Everything you need to know about Oklahoma-Texas

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Updated: October 12, 2017

12:00 PM ET

  • CloseESPN Staff Writer
    • Covers Texas AM and the SEC.
    • Joined ESPN in 2012.
    • Graduate of the University of Houston.
  • CloseESPN Staff Writer
    • Covers the Big 12
    • Joined ESPN.com in 2011
    • Graduate of Washington Lee University

Oklahoma and Texas will renew their college football rivalry for the 112th time Saturday at the Cotton Bowl. The Sooners, coming off a shocking upset loss to Iowa State, are trying to keep their Big 12 and playoff hopes alive. The Longhorns, despite two early losses, are atop the Big 12 standings.

Here’s a guide to everything you need to know about the Red River Showdown (3:30 p.m. ET, ESPN and ESPN App).

X factor for Texas: QB Sam Ehlinger

Assuming Ehlinger starts (coach Tom Herman has been noncommittal publicly on whether Ehlinger or Shane Buechele will start, but Buechele isn’t yet 100 percent, so the safe money is on Ehlinger), how he plays will play a significant role in the outcome for Texas. So far, in big games, the true freshman quarterback hasn’t been fazed. He certainly had his struggles in the first half of the Longhorns’ Sept. 16 loss at then-No. 4 USC, but that was to be expected for a young quarterback in a big road game. Down the stretch, however, he shined, leading the Longhorns on a go-ahead drive late in the fourth quarter (USC eventually tied the game to send it to overtime and later won). Last week, in his third start, Ehlinger was excellent, throwing for 380 yards and rushing for 107 in a double-overtime win over Kansas State. A big environment won’t be enough to shake him, but can he play at the level he did down the stretch against the Trojans and Wildcats?

Where Oklahoma is vulnerable: covering the pass

Vulnerable might be putting it kindly. Through two conference games, the Sooners have surrendered a Big 12-worst 831 yards through the air — and they’ve yet to play one of the league’s better passing offenses. Iowa State walk-on senior transfer Kyle Kempt shredded Oklahoma for 343 passing yards and three touchdowns, including the game-winner on a jump ball Allen Lazard grabbed over Jordan Thomas. Speaking of Thomas, the four-year starter was a preseason All-Big 12 selection. And yet, he seems to have lost all confidence after a pair of dreadful showings against Baylor and Iowa State. With senior safety captain Steven Parker ailing with an ankle injury, the Oklahoma secondary is in bad shape.

Where Texas is vulnerable: offensive line

It wasn’t until last week’s win at Kansas State that the offensive-line play provided some level of comfort. The Longhorns lost preseason All-American left tackle Connor Williams to a knee injury last month, and he’s out for a while longer. Depth isn’t that plentiful (two weeks ago, Herman said the Longhorns had only five healthy players he could trust out there, though that number has increased with Terrell Cuney‘s return to health), and overall, the Longhorns have been inconsistent running the football, in part because of the line play. The progress witnessed last week is encouraging, but whether it was an aberration or a sign of what’s to come remains to be seen.

What’s at stake?

Amazingly, Texas could take a major step forward in the Big 12 title race with a win in Dallas. The Longhorns sit tied with TCU atop the Big 12 standings at 2-0. With back-to-back wins over the Oklahoma schools — Texas plays host to Oklahoma State next weekend — the Longhorns could join TCU in the driver’s seat to the Big 12 championship game. Because of their win over the Buckeyes, the Sooners are still in the playoff picture, even with the Iowa State loss. But Oklahoma no longer has any margin for error. A loss in Dallas would not only extinguish any playoff aspirations, it would severely dim the Sooners’ hopes of making the Big 12 title game, too.

Tale of the tape

Texas passing game vs. Oklahoma secondary
The Sooners have been taking it on the chin in the defensive backfield, allowing 7.7 yards per pass attempt this season (only 10 teams in the Power 5 conferences allow more). Opposing quarterbacks are completing 62.3 percent of their passes (13th worst in the Power 5) and perhaps nothing was more representative of the group’s struggles than the fact that Kempt was so proficient last week, going 18-for-24 passing for 343 yards. That’s welcome news for the Longhorns, whose strength is at receiver — it’s the position where they’re the deepest. Ehlinger and 6-foot-6 receiver Collin Johnson (25 catches, 485 yards) have developed a fine rapport, and redshirt freshman Reggie Hemphill-Mapps is finding his groove. There is no shortage of big receivers for the Longhorns, with six of the nine receivers listed on the depth chart standing 6-3 or taller.

Texas running game vs. Oklahoma front seven
This week, Oklahoma coach Lincoln Riley found a bright spot and complimented the way the Sooners have held up against the run. So far, they have been fairly stout against some quality running backs. The Longhorns, meanwhile, have utilized a nifty quarterback run game for Ehlinger on draws and misdirections. But otherwise, the Texas running game has mostly been a nonfactor, just a year after featuring Doak Walker Award winner D’Onta Foreman. The Longhorns will need to continue sprinkling in the quarterback run game to keep the offense relatively balanced. But to move the ball, they’ll probably have to go through the air.

Oklahoma passing game vs. Texas secondary
This matchup will feature a pair of ESPN.com midseason All-Americans in Mayfield and Texas safety DeShon Elliott, who is tied for the national lead with five interceptions. It will be interesting to see whether Elliott Co. can force incompletions against the nation’s most accurate passer. The Longhorns are holding opponents to a completion rate of 56 percent. That’s a solid mark, especially considering Texas had to face future first-round draft pick Sam Darnold.

Oklahoma running game vs. Texas front seven
The Sooners have been one of the Big 12’s better rushing teams (they averaged 212 rushing yards per game against Power 5 opponents, third best in the league) and true freshman Trey Sermon and sophomore Abdul Adams have been productive backs. The Longhorns were a disaster against the run in Week 1 (allowing 263 yards to Maryland) but have righted the ship ever since, and now it has become a strength. Three of the Longhorns’ past four opponents have failed to rush for 100 yards, and Texas has allowed an average of 65.8 yards per game in the past four. Orlando’s defenses, even dating back to his Houston days, are usually excellent against the run. How this matchup plays out will be intriguing.

Texas special teams vs. Oklahoma special teams
The Longhorns’ special teams have been a mixed bag. The placekicking game has been inconsistent: kicker Joshua Rowland missed two key field goal attempts last week and is 4-for-9 on the season. The kickoff return game hasn’t been particularly strong, but punting and the punt return game have been good. Oklahoma hasn’t attempted many field goals (2-for-4), punting has been mediocre (they’re last in the conference in net punting, at 33.5 yards per), but they’ve been solid in the return game. Both teams have blocked kicks (and Texas has had some blocked), and average starting field position over the course of the season has been largely a wash for both against their opponents. There’s a little good and a little bad for both groups here, which will make this matchup all the more interesting come Saturday.

Article source: http://www.espn.com/college-football/story/_/id/20978596/ultimate-guide-oklahoma-sooners-vs-texas-longhorns