The Sooners have been sitting pretty atop the Big 12 for the last six years. Texas only had one opportunity to dethrone them in the Big 12 Championship in 2018, but that ended in a 27-39 loss.
The heated rivalry game between Texas and Oklahoma has been decided by just one score in the last seven matchups. Steve Sarkisian’s new regime could very well change that because of the soundness that he will bring on both sides of the ball.
Oklahoma has won three consecutive games against Texas dating back to the Big 12 Championship in 2018. The last two meetings have been extremely painful sights. In 2019, Texas’ offensive line was absolutely putrid and gave up nine sacks. Former Texas quarterback Sam Ehlinger rushed for two touchdowns, but could not get anything going in the passing game averaging just 5.5 yards per attempt.
Not to mention, Texas had some of the worst defensive tackling performances imaginable in the 2019 and 2020 matchups. What ultimately put the dagger in the 2020 loss came well before the game-ending interception in the fourth overtime. It was Tom Herman not going for two in a time where the Oklahoma defense was struggling to stop Ehlinger.
However, new year, new staff, and a group of new players have come in and are ready to flip the script. Here are my reasons as to why Texas can dethrone Oklahoma this season.
Deeper Defensive Depth
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Texas’ defense was extremely thin last season and did not really have the luxury of rotating contributing players off the bench. They were especially thin at the linebacker position, but Sarkisian’s staff addressed that need in a huge way via the transfer portal this offseason. The Longhorns brought in a total of six transfers and four of them were linebackers. Ben Davis from Alabama and Ray Thornton from LSU should add some great leadership and skills that this defense was lacking. The signing of McNeese State defensive back Darion Dunn will also provide depth and experience in the defensive back room. The missed tackles from years past will be much improved under Jeff Choate and Pete Kwiatkowski and Texas will look to have a defense that plays fast in order to help them get leads, not lose them.
Better Defensive Performance
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The defense in 2020 did not really get their feet under them until well after the Red River Rivalry and that’s something that will change this season. The new defensive staff will put players in position to succeed and the Longhorns will have a few matchups that will fine tune the defense. The season opener against a very good Louisiana team, Texas Tech who gave them issues last season, and of course the week five matchup against TCU. These games will expose Texas to offenses that would have given them trouble last season, and having some confidence leading up to the Oklahoma game will be huge. The Longhorns showed late last season that their defense can be complimentary and the new staff is going to rejuvenate Texas’ defense and have them poised to have an upward trajectory.
Improved Quarterback Play
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This is no knock on Sam Ehlinger. He gave it his all and it was not enough. The former Texas quarterback averaged just over five yards per attempt and was not capable of slinging the ball as much as Herman had asked of him. Casey Thompson and Hudson Card are arguably better passers than Ehlinger. Sarkisian will be a big help to whoever is named the starter next season and Oklahoma has yet to face a defense in the Big 12 that has an elite offensive mind like Sarkisian. The Sooners were slaughtered by the offensive mind of Joe Brady in 2019, as the tigers scored 63 points in total and quarterback Joe Burrow was responsible for eight touchdowns. Sarkisian’s high-powered offense will have Alex Grinch scrambling to find an answer.
Better Play Calling
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The play calling under Herman was often predictable and it seemed he never trusted his offensive coordinators enough to control the offense. Sarkisian will not only spice things up, and be much more unpredictable, but he will also make sure that the playmakers get the ball one way or another. At Alabama, DeVonta Smith and Jalen Waddle would often be moved all over the field and go into motion just to keep the defense guessing, whereas last season the Longhorns did not solidify a true No. 1 option. Sarkisian will also use the extremely deep and talented backfield that Texas has with Bijan Robinson, Roschon Johnson, and Alabama transfer Keilan Robinson. His play calling will look to devastate opponents quickly, rather than answer the other teams scores. Sarkisian had Alabama’s offense ranked at or near the top in every major statistical category, and yes they had talented players, but Sarkisian puts those players in position to succeed at all times.
No Way Oklahoma Contains The Running Backs
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Last season, the Sooners held the Texas running back room to just 32 yards and forced the running game onto the shoulders of Sam Ehlinger. It also did not help that Texas did not establish the run early and quickly fell behind the Sooners. For reference, the three running backs used only combined for 11 carries with Bijan Robinson being the leader with five. At Alabama, Najee Harris averaged around 17 carries a game and that is a number that Robinson will likely exceed weekly. Texas put themselves in a situation where the run game was useless, and that just won’t happen under Sarkisian’s staff. The Sooners have a very good front seven, but Sarkisian will look to keep them on their heels in order to let the running backs expose them.