Date: Oct. 17, 2009
Time: 12 p.m. EST
Venue: Cotton Bowl (Dallas)
Vegas Line: Texas -3.5
With one of the most anticipated match-ups in the illustrious history of the Red River Shootout just days away, workplace productivity in Oklahoma and Texas is surely approaching historically low proportions. Sooner and Longhorn partisans have been whiling away their days this week arguing around watercoolers, talking virtual trash on message boards and surfing the Web for some angle on the game that hasn't already been beaten to death by the hordes of local and national media covering the game.
Everybody already knows about the Sooners' horrible health situation and Texas' motivation after the BCS supposedly screwed the Longhorns out of a shot at the national title. In addition to the importance of running the ball effectively, here are six under-the-radar aspects of this match-up to keep an eye on. Watch:
1. The left side of OU's offensive line
With the loss of starting left guard Brian Simmons to injury, the situation for the Sooners' offensive line went from very bad to much worse. As different combinations of blockers on the right side have struggled to keep opposing defenders at bay, OU had been relying on Simmons and left tackle Trent Williams to open holes in the run game. With Simmons gone, the Sooners could have trouble establishing the run.
Stephen Good and Tyler Evans are competing for Simmons' spot in practice this week. At one point in the preseason, the talented Good looked like a lock to garner a starting spot, but inconsistency has limited his contributions this season to spot time and mop-up duty. Whoever ends up seeing the majority of the time will have to be quick on his feet, as crafty Longhorn defensive coordinator Will Muschamp will throw blitzes of all shapes and sizes at the Sooners.
2. Where Jordan Shipley lines up
This will change from play to play, as UT offensive coordinator Greg Davis loves to move Shipley around to capitalize on match-up advantages. Last season, Davis essentially used Shipley as a tight end, putting him in the slot close to offensive line. The wily sixth-year senior worked the Oklahoma linebackers in the middle of the field like a speedbag. How Oklahoma defensive coordinator Brent Venables adjusts pass coverage and his patented blitz schemes could go a long way towards determining if OU can limit Shipley's effectiveness.
3. Who else from Texas' receiving corp steps up
A big reason why Shipley had such success in the 2008 game is gone: Quan Cosby. The pair formed a potent one-two punch last year that Davis used to spread out opposing defenses and force somewhat of a pick-your-poison scenario. Cosby and Shipley had almost identical numbers of catches (92 and 89) and touchodwn receptions (10 and 11), with Cosby actually averaging slightly more yards per catch, 12.21 to 11.91. The drop-off was vast, as Texas' third-leading receiver was departed running back Chris Ogbonnaya, with 46 receptions.
A Sonny to Shipley's Cher has yet to emerge in 2009. There are certainly candidates, such as sophomore Dan Buckner and junior James Kirkendoll, but all have been more bit players this season than leading men. If the 'Horns are counting on Shipley alone to get it done and don't get strong production out of the entire cast of characters, the Sooners have a good shot at winning this game.
4. Who joins Sam Bradford in the backfield on pass plays
With the problems OU has had protecting the quarterback this season, the UT pass rush must be licking its chops in anticipation of getting a few licks in against the reigning Heisman Trophy winner. Consequently, it's almost inevitable that offensive coordinator Kevin Wilson will be forced to keep a running back inside to watch Bradford's back. Guys like Matt Clapp will have to help keep Bradford clean if the Sooners want to be in this game. Also, Wilson can't go to a five-wide or empty backfield formation, for fear of getting his quarterback killed.
5. What Colt McCoy does improvising
Is there anything more disheartening for a defense than watching a shifty quarterback run for a first down when a play breaks down on third and eight? In last season's colossal clash between the Sooners and Longhorns, McCoy frustrated the OU defense all afternoon with timely scrambling (and being the recipient of some questionable late-hit penalties).
So far this year, OU has been better at keeping opposing quarterbacks corralled. McCoy is an entirely different proposition, though.
6. Penalty yardage
In a game in which the two squads appear to be this close, neither team can afford to give away free yardage. The Sooners have racked up major penalties in both of their losses this season, particularly on offense. As a result, OU has faced an alarming number of long-yardage situations on third down. Texas is averaging 72 yards per game in penalties this season, 10 fewer than OU.