3 Storylines to watch against Oklahoma

05 Oct By
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In his first season as the Sooners' starting quarterback, Spencer Rattler has completed 69 of 94 passes (73.4 percent) for 977 yards, 10 touchdowns and four interceptions (photo courtesy of soonersports.com).

The AT&T Red River Showdown ... or Shootout ... or Rivalry — whatever you prefer to call the annual meeting between these two bluebood programs, it almost always proves to be a battle that comes down to the final possession.

With both squads coming off of losses last week, this game is more than a rivalry. It is a key contest, and a must-win matchup for both programs.

“I know our players are eager to roll up their sleeves, get back to work and make sure that we improve the things that we know we can, that are fixable and hopefully have that translate better on Saturday," head coach Tom Herman said Monday.

With that, here are three storylines to watch:

Spencer Rattler's insecurity in the pocket
When it comes to the quarterback matchup between Texas' Sam Ehlinger and Oklahoma's Spencer Rattler, Ehlinger has the clear advantage. He is more experienced, and much more poised in the pocket, especially late in close games. Texas Tech can attest to that.

Oklahoma enters into this contest 0-2 in conference play, partly because of Rattler's inconsistent play. Facing Kansas State two weeks ago, he tossed three interceptions into the hands of Wildcat defenders. Against Iowa State this past Saturday, Oklahoma had a chance to rally late, but he missed his target on a pass to the end zone and, you guessed it, threw his fourth interception of the season.

It all goes back to Rattler looking insecure in the pocket, and Texas will certainly be more of a challenge than the Iowa State or Kansas State defensive fronts were. The Longhorn defense has three sacks, four interceptions, an average 72 tackles per game and 15 passes broken up. Rattler will either need to improve on his composure or the Texas defense will single-handedly control the game.

Winning it at the goal line
Games are won at the goal line ... or in UT's case Saturday against TCU, lost at the goal line. Texas running back Keaontay Ingram fumbled at the 1-yard line while trying to push past Horned Frog defenders and into the end zone on what turned out to be Texas' final possession of the ballgame.

In a close game like this one is projected to be, with Oklahoma entering the showdown as 2.5-point favorites, each offense will need to make the most of its opportunities inside the opponent's 20-yard line. What happened to the Longhorns last week certainly can not happen again.

Facing superb defense, that may become more of a challenge than expected for these high-octane offenses.

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The Longhorns have scored a touchdown on 14 of their 18 trips to the red zone this season, a show of offensive efficiency that has carried a defense marred by injury and inexperience. The Texas defense, on the other hand, has stopped an opponent in the red zone from scoring (either a touchdown or field goal) on just three occasions in 2020.

Oklahoma has been just as good as Texas on the offensive side of the ball, scoring on 86 percent of its trips into the red zone. On defense, the Sooners have allowed opponents to score on nine of 10 trips inside the UT 20-yard line, allowing a touchdown on six of those drives.

When Ingram fumbled late in Texas' loss on Saturday, he had been on the field for four straight plays, including a 52-yard reception, which took some of his stamina. Roschon Johnson had been the Longhorns' primary back in the red zone for much of the game, except for the the drive prior to the fumble. Johnson leads the Longhorns in rushing touchdowns with two.

Watch for Johnson to be inserted into the game more often when Texas is in the red zone for additional ball security.

Big 12 Championship hopes remain alive
In a rare situation, the Red River Showdown will be more of a fight to keep a team's Big 12 Championship hopes alive than it will be a preview of the Big 12 Championship game. This is the case more for Oklahoma than it is for Texas, neither of which is atop the conference standings.

For Oklahoma, which is on the outside of the Associated Press top 25 rankings looking in for the first time since 2016, this is a must-win, and while the Sooners are favored, they could not have picked a tougher matchup to be in this situation.

The Horns have proven themselves to be fierce contenders, are led by a Heisman Trophy candidate in Sam Ehlinger, and are not in a state of panic sitting at 1-1 in Big 12 play.

“In 2020, nobody in this building is going to panic after a Week 3, two-point loss at home,” Herman said Monday. “Now that’s not saying we are burying our head in the sand to the tremendous amount of issues that we have to correct.”

Herman said he has seen his team improve from week to week, even with a likely period of adjustment, due to new styles of play on both offense and defense under new coordinators.

“We kind of knew that defensively, when you install a new package like this, that that there were going to be some growing pains,” Herman said. “It’s our job as coaches to expedite that process as quickly as we can.”

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Riley Zayas is a high school sophomore and freelance journalist from Round Rock, Texas. He began his journalism career as a Sports Illustrated Kids reporter and has since become a regular contributor to Horns Illustrated, covering Texas Longhorn sports. His work also includes Fellowship of Christian Athletes publications, his personal blog 360 Sports, College Baseball Nation and Sports Spectrum, a national christian sports website. Twitter: @ZayasRiley