Keys to the game: vs. Oklahoma

Sydney Rubin

Take advantage of big stage

Head coach Charlie Strong and the Longhorns have a lot on the line as they prepare to face No. 22 Oklahoma in the annual Red River Showdown on Saturday. The Cotton Bowl boasts a riotous environment, packed with screaming fans in crimson and burnt orange. The Longhorns can use the crowd’s enthusiasm to their advantage as they play on a national stage in this storied rivalry. The Longhorns need to come out focused and confident and play like the season depends on it.

The season is still young, but both teams have already ridden the college football rollercoaster. The Sooners fell out of the AP Top 25 after suffering two early-season losses to Houston and Ohio State, but crawled back in this week after edging out TCU, 52-46. Strong’s Longhorns are on the verge of letting a once-promising season slip away, but have a chance to get back in the driver’s seat if they can take advantage of the grand environment this showdown presents.

Defense, defense, defense   

The defensive unit, which has underperformed so far this season, needs to show up and force stops if the Longhorns want any shot at slowing the Sooners. Week after week, opposing quarterbacks have torched Texas’ defense. In last week’s 49-31 loss to Oklahoma State, quarterback Mason Rudolph threw for 392 yards and three touchdowns as Texas’ secondary missed tackle after tackle down field.

Texas ranks 116th nationally and last in the Big 12 in scoring defense, allowing opponents to score an average of 38.3 points per game. Oklahoma quarterback Baker Mayfield is completing passes at a 67.8 percent clip on the season and is averaging 266.8 passing yards per game.

Texas is also the only team in the Big 12 that has yet to record an interception. Texas’ defense needs to pressure Mayfield in the pocket and and make plays on Oklahoma’s running backs and receivers down field.

Special teams needs to be sharp

Special teams errors plagued the Longhorns this season and last. Oklahoma State blocked three of Texas’ extra points last week, running one back for two points. Texas kicker Trent Domingue also missed his only field goal attempt in the loss to the Cowboys. Texas’ special teams personnel need to be sharp against the Sooners.

Despite a few mishaps, Texas has also had some shining moments on special teams this year. Freshman defensive back Brandon Jones is one of seven players in the country to block two punts this season. The Longhorns have potential, they just need to execute to come out on top against the Sooners.