and he answered those questions emphatically. Even with the loss to Colorado, Bradford still holds the nation's highest quarterback efficiency rating (194.4), throwing 15 touchdowns to only four interceptions and completing 72.2 percent of his passes.

Oklahoma uses a rotating set of running backs and each has been astoundingly impressive this season. The top dog in the group is Allen Patrick. The senior ball-carrier is averaging a mind-blowing 7.7 yards per carry in 2007, having put up 401 yards on 52 carries and five TDs. But Patrick actually trails the next runner on the list in touchdowns. DeMarco Murry is right behind Patrick in carries with 50, but has eight TDs for the Sooners to go with his 316 yards. The next two running backs to see significant time for Oklahoma are Chris Brown and Mossis Madu, who have 36 and 28 carries, respectively, but expect the bulk of the carries to go to Patrick and Murry.

Amongst the receivers, Bradford's favorite targets have been Juaquin Iglesias (29 rec, 459 yards, 3 TDs) and Malcolm Kelly (17 rec, 349 yards, 7 TDs) and they represent the biggest threat for Texas' defensive backs, but keep an eye on the tight ends. Oklahoma makes frequent use of its top two tight ends, Jermaine Gresham (14 rec, 170 yards, 3 TDs) and Joe Jon Finley (7 rec, 130 yards, 1 TD), and with each one standing 6-foot-6, they can present a match-up nightmare for either a linebacker or safety.

The offensive line is composed of five juniors and has come together into a consistent and physically massive unit. Although the Longhorns flip defensive ends based on strong and weak formations, a match-up to keep an eye on is the now-healthy Brian Orakpo against Oklahoma's left tackle, the 6-foot-8, 352-pound Phil Loadholt.

Oklahoma has built its reputation this season with offense, ranking third in the nation in points per game (54), but the defense, as has traditionally been the case in Norman, is still a major strength on this team. OU is sixth in the country in total defense (263.6 ypg) and tenth in points allowed (14.8 ppg) and boasts experience at a lot of positions.

The most highly regarded unit, perhaps on the entire team and not just the defense, is the defensive backs. With wide receivers being the unit drawing the most attention on the Texas Longhorns, this match-up could be a huge factor in the game. Watch OU's experienced corners in junior Reggie Smith and senior Marcus Walker and how they match-up with Texas' experienced receivers. Oklahoma also tends to be very aggressive when it comes to blitzes, so expect to see safeties Wolfe and Nic Harris all over the field.

The OU linebackers have been tackling machines in 2007. Oklahoma's top two tacklers have been starting weakside linebacker Ryan Reynolds with 38 and starting middle linebacker Curtis Loften with an impressive 58. The Sooners' third starter, Lewis Baker, isn't far behind with 23 stops of his own. The linebackers have shown great lateral movement and great tackling ability this season and have been a strength for Oklahoma.

The defensive line for Oklahoma is big and fast, but not impenetrable. While the Sooners out-pace the Longhorns 18-14 in sacks, it's not a mind-blowing number, especially for a team that relies on its D-line for most of its sacks. But the individual athletes on the defensive line cannot be ignored. Sophomore defensive end Auston English leads the team with four sacks and sophomore defensive tackle DeMarcus Granger is a load to handle in the middle for OU. The two sophomores are joined on the defensive line by a pair of seniors in Steven Coleman and Alonzo Dotson, who bring experience to line that is ranked seventh in the country in rushing yards given up, at 67.6 yards per game.

Fast, but not impossible to catch. Big, but not impossible to stop. The 2007 Oklahoma Sooners are playing like a well-oiled machine, but the loss to Colorado showed kinks in the armor. The question is, will Texas be able to take advantage of them, or will they find their winning streak against OU ends at two.

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