The Red River Rivalry is the best in college football — it's always a contested match, regardless of records and accolades. Whenever Texas and Oklahoma players have stepped into the Cotton Bowl in Dallas, the successes or failures of either program have disappeared.
Yet, this year feels different. Texas and Oklahoma both enter the Red River Rivalry in unchartered territory, neither leading the Big 12 standings. The Longhorns’ tendency to play down to opponents threatens their championship hopes. Last week against TCU, gaping holes in Texas’ secondary allowed sophomore quarterback Max Duggan to accumulate 105 rushing yards and two touchdowns. Iowa State held Duggan to 32 yards and zero rushing touchdowns the week before. Longhorns fans are losing hope in Herman, and senior quarterback Sam Ehlinger cannot continue to be the deciding factor between a win and a loss if a Big 12 Championship is the expectation.
Oklahoma enters the matchup with an 0–2 conference record and is unranked for the first time since 2005. Although the Sooners have struggled with their offensive and defensive lines, redshirt freshman quarterback Spencer Rattler has still shown moments of brilliance, including completing a 32-yard touchdown under extreme pressure from Kansas State’s defensive line.
With Iowa State, Kansas State and Oklahoma State undefeated in conference play, the stakes seem low. This year’s Red River Rivalry won’t be a battle between ranked foes, but the game is still important for Texas, who is the 2.5-point underdog. If the Longhorns can pull out a win against the Sooners and get a much-needed confidence boost, their Big 12 Championship dreams are very much alive.
It happened to the 2017 Sooners, who entered the Cotton Bowl coming off a 38-31 loss to Iowa State. Their win catalyzed an undefeated run that landed them in the Big 12 Championship and the College Football Playoffs.
Texas head coach Tom Herman also saw this kind of situation play out in 2014 when he coached at Ohio State.
“This program has overcome much more difficult odds than losing its third ball game,” head coach Tom Herman said Monday. “I know I was a part of a team in Columbus, Ohio, that lost its second ball game, got blown out at home (and) won a national championship.”
If Oklahoma and Ohio have done it, Texas can do it too. Texas has the weapons this year to exploit Oklahoma’s weaknesses. The challenge will not be finding these issues on the field, but capitalizing on them instead of mimicking them. The Sooners will come out strong, as they have against other Big 12 opponents. If Texas’ defense can neutralize Rattler and take advantage of Oklahoma’s errors, then the Longhorns could take home the Golden Hat trophy. But if Texas cannot recover from its last two performances, then the program is doomed to finish with another mediocre record.
“I mean the next day, we talked about (the TCU game) and got through it, and it’s on to the next,” redshirt sophomore defensive lineman Keondre Coburn said Tuesday. “We got a big opponent this week, and that's what we’re focused on right now. It's not about still being sad about the previous game. You got to move on, you got to be better, learn from your mistakes and make this week better than last week. That's all we’re focused on right now.”