Red River Showdown: The 2018 Sequel

November 29, 2018 ▪ By Ray Dozier

As the Crimson faithful filed out of the Cotton Bowl eight weeks ago, many were champing at the bit for a rematch with Texas as the Sooners lost to the Longhorns by three points.

No. 5 Oklahoma (11-1, 8-1 Big 12) gets another crack at No. 14 Texas (9-3, 7-2) in the Big 12 Championship Game (11 a.m. ABC) Saturday. And, since this is the conference’s title game, this contest will be the first time the two teams are not meeting in Dallas since 1929. The championship game will be held at AT&T Stadium, home of the Dallas Cowboys, in Arlington, Texas—21 miles west of Cotton Bowl Stadium.

The Sooners ran the table after dropping a 48-45 decision to the Longhorns. The Steers beat Baylor, then lost to Oklahoma State and West Virginia and finished with wins over Texas Tech, Iowa State, and Kansas.

Texas was on its way to a blow out over OU on October 6. UT led 45-24, heading into the fourth quarter. The Sooners responded with three touchdowns to tie the game at 45-all. Kyler Murray tossed a 19-yard scoring strike to Lee Morris. Murray later scampered 67 yards for the next score, and Trey Sermon scored on a 7-yard run with 2:38 remaining.

The Horns took the kickoff and drove 52 yards to the OU 23-yard line but had to settle for a field goal. Cameron Dicker’s 40-yard attempt split the uprights for the victory with nine seconds left.

Texas quarterback Sam Ehlinger completed 24 of 35 passing for 314 yards and 2 TDs in the game. Many of those passes were successful on short slant routes. Lil’Jordan Humphrey led the Horns with 9 catches for 133 yards and a touchdown, and Collin Johnson hauled in 6 passes for 81 yards and scored once. Ehlinger also scored three TDs.

Oklahoma rolled up 532 total yards, 31 more than UT. Murray connected 19 of 26 passing for 304 yards and 4 TDs. He also led the Sooners with 92 yards rushing. OU totaled 222 rushing yards to Texas’ 177. In 19 of the 20 previous meetings, the team that has rushed for more yards had won. Marquise Brown led Oklahoma with 9 receptions for 131 yards and 2 TDs.

Murray’s two turnovers also gave Texas 10 points. Safety Brandon Jones picked off his pass in the first period and returned it 19 yards to the OU 44, which led to Dicker’s field goal for a 10-7 advantage. Murray fumbled at the OU 23 in the third quarter, and UT linebacker Brecklyn Hager recovered. Five plays later, Ehlinger scored on a 2-yard run for a 38-24 lead.

Ehlinger has been banged up (shoulder) since the last game against OU. The sophomore signal- caller hasn’t missed a game this season, but head coach Tom Herman said the injury is, “Not great. But it hasn’t been since the Baylor game.”

The Baylor game was one week after the Oklahoma tilt. Since that game against the Bears, Ehlinger has completed 103 of 162 for 1,275 yards with 12 TDs and 2 INTs. The two interceptions came last week against the Jayhawks. His pass efficiency rating improved from 144.1 before the Baylor contest to 151.7 afterward.

Speaking of efficient quarterbacks, Murray is second nationally with a ranking of 206.7, about six points behind Alabama’s Tua Tagovailoa.

Oklahoma’s ground game has improved immensely since the Showdown last month. Running backs Trey Sermon, Marcelius Sutton and Kennedy Brooks combined for 130 yards against the Steers. Sutton is out for the season with an injury, and Sermon has been hobbled as well as T.J Pledger. The latter two might see some action this weekend, but expect Brooks to get the starting nod. In the six games before the Texas matchup last month, the Sooners averaged 178.8 yards per game. Since the Texas loss, the Sooners have averaged 320.8 yards per game.

Brooks has rushed for 801 of his 993 season total yards in the last half of the season. The redshirt freshman from Mansfield, Texas has averaged 9.6 yards per carry this year and scored 12 times; nine since the Longhorn defeat. In the last three games (against OSU, Kansas and West Virginia), Brooks has averaged 177.6 yards per game. Sermon has added 863 yards and 11 TDs this year, and if healthy, he will be a factor on Saturday.

