Surprising outcomes in the Red River Showdown are so common that little is unforeseen. Oklahoma lost two of the last four despite being a heavy favorite in each game.
After the Sooners’ stunning 38-31 loss to Iowa State, which Texas topped 17-7 10 days earlier, the September notions for the annual meeting at the Cotton Bowl in Dallas went out the window.
There are going to be ups and downs when the Sooners (4-1, 1-1 Big 12) and Texas (3-2, 2-0) meet. Momentum swings violently, as the crowd is going crazy on every play.
But on the field, matchups decide who wins and who loses. Here are five that Oklahoma needs to win in order to plant its flag in the middle of Cotton Bowl and take the Golden Hat Trophy back to Norman.
Oklahoma tight end Mark Andrews vs. Texas linebackers and secondary
One of the disturbing aspects of the Sooners’ loss to Iowa State was Andrews’ minimal impact in the game. He had 3 receptions for 50 yards.
Now, he’s the guy who will have the hardest time getting open when teams drop eight defenders into coverage because that kind of shell defense is designed to take away the middle of the field more than anything. That is where Andrews operates.
Don’t be surprised if that changes some against the Longhorns. One of the wrinkles the Sooners rolled out against Ohio State was using Andrews as a wide receiver. There were multiple times he was the widest receiver in formations. It’s hard to recall because Andrews was only healthy for the first quarter against the Buckeyes.
Expect the Sooners to move Andrews around a lot in formations to get favorable matchups.
Oklahoma cornerback Jordan Thomas vs. Texas wide receiver Collin Johnson
Thomas enters his final Red River Showdown after back-to-back sub-par performances. Thomas struggled defending deep balls against Baylor and Iowa State.
Johnson, who is 6-foot-6, will test Thomas’ tackling ability in screens and slants and his coverage ability going deep.
This is the biggest 1-on-1 matchup in terms of Oklahoma’s defense against Texas’ offense. If the Sooners can win this one, they’re very likely to win the game. Texas thrives on its receivers winning individual competitions. Thomas has to win more than he loses at the Cotton Bowl.
Oklahoma’s offensive line vs. Texas’ front seven
The Sooners success against Texas usually hinges on how well it runs the ball. They rushed for 282 yards last season. Every time Oklahoma needed a time-consuming drive the last two seasons, they’ve come up with one.
For all the talk about quarterbacks or individual defenders, the best group on the field is the Sooners’ offensive line. Texas will use many blitzes, shifts and stunts.
The offensive line is Oklahoma’s engine. If this group plays well, the Sooners will be in good shape.
Oklahoma defensive tackle Du’Vonta Lampkin vs. Texas’ interior offensive line
Lampkin is the Sooners’ most talented defensive lineman. The sophomore’s problem is he’s been suspended as much as he’s played through his first season and a half.
He started to show why his talent is so widely regarded against Iowa State. Lampkin collapsed pockets and blew up a couple of runs.
The 330-pound defensive lineman won’t be on the field for every play. With the temperature expected to jump over 90 degrees, just about every defensive lineman will play.
But Lampkin, who originally signed with Texas in 2015, needs a breakout game. The Red River Showdown is a great time for it.
Oklahoma quarterback Baker Mayfield vs. Texas linebacker Malik Jefferson
Mayfield ‘s scrambling ability makes him dangerous. Jefferson patrols the middle of the field when he drops into coverage and also rushes frequently.
Think back to the 2015 game. Jefferson’s speed prevented Mayfield from getting loose. Last season, the Sooners’ offensive line improved and Mayfield made quicker decisions. Texas had no answers for the Sooners’ offense.
Mayfield’s increasing stubbornness has shown in the last three games. He doesn’t scramble to run. Mayfield scrambles to throw the ball.
If Mayfield takes a steadfast attitude when it comes to waiting on chunk plays to open downfield, Jefferson is going to have a big day.
Texas’ defense is athletic and Jefferson tops the list.
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