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Examining the Red River Showdown to determine OSU’s best chance at beating Texas

If OSU wants to upset Texas in Austin, they might want to consider doing some of these things...

NCAA FOOTBALL: OCT 08 Oklahoma v Texas Photo by John Korduner/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The Texas offense seemed two-faced as it took on its hated rival — you know, the one it shares with Oklahoma State and not the one that upset Alabama last week.

Texas scored six touchdowns and two field goals in its 55-48 loss to Oklahoma. Of the six touchdown drives, the longest drive lasted 1:55. The next longest was 1:32 and two of Texas’ six touchdowns came in under 15 seconds. There weren’t many long, methodical touchdown drives. If the Longhorns were finding the end zone, it was probably coming on chunk plays or fortuitous turnovers. The Longhorns two field goals came on longer drives, lasting 3:02 and 3:37 each.

When Texas scores, it usually scores pretty quickly. The same is true for the unsuccessful offensive drives. The Longhorns had seven offensive drives that didn’t end in points on Saturday, not counting a fumbled kickoff return and the kickoff return that ended the game, given that those are special teams and not offense. Of those seven drives, six lasted four plays or less and one was a six-play drive that resulted in a turnover-on-downs.

Whether it was scoring or punting, Texas didn’t burn much clock. The Longhorns held the ball for 24:26 as opposed to 35:34 for Oklahoma. The passing game was solid, accounting for 388 yards, which equals 11.4 yards-per-completion. The run game was alright, with 128 yards on 27 attempts for an average of 4.6 yards per carry.


The Blueprint

Those are the particulars of Texas’ track meet showdown with Oklahoma, but what does it all mean? Texas scores fast and it gives up the ball fast. The Horns likely aren’t going to take an early lead and start draining the clock, truly the embodiment of coach Steve Sarkisian’s “all gas, no brakes” slogan. See, look:

Unfortunately for “Sharkisian,” Texas couldn’t hold its 28-7 first-quarter lead because the brakes ran out of gas; in fact, the brakes failed altogether and the Horns went careening off a cliff.

Perhaps the best news for OSU is how a struggling Oklahoma run game gashed the Texas defense. The Sooners ran for 339 yards on 41 carries, good for 8.3 yards-per-carry. Considering the run game has been by far the best facet of Oklahoma State’s offense this season, this is good news. Throw in a poor performance for the Texas front seven against Arkansas’ rushing attack and a pattern reveals itself. Texas struggles to defend the run against competent “Power 5” competition.

Using a High School Example...

The way this Texas team operates — specifically in the Red River Showdown last weekend — distinctly reminds me of the 2017 Texas 5A Division I state championship game. Highland Park rallied from behind to beat Manvel 53-49. Manvel scored seven touchdowns in the game, with five of those coming in under 30 seconds each. The Mavs other two scoring drives last 1:19 and 3:35. They rolled up 640 yards of offense in just 50 plays, good for 12.8 yards per play over the course of the game, but Manvel still lost despite all that.

This is because Highland Park controlled the clock. The Scots didn’t turn the ball over, controlled the clock by possessing the ball twice as long as Manvel, and averaged a respectable 6.7 yards-per-play on 96 offensive plays. Those numbers are the absolute extreme and won’t likely happen in a college game, but still provides a solid blueprint for OSU to beat a boom-or-bust Texas offense.

By the way, this is how close Manvel was to winning that game, coming up a yard short as time expired.

Keys To The Game

So what does Oklahoma State need to do at a high level in order to win? The Pokes might be the undefeated and higher-ranked team, but there’s a reason Texas is a 4.5-point favorite at home. The Horns have athletes everywhere and Oklahoma State has struggled on offense this year. Here’s how I think they can get it done.

First, Oklahoma State has to defend at a high level. The Pokes have done this all season, limiting opponents to 18.6 points per game. Texas scores 44.5 points per game, so keeping the Horns closer to 20 than 40 will be no easy task.

Second, Oklahoma State has to force turnovers while remaining mostly mistake-free on offense. The Pokes haven’t been good at winning the turnover battle this year, and are -1 in net turnovers. If the Pokes can force two turnovers in Austin on Saturday and not give the ball up themselves, they’ll be in good shape. Spencer Sanders has thrown five touchdowns against four INT’s this year, while Texas has turned the ball over six times in six games.

Third, the Oklahoma State rushing game needs to succeed. The Horns let up 200 yards per game on the ground, but the Horns let up over 330 rushing yards against the two ranked opponents it has played this season. Jaylen Warren leads OSU with 512 yards this season, good for 4.6 yards-per-carry. Next-most is Sanders with 196 yards. If those two don’t turn the ball over and have a good game on the ground, OSU has a real chance.

Fourth, Oklahoma State needs to control the clock and not let giving up explosive plays discourage the team. Texas has shown it will score on explosive times, probably multiple times per game. That has happened in every Texas game this season other than the loss at Arkansas in which the team switched to current starting quarterback Casey Thompson. If OSU can get more three-and-outs then it lets up explosive touchdowns, which will bode well for the offense.

Fifth, limit Bijan Robinson and Xavier Worthy as much as possible. Robinson has looked like a fringe Heisman candidate and carried 20 times for 137 yards and a score against OU.

Meanwhile, people around the program at UT raved about true freshman receiver Xavier Worthy all summer and he hasn’t disappointed so far. Worthy had his best game against OU last week, going for 261 yards and two scores, including a 75-yard touchdown screen pass on the first play of the game.


The emotional aspect of this game is going to be hard to measure. Teams coming off a bye week typically have a perceived advantage because they are more rested. However, Texas is likely, uh... for lack of a better term, pissed off following its loss to OU, and knows it can have a shot at revenge in the Big 12 title game if it runs the table in Big 12 play. A loss to Oklahoma State would likely eliminate that chance, so the Horns should be fired up to play at home against its biggest threat to reaching a Big 12 title game.

Oklahoma State has a better-than-good chance to win this game if it does everything right pertaining to what I outlined above. But those things aren’t just easy to do and Texas is favored for good reason. The Horns offense has looked outstanding this year while the defense has struggled at times. Its been the exact opposite for the Pokes. In today’s game, the team with the better offense typically wins those games where the opponents have opposite strengths pertaining to offense and defense. For that reason, my prediction is...

Texas, 35 — Oklahoma State, 31