The Sooners should put a bunch of points on the scoreboard with a strong running game to accompany a great passing game. Marquise Brown appears to be 100 percent healthy. He and Cee Dee Lamb, combined for 15 catches for 206 yards and three scores against Texas last month.

OU’s offensive line is one of the best, if not THE best in the country. Three of them (guards Ben Powers and Cody Ford, and tackle Dru Samia) were named to the all-Big 12 Conference first team on Wednesday. Samia was named co-Offensive Lineman of the Year. Murray was tabbed as the league’s top quarterback and Offensive Player of the Year. Brown and tight end Grant Calcaterra round out the first team roster.

Punter/kicker Austin Seibert was named the Big 12’s top placekicker and Special Teams Player of the Year. The Belleville, Illinois senior is the scoring record holder (476 points) at OU and the conference. He also holds the NCAA record for career extra points made (302) and attempts (307). This season, Seibert leads the Big 12 in points (115) and is 12 of 14 on field goal attempts and 79 of 80 on PATs.

Texas landed one player (fullback Andrew Beck) on the first team offense and three players on first-team defense—end Charles Omenihu, safety Caden Sterns, and cornerback Kris Boyd.

Omenihu, the conference’s Defensive Lineman of the Year, ranks fourth in the Big 12 with 14.5 tackles for loss (one in each of the last eight games), and his 8.5 sacks ranks second in the league. Sterns, tabbed as Defensive Freshman of the Year, has logged 59 tackles, has added three tackles for loss and a sack and four interceptions. Boyd has recorded 57 tackles, picked off one pass, broke up 15 more, forced one fumble and recovered another.

The Horns have given up an average of 26.3 points and 423.2 yards per game in the last half of the season. The defense allowed 24 points and 366.3 yards per game in the first six games.

OU’s defense did not improve after Riley fired defensive coordinator Mike Stoops following the Texas loss. The D has given up 476.8 ypg in the last half of the season, 55.6 more than the first half. Opponents also averaged more yards per play (6.8), 1.5 per play more in the last six games.

All Crimson fans can hope for is for the defense to make a few big plays like the turnovers created against West Virginia last week. Two Mountaineers fumbles were returned for touchdowns. The defense must force Ehlinger to make errant decisions.

The Sooners must limit turnovers and dumb penalties. They have turned the ball over twice in three of the last four games. Kyler Murray must, well, be Kyler Murray. He continues to turn in performances that will get him to New York City as a Heisman finalist. The Longhorns will be hard-pressed to force Oklahoma into a one-dimensional team.

The Sooners’ position at No. 5 in the College Football Playoff ranking has them in a good position of making the four-team playoff if Alabama beats Georgia in the SEC Championship Game on Saturday afternoon. But, if the Sooners squeak past the Longhorns and Ohio State blows out Northwestern in the Big 10 Championship Game on Saturday night, then the Buckeyes could jump ahead of Oklahoma for the final playoff spot.

OU is seeking a record fourth consecutive Big 12 Conference crown and 12th overall. OU is also seeking revenge and its third College Football Playoff appearance in four years. The Sooners will return to Arlington in four weeks to meet the Crimson Tide as the No. 4 seed.

SOONERS 55, LONGHORNS 45.

Fast Facts

  • OU is the top seed and will be the home team, but they have opted to wear their road Roughrider alternate uniform.
  • UT leads the series, 62-46-5; 51-43-4 on a neutral field.
  • OU is favored by 7.5.
  • Lincoln Riley is 23-3 (.885) overall; 1-1 vs. UT; 1-0 in Big 12 CG; 2-2 at neutral sites; 16-2 vs. conference opponents; 6-2 vs. ranked foes.
  • Tom Herman is 38-13 (.745) overall; at UT: 16-9 (.640); 1-1 v s. OU; 0-0 in Big 12 CG; 11-6 vs. conference foes; 5-5 vs. ranked opponents.
  • Of the 16 Big 12 title games held so far, OU or UT has been a participant in 14 of them.
  • OU is 8-1 in Big 12 Championship Games; UT is 3-2.
  • OU is 7-0 in games played on December 1.
  • UT is 1-4 in games played on December 1.

Articles by Ray Dozier