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Blogging about college football by an Oklahoma Sooners fan.

Red River Shootout: What to Watch

John Blake and John MackovicDate: October 2
Time: 3:30 pm EST
Venue: Cotton Bowl (Dallas)
Vegas Line: OU -3.5

With the way the Oklahoma Sooners and Texas Longhorns have bumbled through the start of the 2010 season, you'd think Bob Stoops and Mack Brown were channeling the spirits of John Blake and John Mackovic on the sidelines.

OK, so Homerism dipped pretty far down into the hyperbole bag for that one. With all the success these two programs had last decade, though, it sure feels like the Dark Ages right now.

I mean, take a look at some of these stats:

Texas

  • Total offense: 356.8 yards per game (77th nationally)
  • Offensive yards per play: 5.1 (82nd)
  • Turnovers through four games: 10 (106th)

Oklahoma

  • Total defense: 421.3 yards per game (97th)
  • Defensive yards per play: 5.8 (90th)
  • Oklahoma rushing defense: 177.5 yards per game (93rd)

Sheesh.

Of course, the two teams have a combined record of 7-1 to this point, which probably makes the bellyaching all the more annoying to fans of lesser programs. (Even more irritating to those fans? People referring to their favorite teams as "lesser programs.")

A loss here and Texas will join all those lesser programs outside the top 25 of the polls. On the other side of the field, who knows if the Crimson and Cream can handle yet another defeat at the hands of their hated rivals.

Who'll have its fried pickles with a side of humiliation on Saturday? The answer depends on...

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1. Texas' Use of Garrett Gilbert in the Run Game (or Not)

Garrett Gilbert

OU's defense has given one absolutely dominant performance to go along with three "just enough" outings. The common thread in those three lackluster games? The veer option.

As has been the case since seemingly the beginning of time, if an opposing quarterback presents a threat to run, Bob Stoops' aggressive defenses tend to have problems. Making Sooner defenders read and react is an offense's best shot at moving the ball.

This obviously raises a dilemma for Mack Brown and Greg Davis, who decided to ditch the zone read in the offseason for a more traditional power attack. The current version of Texas' offense looks a whole lot more like what Florida State was running than what OU saw against Utah State and Cincy.

For all Gilbert's talents as a quarterback, he simply doesn't have the elusiveness of his predecessor under center, Colt McCoy. If Mack and Co. want to get him involved in the ground game, it could be a long day for the sophomore QB.

2. OU's Young Guys

In contrast to years past when circumstance has forced Stoops to let the freshmen out of the barn early, OU is relying on a slew of rookies by choice this year.

Fullback Trey Millard looks like Brody Eldridge with more talent. Safety Tony Jefferson pretty much never leaves the field on defense. Receiver Kenny Stills is gaining an average of 13 yards per reception. Corey Nelson has worked his way into the rotation at linebacker.

One name to remember on Saturday is freshman burner Trey Franks, who saw plenty of snaps as a slot receiver against Cincy. Look for the Sooners to find some creative ways to get the speedster room to operate in open space.

In big games like this, the newbies who explode (here's one) surface far less often than those who can't handle the spotlight. The Sooners have to hope a bunch of young guys come up big.

(For Texas, by the way, the loss of freshman receiver Mike Davis looms pretty large.)

3. The Big Play

Of the 11 touchdowns the Sooners have given up, five have come on plays of 30 yards or more. Seven were scored on drives of eight plays or less, and of that cohort, the shortest was 61 yards.

Want some more fun with numbers? Oklahoma's defense has allowed seven runs of 20 yards or more (102nd overall) and 14 pass plays of 25 yards or more (118th).

Think we can safely say the Sooners are susceptible to the big play, no?

This would be a huge problem if the Texas O had shown anything more than a modest ability to hit home runs this year. Instead, the 'Horns are living and dying with infield singles and Texas leaguers.

Which brings us to...

Greg Davis4. Texas' "Range of Motion"

As Peter Bean noted on our podcast this week, Greg Davis actually turned up the heat beneath his seat by admitting that his disastrous offensive scheme against UCLA was predicated on wearing out the Bruins "side to side."

Sounds like the pansiest strategy in history, reminiscent of whatever it was UT was running back in the days of 65-14.

Still, have to give it up for a guy who won't bow down to his detractors, no matter how much they cuss his mama. So, go on wit' ya bad self, Coach D.

However, beating OU will require more "back and forth." The Sooners will eat Texas' lunch if Davis refuses to go down field.

5. How Texas Covers Ryan Broyles

Peter asked me on the podcast what kind of defense I'd draw up to stop Broyles. Honestly, I have no idea.

You can keep Michael Floyd and Julio Jones; for my money, Broyles has become the best wide receiver in college football. From a production standpoint, it's hard to argue with at least 100 yards receiving in seven straight games. During that stretch, Broyles has also caught eight TDs. (He's also a helluva punt returner.)

The bottom line is that if stopping was Broyles was that easy, it stands to reason that someone would have figured out how already. On the other hand, Broyles has yet to face Will Muschamp and Texas' world-class secondary.

Scipio at Barking Carnival suggests doubling Broyles with cornerback Curtis Brown and a safety, leaving Aaron Williams to go one-on-one with Kenny Stills. That's not a bad idea, although I wouldn't be shocked if Muschamp tries Williams on Broyles straight up first.

6. Non-strength Versus Non-strength

The true weaknesses of both these teams lie on the interior of their lines. They're all competent at best.

UCLA wore down UT's defensive tackles in the second half, enabling the Bruins to do whatever they wanted in the run game. For OU, the story has been similar, although it has happened three times now.

Capitalizing on that soft middle requires centers and guards who are up to the task. If these teams' run games are any indication, they're not.

Whichever team can take advantage of the other's DTs will gain a significant advantage as the game wears on.

Prediction

When analyzing titanic clashes such as this, I almost always fall back on a simple question: Which team has the greater margin for error? (It served me well when breaking down this game last year.)

This time around, I'd say it's OU.

Clearly, Oklahoma's defense is ripe to be picked off. Opponents are outgaining the Sooners by more than half of a yard per play this season, for crying out loud.

Yet, Texas' offense simply isn't built to take advantage of those weak spots. The 'Horns can't run the ball consistently, and, aside from Mike Davis, the UT receivers aren't giving Gilbert much help in the passing game.

Even worse, the 'Horns are having trouble holding on to the ball, which has put their ferocious defense in difficult spots this year. The Sooners, meanwhile, are generating three turnovers per game.

I have no doubt that Texas' D can contain OU's O. However, even the best defenses eventually give out when they spend the vast majority of the time on the field. If the 'Horns offense gives up the ball too frequently Saturday, OU inevitably will find its way to the end zone.

If the 'Horns don't win the turnover battle against OU, their offense simply isn't good enough to put up enough points.

There's your answer.

Oklahoma 24, Texas 10.