Let’s go back to 1985.
Supertramp still dominated the airwaves. The Chicago Bears, who were so bad they knew they were good, strutted their stuff for everyone to a 15-1 regular season record and a trouncing of the Patriots in Super Bowl XX. Even Marty McFly needed to get back to the year 1985, if only he had the 1.21 gigawatts of electricity to go back in time and without upsetting the space-time continuum (What the heck is a gigawatt?).
And in 1985, Oklahoma and Texas faced off in a contest that was as highly touted as the one we will see this upcoming Saturday. It was the last time these two heavyweights had this much bearing on the national football scene, as each boasted undefeated records and a Top Five ranking. No. 1 Texas faced off against No. 3 Oklahoma, and the classic game, which was dominated by two powerful defenses, came down to one kick. With the game tied at 15, Longhorns’ kicker Jeff Ward launched a 32-yard field goal and gave Texas the victory as time expired.
Though the Longhorns were triumphant in the clash 16 years ago, it was the Sooners who had the last laugh that year, as they went on to win their sixth national championship in school history.
One year ago, the Sooners not only had the last laugh in their clash with Texas in the Cotton Bowl but also laughed their way to the Orange Bowl, a perfect 13-0 record and another national championship.
The memories of last year’s battle between the two have yet to fade for some Longhorns.
“Words just can’t explain how long we’ve been looking forward to playing Oklahoma,” Longhorn linebacker D.D. Lewis said. “We’ve had all last season, all spring and all [the 2001] season to think about.”
What Lewis and the rest of Texas are thinking about is the drubbing that the Sooners gave them in 2000. After all was said and done in the Red River Shootout last season, the Sooners had scored 63 points and a school-record nine touchdowns, including six by running back Quentin Griffin.
The Longhorns were embarrassed, and Oklahoma was thereafter viewed as a potential national-championship team. It left Josh Heupel looking like a top Heisman candidate, and it left the Longhorns looking for answers.
This year’s game could serve as a springboard or slide for either team. Texas quarterback Chris Simms has looked progressively better each start, and has the potential of being a top Heisman candidate. He has the floor this weekend to impress the judges. Also, each team has a legitimate shot at going to the Rose Bowl ? this year’s national-championship game ? and one loss will likely land them out of the Big XII championship game and into the Cotton Bowl.
So how do the two stack up for this year’s annual Red River Shootout?
When it comes down to a statistical comparison of No. 3 Oklahoma (4-0, 1-0) and No. 5 Texas (4-0, 1-0), Texas has the edge on the offensive end. Granted, Texas averages just above 50 more yards offensively per game and has a slight edge in scoring offense.
The reason for this is that the Longhorns have a more balanced running and passing attack than the Sooners do. Their main running threat is Ivan Williams, who has rushed for nearly 400 yards this season and 5.6 yards per carry. If Williams is stopped, Cedric Benson is worthy to carry the ball, as he has rushed 44 times this season and is averaging 4.2 yards per carry.
This is completely opposite of the Sooner running attack, which is completely centered on Quentin Griffin. Griffin is averaging 5.0 yards per carry and has 368 yards on the season. The second leading rusher on the team has a mere 14 carries, but Renaldo Works can break one out, as he has run for 131 yards on that small amount of rushes.
However, the rushing attack has struggled from time to time, especially last week, when it was held to a miniscule nine yards.
Quarterback Chris Simms is a noteworthy Heisman candidate for the Longhorns and was unstoppable against Texas Tech last weekend. He threw for 226 yards on 21-of-26 passing in Texas’ 42-7 win. Simms can find a variety of receivers, especially with Roy Williams, who is emerging as one of the country’s best wideouts.
Oklahoma’s Nate Hybl, on the other hand, has found difficulty in adjusting to the starting quarterback role. He has thrown for six touchdowns and six interceptions, and his leading receiver is Griffin, who has 21 receptions on the season. Antwone Savage, however, is emerging as a big play receiver for the Sooners.
But Hybl deserves his due respect after stepping up last week, when his rushing attack was nil.
Plain and simple: Griffin is still the center of Oklahoma’s offense, while Texas has a variety of weapons.
But even last season, Oklahoma’s offense was not the cornerstone of the team. Its defense was what led it to the National Championship. Once again the defense is the carrying stick to the team, and it brings back some experience from last season. The Sooners have two of the nation’s best with Rocky Calmus at linebacker and strong safety Roy Williams, who is a phenomenal open field tackler and provides excellent coverage in the flat. Their scoring defense has been far more productive than Texas’ this season.
Last week, however, Oklahoma’s defense looked a little flat in the second half. K-State moved the ball at will on the Sooners, exposing holes in the defensive line and the secondary. Though OU gave up a 35-14 lead to the Wildcats, OU was able to hold on, winning 38-37.
Oklahoma may seem a little battered, but they have the major advantage of having played against and defeating one of the nation’s most elite teams. Texas, on the other hand, has not played a challenging opponent yet.
Why is the game in Texas this year, when it was played there the last two years? There is much history in this annual battle between the two clubs. Each season the game is played in the Cotton Bowl in Dallas, which is halfway between Austin, Texas, and Norman, Okla (the schools’ hometowns).
Texas holds an all-time 55-35-5 lead in the series, but Oklahoma will be looking for its first back-to-back wins since the 1987 and 1988 seasons.