The energy entering Texas’ annual rivalry game with No. 10 Oklahoma is far from electric.
At 1-4, Texas’ season hasn’t gone as planned. The Longhorns are on pace for their first set of back-to-back losing seasons since 1988-1989. Despite the negativity surrounding the program, Texas isn’t focused on its struggles heading into Saturday’s Red River Showdown. The game involves more than the team’s record.
“Really, it’s a pride game,” senior cornerback Duke Thomas said. “All that’s done before really doesn’t matter. You step into this atmosphere and you’ve got to bring your ‘A-game’ … it will be way different than any other game we’re going to play this season.”
Texas and Oklahoma boast one of the nation’s longest-standing rivalries. Through 110 matchups, the Longhorns lead the series 60-44-5. While Texas is dealing with several distractions — a three-game losing streak and a variety of social media spats among teammates — the rivalry gives the team a chance to come together to beat its archrival.
“I looked at one of our coaches and said this game came at the right time for us,” head coach Charlie Strong said. “So now we can get them focused … it’s time for us to get our confidence back and get these guys back to track.”
The Longhorns will need to retain that focus to get their season and the rivalry turned around. Since quarterback Colt McCoy’s departure after the 2009 season, Texas is 1-4 in the matchup, with the latest victory coming in a 36-20 win in 2013. Last year, Strong lost his first Red River Showdown appearance when the Longhorns’ fourth quarter comeback fell short. Texas will look to feed off the electric environment in the Cotton Bowl — the stadium split down the middle between burnt orange and crimson. The game boasts passion unlike any other game the team plays all season.
“[The environment] is surreal,” junior linebacker Timothy Cole said. “It’s different when you play at home because the crowd’s for you. When you go to [Texas-Oklahoma], it’s split. So their fans are rowdy, our fans are rowdy. Their players are rowdy, we’re rowdy, too. So we’re just ready to go out there and compete.”
Unlike most other games, the rivalry also facilitates a special role for the underdog. While the Longhorns’ title hopes are already diminished, the chance to play spoiler serves as extra motivation. The rivalry has a track record for upsets, with the lower-ranked team winning seven times since 1989. The Longhorns hope to add another upset to the list.
“I think with any rivalry game, if you look at it statistically, I think there are more upsets in rivalry games just because of the atmosphere and the way it is,” junior safety Dylan Haines said. “I think it plays in our favor that we’re the underdog and we’re going up and maybe they might underestimate us. Maybe we can get the momentum going our way in the game.”
The contest’s momentum may prove bigger than one game for Texas. A matchup against Oklahoma gives the Longhorns a chance at bragging rights for the rest of the year. More importantly, a win can go a long way toward turning Texas’ season around.
“It doesn’t matter where your season’s heading going in,” senior center Taylor Doyle said. “This game has traditionally turned seasons around … we have an opportunity to go play. We have to move forward and learn from our mistakes from this past weekend and use that as a platform to get better and be physical and play tough football.”