Stewart Mandel: Red River wasn't pretty, but Texas still controls its BCS destiny
Red River wasn't pretty, but Texas still controls its BCS destiny
(20) Oklahoma 13
DALLAS -- The final score read Texas 16, Oklahoma 13, ostensibly one of those "instant classics." But anyone who watched Saturday's 104th edition of the Red River Rivalry knows the game was hardly a beauty contest.
A year removed from their memorable 45-35 shootout, the rivals this time showcased their defenses. They also, however, combined for 21 penalties, eight turnovers and a letdown for anyone tuning in to watch star quarterbacks Colt McCoy and Sam Bradford. The former threw for the fewest yards since his freshman season; the latter, regrettably, left the field in the first quarter -- and possibly for the last time as a Sooner -- after re-aggravating his sprained shoulder.
The game ended in fitting fashion: with McCoy and Landry Jones (Bradford's replacement) both throwing costly late-game interceptions, then Texas running out the clock thanks to a roughing-the-passer foul by Oklahoma's Jeremy Beal. Even the Longhorns' mascot, Bevo was unimpressed. As Texas' 1,800-pound steer trudged off the Cotton Bowl field late Saturday afternoon, he stopped to leave a, shall we say, "deposit," in the Sooners' end zone. In that regard, he and the Texas offense were equally productive.
But the mood was far from downtrodden in the Longhorns' locker room afterward. Unlike Oklahoma, Ohio State and a whole bunch of other former BCS title contenders, Texas' record remains unblemished. Mack Brown's team improved to 6-0 for the second straight season and remains determined to continue the ride even further.
"We're going to try really hard not to let the 'system' control our fate this year," said Brown, referring to last year's BCS controversy in which the Sooners upended their rivals in the final standings despite Texas' head-to-head victory. "We're not big fans of the 'system' here."
In another parallel to last season, the 'Horns -- which faced a four-game stretch against top 11 opponents around this time -- must now turn around and play consecutive road games at Missouri and Oklahoma State. They do so following a performance that surely raised doubts around the country, but which Brown and his players were spinning afterward as a sign of their impending breakout.
For one thing, they were beaming about a defense that rendered Oklahoma's rushing attack completely impotent. With coordinator Will Muschamp dialing up a heavy dose of blitzes, stars like safety Earl Thomas (seven tackles, two tackles for loss, two forced fumbles) and defensive end Sergio Kindle (who notched four tackles for loss) helped limit the Sooners to minus-16 yards rushing on 22 attempts.
Meanwhile, Texas surprised even itself by running for more yards (142 on 40 attempts) than it gained passing (127). With Oklahoma's defense flustering McCoy throughout the first half ("I saw four or five blitzes I've never seen in my life," said the quarterback) and blanketing his favorite receiver, Jordan Shipley (who had just four catches for 22 yards), the 'Horns turned in the second half to running back Fozzy Whitaker (18 carries, 71 yards) and Cody Johnson (five carries, 31 yards), with McCoy (14 carries, 65 yards excluding sacks) chipping in himself.
"We've been so inconsistent with our running game because we've played so many different running backs," said Brown. "We added some plays [for this game]. We really thought we could win the first five games without much of a running game. The fact we ran the ball really well today is encouraging to me."
Brown saw plenty of other encouraging signs in a game in which Oklahoma unquestionably dominated the first half (outgaining Texas 192 yards to 99), yet led just 6-3 at halftime due in large part to consecutive second quarter special-teams turnovers (a muffed punt by Dominique Franks deep in his own territory and a fumbled kick return by Mosis Madu).
The Horns unveiled several budding standouts, most notably freshman receiver Marquise Goodwin. A blazing track star who holds the national high school record in the long jump, Goodwin made two of Texas' biggest plays in the second half. On third-and-10 with the score tied 6-6 midway through the third quarter, he caught a slant pass from McCoy, juked a tackler and dashed 14 yards for a go-ahead touchdown. Later, after Oklahoma tied the game back up with its own score, Goodwin made a nifty 12-yard sideline catch to help set up what wound up being the deciding field goal.
"Marquise is a guy that's going to be a super player for us, not just in the future but this year," said Brown, who later bear-hugged the freshman as he left the press-conference dais.
Arguably the biggest play of the game, however, came from a familiar figure: McCoy. Only this time, he did it on defense.
With 6:03 remaining and Texas at the Oklahoma 13 poised for a potential game-sealing score, McCoy -- hampered by a cold that had depleted his energy and a first-quarter thumb injury (it appeared he hurt his nail) -- threw a quick out right into the hands of Sooners cornerback Brian Jackson, who at first glance appeared to have a clear path to the opposite end zone. McCoy, however, recovered to take him down at the Oklahoma 30.
"I knew I was going to make the tackle," said McCoy, who completed just 21-of-39 passes (he came in with a 73.4 completion percentage). "I was mad enough already."
Neither he nor his teammates were angry with their overall performance, though. If anything, McCoy seemed fired up afterward.
"We know we're 6-0, and the good thing is, we know we haven't played up to our potential," he said. "We have so much room for improvement. It might get scary if we start playing really well."
In the opposing locker room, Sooners coach Bob Stoops tried to remain positive himself --- but doing so is becoming increasingly difficult. His injury-ravaged team has gone from a preseason No. 3 ranking to three losses by mid-October, all of them by three points or less. "It's been a different year," he conceded. "There's no denying we've had a lot to overcome."
Oklahoma could still rebound to win the Big 12 South, but it will need a lot of help. And it might not be coming from its Heisman-winning quarterback, whose OU career, sadly, looks like it may have ended Saturday.
"It's really hard to put into words the frustration I feel right now," said Bradford.
The Cotton Bowl is becoming a frequent source of frustration for the Sooners, which have now lost four of the past five Red River games (after winning five straight before that). Texas, on the other hand, can still attain all the goals it set this preseason -- even if the journey so far has been rockier than anticipated.
"We haven't played near our best game yet," said Brown. "That's what I like about this team. They're 6-0 and not even close to where we can be."
In one regard, the 'Horns are exactly where they want to be: still in control of their BCS destiny.
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