Commentary: 'Texas can beat Oklahoma'

It is October now, and to be more specific, as of Sunday it is officially the second week in October. Hence, Oklahoma.

There can be little – no? – celebration following Saturday's expected 38-14 win in Colorado. But the Colorado game was important because Longhorn fans – and probably Texas players and coaches – entered the game needing to see something that could help them answer the question: can Texas beat Oklahoma?

Based on Saturday night's performance, the answer is yes.

But only under certain conditions. More on those conditions later.

Saturday night, Texas fans needed to see something other than a 52-10 opponent on the opposing sideline. What they saw was a middle-of-the-road Big 12 team with shaky special teams and no game-breakers. Still, the Buffaloes are clearly the best team Texas has played this season, and the Longhorns were able to show a few things Saturday night that should give fans at least a semblance of confidence next Saturday morning versus the number one team in the nation.

Personally, I needed to see Texas' defense face a team that was not woefully devoid of talent. After all, the Sooners have a tremendous offensive line and equally tremendous skill position players. Saturday night the Longhorns passed this test, though it was far short of the test they'll see at the Cotton Bowl.

The Horns showed several things Saturday that were promising. Number one, Texas' defensive line dominated the Colorado offensive line. Cody Hawkins was hounded early and often, so much so that the Buffaloes resorted early to shuttle passes and screens and an assortment of other rush-reducing offensive trickery. And the two highest-profile members of the Texas line – Brian Orakpo and Roy Miller – were individually dominant.

Additionally, the Texas secondary seemed infinitely more confident, as well as more instinctual and less deliberate in their manner. In previous games, the secondary appeared to be thinking more than reacting, causing them to be a fraction of a second late; against Colorado, the young defensive backs looked like they were just playing ball, which might have as much to do with the relentless pass rush than anything else.

For me, those were really the only things I wanted to see Saturday. I was confident Texas would win, but I needed something to give me comfort about the Cotton Bowl, especially as it pertained to the Texas defense. I saw what I needed to see; Texas can beat Oklahoma.

And here are the aforementioned conditions under which the Longhorns can win:

1. Texas must rush Sam Bradford. The Longhorns won't be able to harass Bradford as much as Hawkins, but they need to hit him, hurry him, make him aware. This is absolutely imperative; don't rush the OU passer, and Texas will lose big.
2. The Texas secondary must simply play, and not think, as we saw Saturday night. If the young Longhorns are hesitant and/or awestruck with their surroundings, Texas is done. If, however, they just say, "I've got him, you take him, let's go…" then maybe they can deflect a ball or two and grab an interception or strip a ball carrier. Think of Blaine Nye's famous quote after young and flighty Clint Longley led the Dallas Cowboys to a come-from-behind win against the Washington Redskins on Thanksgiving in 1974: "That," Nye said famously, "was the triumph of an uncluttered mind."
3. Texas special teams must be special, and by special, I mean Justin Tucker must continue to kick the ball into the end zone. At the time of this writing, I am unsure of how well the Sooners kicked off against Baylor (although evidently they kicked off a lot), but earlier this season, the Sooners were merely kicking it to opponents' 10- or 15-yard line. Tucker, on the other hand, has been booting his kickoffs into the end zone consistently. The Longhorns' chances of winning will be greatly enhanced – obviously – with superior field position.
4. The Longhorns must score, and will score against Oklahoma. It's been a long time since I've been impressed by the Sooners' defenders, and the Longhorns will be able to score against this year's group as well.

Texas displayed all of these conditions Saturday night against Colorado. The defenders defended, the offense scored and Tucker kicked balls into the end zone. All of that equaled an easy win against Colorado. All of that may – or may not – equal a win next week in the Cotton Bowl.

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