Red River Rivalry doesn’t look to be a defensive struggle

The Red River Rivalry between Oklahoma and Texas in Dallas historically has been a defensive battle.

It may not be this season.

Both unranked Texas and No. 20 Oklahoma have lost two games.

Out of 130 teams, OU ranks No. 88 in total defense while the Longhorns check in at No. 87. The Sooner defense is at No. 116 in giving up passing yards (298 yards a game) while Texas is not much better at No. 105 (274 yards a game).

The only decent defensive stars for either teams is defense against the run. OU is No. 40 in the nation, allowing 130 yards a game while the Horns are No. 61 (153 yards per game).

Oklahoma is giving up 35 points a game while Texas is surrendering 41 points per game.

Last Saturday, Texas gave up 49 points in a 49-31 loss to Oklahoma State while TCU scored 46 points against the Sooner defense in a game OU barely won, 52-46.

The rivalry is always heated but this year’s game may be even more stressful as Oklahoma seeks to win the Big 12 after a miserable 1-2 nonconference performance (albeit with losses to No. 2 Ohio State and No. 6 Houston).

The Sooners should have extra motivation after Texas upset OU 24-17 – a loss that almost cost them the Big 12 title and their trip to the college playoff.

Texas opened with a narrow win over Notre Dame – a signature win that has been tarnished by the 2-3 record of the Fighting Irish.

The OU upset last year may have saved the job of Longhorn coach Charlie Strong but a loss this year might be the last straw for Longhorn fans and the Texas administration.

After losing to OSU, Strong demoted defensive coordinator Vance Bedford and Strong will now call his own defensive plays. Strong has continually shuffled his staff. Linebackers coach Brian Jean-Mary is now the only assistant from his inaugural staff that has held on to the same title.

Oklahoma is a 9-point favorite but this game rarely follows the script.

Texas players believe they can pull off the upset and save their coach’s job.

“I think it definitely can [happen],” said backup quarterback and short-yardage specialist Tyrone Swoopes. “It’s a big game, and everybody gets ready for it. I don’t think it will be hard to refocus.”

Oklahoma rediscovered its rushing attack against TCU, running for 260 yards and five touchdowns. Before TCU, OU had only four rushing scores in three games.

“Their running backs did a great job,” said TCU coach Gary Patterson. “For many years here, we learned how to win close games. Now we’ve found a way to lose two of those games. We’re 3-2 and 1-1 in the conference, and we’ve got Kansas next week, which is always a tough ballgame for us. We’ve got to get ready to play.”

OU quarterback Baker Mayfield scored his first two rushing touchdowns of the season on runs of 11 and 9 yards.

“I thought he was exceptional,” OU coach Bob Stoops said about Mayfield. “He threw some great deep balls for touchdowns and got some great third downs.

“He put them right in there in tough situations on third down. I think it gets overlooked, 8 out of 15 is pretty good. It opens up some of the run pass option type plays.

“I thought he did an exceptional job on a bunch of runs, pulling the ball and running when he had the opportunity. I thought he did a great job managing that as well.”

Mayfield will need a great effort because of the intensity Saturday in the Cotton Bowl.

“We just know it’s an important game,” said Swoopes. “It’s always a big game no matter who is good or who is not good or anything like that. It’s just one of those games you always get ready for. It’s at the Cotton Bowl, which is always a nice venue. It’s just the atmosphere, the Texas fans, like I said, everybody knows how important it is. And so I think it’s easy for guys to get ready for important games like this.

Freshman quarterback Shane Buechele grew up cheering for Oklahoma. He attended the game once while a junior in high school.

“This has always been an exciting game and it always will be,” Buechele said. “Just the whole family thing, how it’s come up, it’s going to be fun. But it’s just another game and I’m going to go in and execute and try to execute and try to get a win.”

After Texas beat OU last year, the Longhorns went 5-5 the rest of the way.

“I look at that game and I do go back to that game, actually. It’s almost like did we know how to win and did we know how to handle winning,” Strong said. “I look at that, I do. I go back to that game all the time because that could have been a turn right there, because it takes one game to really turn the program.