By Nick Snow
CNHI News Service
The Red River Rivalry has a predictable formula. The same circumstances seem to decide who will win between Oklahoma and Texas. The only thing that changes is the beneficiary.
One team will make more mistakes today and it will get to watch the other plant its flag in the middle of the Cotton Bowl turf while players have their pictures taken with a golden hat.
Here are the factors that tend to lead to victory and defeat at the Red River Rivalry:
• Turnovers. Get them to don’t give them: Any OU offensive player who hasn’t heard “take care of the football” more than 100 times this week needs to have his hearing checked. Any defensive player who hasn’t heard about the importance of getting turnovers should have a date with their favorite ear, nose and throat doc. The team that turns it over the most losses. Turn it over a bunch, and it becomes a rout. For quick reference, dial up last season’s game.
• Play well early. The last team to rally from a fourth-quarter deficit to win was OU in 2002. Late comebacks have been absent from the Red River Rivalry for more than a decade. More often than not, the game has been decided before teams switch ends for the last time. Getting off to a good start has a snowball effect. OU rode an early surge of energy to a 55-17 victory last season. That win mirrored OU’s lopsided lashing in 2000 and 2003. Texas did the same to the Sooners in 2005.
• Run the ball well. It can be a misleading statistic. Texas actually outrushed the Sooners last season and lost by 38 points. Still, running the ball effectively, total yards aside, serves to keep the opposing defense guessing. For OU, it means averaging close to 5 yards a carry. If that happens, the Longhorns will be on their heels. For Texas, it means rushing for 200 yards. If the Longhorns can do that, it means avoiding putting the game on the arm of quarterback David Ash.
• Play well on third down: This will be a fight between the Longhorn offense and the Sooner defense. Texas is one of the best teams in the nation at converting third downs and the Sooners haven’t been very good defending third down. Those plays keep drives alive and drain defenses physically and mentally. The Sooners have to improve in this area. It may be their biggest defensive deficiency.
• Win special teams: A huge difference in this game could be Michael Hunnicutt. OU’s kicker has been consistent for two seasons. The Longhorns have no equal. OU lost this game in 2009 because it didn’t have a kicker who could make a 45-yard field goal. Now it does. Another change is the new kickoff rule. OU’s Patrick O’Hara has put the ball in the end zone on 13 of 28 kickoffs. That’s good because Texas has returned a kickoff for a touchdown twice in the last four Red River Rivalry games.
—John Shinn, CNHI