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Texas, Oklahoma to Battle for Critical Red River Rivalry Win

Sports

Texas Longhorns | Image by Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

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The Texas Longhorns and Oklahoma Sooners will play for the 118th time on Saturday and the 100th time in Dallas. This year’s meeting will be the first Red River Rivalry since 1998 in which both teams are unranked.

Oklahoma (3-2, 0-2 Big 12) was ranked No.9 in the Associated Press preseason poll, but now it is in disarray after two straight losses to Kansas State and TCU knocked them out of the Top 25. In coach Brent Venables’ first season, the Sooners are desperate to avoid an 0-3 start to Big 12 play and their first three-game losing streak since 1998.

Texas (3-2, 1-1) bounced back from a loss to Texas Tech with a 38-20 win over West Virginia and can climb right back into the thick of the conference title race with a win against Oklahoma. It would be the Longhorns’ first win against the Sooners since 2018.

Since then, Oklahoma has won four consecutive head-to-head meetings against Texas. Last year, the Longhorns held a 28-7 first-quarter lead before spiraling and losing 55-48 to the Sooners.

Texas will get a boost from the return of starting quarterback Quinn Ewers, who has been sidelined since the first quarter of the Alabama game in Week 2 with a collarbone sprain. Ewers is reportedly healthy and will move back into the starting job ahead of Hudson Card.

While the Longhorns are getting their starting QB back, the Sooners may be without theirs. Oklahoma quarterback Dillon Gabriel is nursing a concussion he sustained on a jarring hit against TCU, and his status is uncertain for the game.

If Gabriel cannot go, Davis Beville will get the start, having stepped in to finish the Sooners’ 55-24 loss to TCU. Beville played two years at Pittsburgh, where he made just one career start, before transferring to Oklahoma this year.

One sure thing is that high-level skill players will surround both teams’ quarterbacks.

Texas’ junior running back Bijan Robinson has rushed for 515 yards and eight touchdowns; both ranked second in the Big 12. He has also been a threat catching the ball, with 188 yards and a touchdown catch.

Sophomore wide receiver Xavier Worthy leads the Longhorns with 331 yards receiving and is tied for first with three touchdowns. Worthy is coming off his best game of the 2022 season with a 119-yard, two-touchdown performance last week against West Virginia.

Oklahoma’s offense features star wide receiver and Frisco native Marvin Mims, who played a massive role in the Sooners’ comeback win over the Longhorns in last year’s Red River game. Mims recorded 136 yards and two touchdowns in that game, and this season has 22 catches for 438 yards and three touchdowns.

Oklahoma has a deep running back unit as well. Eric Gray leads the rushing unit with 460 yards on 66 carries, ranking second in the Big 12 and eighth nationally with his 7.0 yards per carry.

Gray is complimented by Jovantae Barnes, who has 223 yards on 44 carries and two touchdowns, and Marcus Major, who has 164 yards on 33 carries and four touchdowns.

The offense has not been the problem for the Sooners this year, with the most significant issues coming on defense. After allowing 96 points and 636 yards rushing combined in its losses to Kansas State and TCU, Oklahoma now ranks 108th in total defense, with an average of 423 yards allowed per game.

Oklahoma appears to be in a vulnerable spot, with a defense that is out of sorts and possibly without their starting QB. The timing may never be better for the Longhorns to break through and end their losing skid to the Sooners.

“This rivalry, this game, and what it all stands for in the way these two teams have played in this game for decades, we know more than ever we’re going to get the best version of them,” Texas head coach Steve Sarkisian said. “We need to make sure that they get the best version of us.”

While Texas is using four straight years of losses to Oklahoma as motivation, the Sooners are using the more recent past as an inspiration.

Two years ago, Oklahoma also started 0-2 in the Big 12 before beating Texas 53-45 in four overtimes. The Red River Rivalry win turned the Sooners’ season around as they would go on to win another Big 12 championship that year before rolling over Florida in the Goodyear Cotton Bowl Classic.

Venables was not on the Sooners’ staff for the rebound in 2020. Instead, he is drawing on how Clemson turned things around in 2021 in his final season as defensive coordinator there.

“That team made a decision to get better and not allow themselves to be influenced by the outside noise, only be influenced by a straining to do everything you can to improve every day,” Venables said. “One practice, one meeting at a time. That’s literally how you do it. And not allow seeds of doubt or seeds of division to come into the locker room.”

The game will start from the Cotton Bowl in Dallas on Saturday at 11 a.m. CT and will air on ABC.

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