On Saturday evening, one of the most storied rivalries in college football kicks off for the 116th time in Dallas. The Oklahoma Sooners (0-2) face the Texas Longhorns (2-1) in a matchup that will effectively end any hopes of winning the Big 12 and certainly getting to the College Football Playoff.
In Britain, this would be a proper blood and guts derby, a Liverpool-Everton or Arsenal-Tottenham. It’s a rivalry named after the river that acts as the majority of the border between the two states. It is fuelled by emotion, territory and conflict, notably the Red River Bridge War of 1931, a dispute over a toll bridge. It is brilliant to watch.
Sports Illustrated quoted Berry Tramel, reporter for the Oklahoman saying “it’s like a carnival on the ultimate steroid”.
The winner will receive one of three trophies. The most prominent is the legendary Golden Hat, a ten-gallon hat made of gold and originally donated in 1929 by the Texas State Fair, which runs alongside the game. The original hat was replaced by a bronzed version in 1941 and then became gold in the 1970s.
The first meeting between the two saw Oklahoma travel 400 miles by train to where they were handily beaten 28-2 by Texas in what the Austin American-Statesman haughtily referred to as “just a practice game” for their team.
The Longhorns had dominated the early history until 1948 when Oklahoma won nine-game streak up until 1957. One of the legendary characters in the Red River Rivalry, Darrell Royal coached Texas to a 15-14 win. Royal, born in Oklahoma, had been the Sooners’ quarterback ten years earlier. He subsequently led Texas to three national championships in the 1960s.
Arguably the most important game in the rivalry was the 1963 matchup in which Oklahoma and Texas were ranked No.1 and No.2 in the nation. Texas won 28-7 and kept the momentum to beat Navy later that year and win their first title. Further championships followed in 1969 and 1970. Royal would ultimately be honoured by the 100,000 Darrell K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium bearing his name.
As legendary as Royal, was the Oklahoma coach Barry Switzer who led the Sooners to three national titles. Switzer went on to win Super Bowl XXX with the Dallas Cowboys. He controversially admitted in his autobiography that his Sooners had spied on Texas practices. Switzer famously wore a “Beat Texas” cap on the sidelines during their 1984 matchup, which ironically finished in a 15-15 tie.
Two famous Texas running backs graced the Rivalry and won the Heisman Trophy. Earl Campbell rushed for 126 yards in their 1977 game, while Ricky Williams scored 2 TDs and rushed for 153 yards in their 1998 encounter.
The following year, Bob Stoops was hired by Oklahoma and led them, undefeated, to the national title in 2000, thrashing Texas 63-14 along the way. A further 65-13 hiding in 2003 cementing his place in Sooners history.
The 100th meeting ensued in 2005. Coach Mack Brown led a great Texas team featuring QB Vince Young and RB Jamaal Charles to a 45-12 win over their Red River rivals. They would go on to win the national championship with a famous win over USC in the Rose Bowl.
Future No.1 NFL Draft pick Baker Mayfield led Oklahoma to a 29-24 win in 2017. His successor at the Sooners’ helm, Kyler Murray rallied his team from a 45-24 deficit to tie the 2018 game 45-45. Step forward Longhorns’ Cameron Dicker (“the kicker”). He kicked the game winning field goal with fourteen seconds left.
The Fake Script
Oklahoma went into the 1999 game as clear underdogs. Mike Leach, current Mississippi head coach and famed for his use of the Air Raid offense, was offensive co-ordinator for the Sooners. He wrote a decoy playbook script that tight end Trent Smith “accidentally” dropped on his way back to the tunnel after the warm up. The script was designed to do the exact opposite of their real gameplan.
One of the Texas coaching assistants picked up the script and it quickly found its way into the hands of the play callers. At 17-0 down, the script was dropped and the Longhorns went on to win the game.
On to this year…
Usually a preview of the Big 12 title game, both teams have limped into this season’s showdown. Oklahoma lost their first two back to back games since 1999, throwing away leads against both Kansas State and Iowa State. They started the season No.3 and are now out of the Top 25. Redshirt freshman quarterback Spencer Rattler has shown flashes of brilliance in his two starts. He has also been intercepted at crucial times, and the Longhorns will be keen to target this vulnerability.
In contrast to the flash of Rattler, Texas QB Sam Ehlinger is a gritty, experienced passer, going into his fifth Rivalry showdown. Ehlinger has thrown fourteen touchdown passes in the opening three games. The running game of Texas seems stronger and will match up well with a strong Sooners run defense.
Who will win?
This is a game with huge stakes. A 59-3 thrashing of UTEP in their opening game gave Longhorns fans false hope. They overcame Texas Tech 63-56 in a thriller and then lost to TCU last week. Texas needs Ehlinger on top form and for the team to hold its nerve not to let the Sooners back in if they build up a lead again.
Oklahoma can not afford to start the season with three straight losses. Consecutive losses to Kansas State and Iowa State where they led will have them smarting. Their catch up needs to start now if they have any chance of retaining their Big 12 title. Their defense looks fragile and Rattler is still an unpolished diamond.
One hundred and twenty years on from their first meeting, with so much at stake, this will be much more than “just a practice game.”
Texas 48-41 Oklahoma.
Check out more of Gareth’s work on his Saturdays Feed My Soul blog – https://www.saturdaysfeedmysoul.com/post/highlights-of-the-week-the-big-12-is-wide-open
picture from wikipedia.com