AUSTIN (KXAN) — This is how the Red River Rivalry (Showdown, Shootout, etc.) is supposed to be.
Texas and Oklahoma enter the game undefeated and playing at extremely high levels. The Sooners offense scores like they’re playing a video game and the Longhorns defense plays out of its mind when opponents get in the red zone. It’s a matchup of clashing styles and teams that are ready to leave the Big 12 Conference with the best parting gift possible, the conference championship trophy.
In order to do that, Longhorns head coach Steve Sarkisian said it’s more mental than physical.
“At the end of the day, it’s not always about physical ability. It’s about having the mental capacity to be in the moment, stay in the moment and stay focused on the task at hand regardless of the emotion in the game,” he said.
If that is indeed the case, the Longhorns should have an edge. Texas is No. 11 in the country in fewest penalty yards per game, averaging 34.8 yards on 4.2 penalties per game. That covers everything from pre-snap penalties, like false starts and illegal substitutions, to the major varieties like personal fouls and targeting. Oklahoma, meanwhile, is tied for 99th in the country with 62.2 penalty yards per game. In a game that’s as evenly matched on paper as this one is, field position and extending drives could prove to be monumental.
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Both teams are great at forcing teams into fourth down. Texas ranks a spot ahead of Oklahoma in third down defense at No. 9, allowing teams to convert 26.9% of the time. The Sooners allow conversions 27.6% of the time, but the Sooners offense converts third down as well as anyone. They are currently No. 6 in the country at turning third down into first down, doing it 55.2% of the time. Oklahoma is also very good at converting fourth downs, doing that at an 87.5% clip.
The Texas red zone defense has been extraordinary this season. The Longhorns have allowed opponents to score in their red zone half the time, No. 2 in the country for keeping teams off the scoreboard when they get close. Oklahoma has scored 88.9% of their red zone possessions, so something there will have to give.
Field position could also play an important role in the 119th meeting between the bitter rivals, and Texas hit the jackpot in the transfer portal when it comes to that. Punter Ryan Sanborn, who came over from Stanford before this season began, leads a punt unit that is No. 4 in the country in net punting, gaining 44.62 yards per punt. Sanborn hasn’t had to punt a lot, but when he has, he boots some nice ones. In 13 punts, he averages 47 yards with a long of 56 including four punts downed inside the 20-yard line and five of more than 50 yards.
On the injury front, tight end Ja’Tavion Sanders “looks great,” Sarkisian said, and will be available for the game. Defensive back Ryan Watts will be a game time decision, Sarkisian said.
The game will air on ABC and kicks off at 11 a.m. CT.