The 119th playing of the Red River Showdown takes place this Saturday, at 11 AM CDT. The Oklahoma Sooners are off to a 5-0 start, good enough for 12th in the latest AP Poll. Texas is also 5-0 and the third-ranked team in the country. This means, for the first time since 2009, both teams are undefeated going into Red River.
In that 2009 edition of the Red River Rivalry, number five Texas beat number one Oklahoma, 45-35. However, the Sooners would go on to play in the BCS Championship against Florida in a game that doesn’t need to be discussed here, for Sooners fans’ sanity.
Of course, last year’s Showdown had a very different feel than it typically does. Both teams had down years, but Oklahoma was in an especially bad place, as Dillon Gabriel was injured and unable to play. The result was a 49-0 drubbing of Oklahoma by the Longhorns. Needless to say, the Sooners would love to return the favor and knock Texas down a peg this time around.
This will undoubtedly be OU’s biggest test of the season, and should they win, they will rocket up the rankings. What follows will be a breakdown of the game, storylines, and players to watch in this historic matchup.
Previewing the 119th Red River Showdown for Oklahoma
Oklahoma Offense vs. Texas Defense
This year’s version of the Dillon Gabriel-led offense has been extremely efficient through five games. In fact, they rank first in the Big 12 in offensive efficiency. They lead the conference in average points per game with 47.4 and are second in total yards per game, averaging 510.
Gabriel has been phenomenal, passing for 1593 yards and a 15:2 touchdown-to-interception ratio. He leads all Big 12 quarterbacks in passing completions, yards, touchdowns, and efficiency. While he had injury issues last year, so far this season, he has remained perfectly healthy, and a healthy Dillon Gabriel is dangerous.
OU’s offensive skill positions lack the usual name recognition that fans had come to expect under previous head coaches, but they have been getting the job done anyway. It’s been a running-back-by-committe through five games, with three Sooners backs totaling over 100 yards. Marcus Major and Tawee Walker both have nearly 200 yards, although Walker has been the more effective of the two, averaging 5.1 yards per carry.
The wide receiver corps has been led by Michigan transfer, Andrel Anthony, who has been an excellent deep threat for Gabriel. He already has 387 yards, which is fourth-best in the Big 12, and has one touchdown. Jalil Farooq is second on the team in receiving yards, and Nic Anderson and Drake Stoops have been touchdown merchants, hauling in five and four touchdowns respectively.
But the Texas defense is no slouch, as they rank second in the conference in defensive efficiency and have given up the second-fewest points. They are also battle-tested, having faced and beaten Alabama already. The Longhorn defense has 13 sacks and seven interceptions on the season and is an experienced and veteran group. OU will have their hands with Jaylan Ford and Company, but Texas has yet to face an offense as explosive as the Sooners.
Offensive x-factor: Andrel Anthony. If Anthony can get open deep and stretch the field for the offense, it should allow other receivers to find space underneath. A few deep shots to Anthony could be the difference in a game that feels like it could be a high-scoring affair.
Oklahoma Defense vs. Texas Offense
Everyone knows how atrocious Brent Venables’ defense was last season, and they certainly didn’t show up ready to play against Texas last year, but this year’s defense is much improved. They’ve allowed an average of less than 11 points per game, albeit against some suspect competition, but good defenses tend to dominate bad teams, and OU’s defense has done that for the most part.
This unit has the best defensive efficiency in the Big 12, with the fourth-best rush defense and the fifth-best pass defense. But Texas’ offense is not to be trifled with. Quinn Ewers could play himself into the Heisman conversation if Texas continues to win. They have the conference’s leading rusher in Jonathon Brooks, and they are perhaps the best wide receiver duo in the country with AD Mitchell and Xavier Worthy.
They also have the fourth-most efficient offensive unit in the Big 12 and the fewest points they’ve scored this season is 31 against Wyoming. It seems like the outcome of this game will come down to whether or not the Sooner defense can contain Ewers and the Longhorn offense.
Danny Stutsman has been an absolute force in the middle of Venables’ defense and has been one of the best linebackers in the country. He actually leads the Big 12 in tackles and sacks, and his ability to make impact plays will go a long way in determining the outcome of Red River. The OU secondary is young and lacks experience, but it does not lack playmakers. The defense as a whole leads the conference with ten interceptions, and guys like Billy Bowman and Key Lawrence will need to keep Texas’ playmakers in check. The defensive line play has been a bit inconsistent, as they’ve only totaled nine sacks. Texas’ offensive line has also allowed nine sacks, so if the Sooners can win that battle, and put pressure on Ewers while limiting the running game, they could also help sway the game.
Defensive x-factor: Sooners secondary. Both of Texas’ best receivers, AD Mitchell and Xavier Worthy are capable of torching any defense, regardless of how talented they are. But if the Sooner DBs can limit the explosive plays, Texas’ offense will be limited.
Whichever team wins the Red River Showdown will have an inside track to the Big 12 Championship and a College Football Playoff spot, and, for the first time in years, the Sooners are not the ones under pressure. Texas hasn’t had a start or a ranking like this in over a decade, and it feels almost like Oklahoma is playing with house money. They’re coming off a down year, so in many ways, even being competitive with teams like Texas could feel like a step in the right direction.
However, should Oklahoma beat Texas, the entire narrative of the season would change dramatically for both teams. Poll voters would have no choice but to give Oklahoma the respect it deserves, and Texas would fall a few spots. It might also change the season expectations for Sooners fans because if OU won the rest of their games, they would almost certainly be a lock for a Playoff spot.
But that might be looking too far into the future. For now, Oklahoma has to ready itself for the Red River Rivalry because Texas won’t go down easily. Boomer Sooner!
Main Image: BRYAN TERRY/THE OKLAHOMAN / USA TODAY NETWORK