DALLAS — A unit-by-unit look at who has the edge in Saturday's Red River Rivalry game between No. 13 Oklahoma and No. 15 Texas.
Last season when Landry Jones and David Ash went head-to-head, the Sooner was clearly the better quarterback. But this year, Ash has been much more consistently good; Jones struggled through the first three games before finding his groove last week. Still, the Sooners' added rushing threat from backup Blake Bell in short-yardage situations gives OU the slight edge.
Texas has thrown the ball around quite well, but is also much more committed to running the football than is Oklahoma. Three Longhorn backs — Joe Bergeron, Malcolm Brown and Johnathan Gray — have at least 40 carries, and each average over 4 yards per carry. The Sooner' top two backs, Damien Williams and Dominique Whaley, have played well when given opportunities.
Ash distributes his passes to receivers much more evenly than Jones; Texas, on the whole, has caught 112 passes, but its leading receiver, Jaxon Shipley, accounts for 22 of them. Kenny Stills, meanwhile, has 29 of the Sooners' 97 receptions. Jones was better about that last week, and the addition of Jalen Saunders gives him yet another big-play threat to look for.
The Oklahoma line has played admirably given the last few, volatile, months. But Texas' line returned four starters from last season, and they all remain healthy. The only newcomer on the line is Donald Hawkins, a junior-college transfer who was committed to Oklahoma State for a few months last fall before a late switch.
Senior DT Casey Walker's return has clearly had an impact; he played well in last week's win at Texas Tech, and Jamarkus McFarland and David King have been solid, too. R.J. Washington played his best game of 2012 last week. But Texas incredible DE duo — Alex Okafor and Jackson Jeffcoat — create an edge here for the Longhorns.
Texas lost a pair of experienced linebackers to graduation, and returned little experience there. Oklahoma returned Tom Wort and Corey Nelson, but in Mike Stoops' new scheme, they've been limited. They've also struggled with pass defense, although Frank Shannon came in for Wort last week and shined; Shannon should see more time going forward. OU is also frequently in a six-DB, dime package, which leaves only one linebacker on the field at a time. Texas gets the edge by default.
Texas' Kenny Vaccaro, Carrington Byndom and Quandre Diggs are all returning starters with big-time talent, but the Longhorn secondary has been extremely disappointing so far in 2012. Oklahoma's secondary has continued to improve through the season, and Aaron Colvin has shown himself to be one of the better Oklahoma DBs in recent memory. Before the season, it would be unthinkable that OU would get the nod here, but it does.
D.J. Monroe returned one kick for a touchdown, which gives the Longhorns one more 2012 return-game score than the Sooners. But Brennan Clay and Roy Finch have done well returning kicks, and Justin Brown seems bound to score on a punt return at some point. Saunders could also contribute here going forward. Punters Alex King and Tress Way are a wash. OU's Michael Hunnicutt has made 5 of 6 field goal attempts, while Texas' two kickers are 4 of 9. That's the difference.
Mack Brown has labored through a rough stretch over the past few years that Bob Stoops — despite his occassional dips — hasn't experienced. Oklahoma's resolve following the Kansas State loss is a product of coaching; Stoops and his staff made adjustments and looked at their best last weekend, in their fourth game. Brown's enormously talented defense, meanwhile, continues to dramatically underperform.
Each team has now lost at home to an unbeaten Big 12 team — although the argument could be made that Texas should have two losses. Oklahoma gets the nod here, but it's because of timing as much as anything. The Sooners have a bye week and a Texas Tech rout between Saturday and their loss; Texas' came last weekend. OU also possibly gets a mental boost from Saunders' sudden eligibility.