NORMAN, Okla. (AP) — A year ago, Texas coach Charlie Strong strengthened his shaky job status with an upset win over Oklahoma.
He could use another one in this year’s edition of the Red River Rivalry against the 20th-ranked Sooners Saturday in Dallas.
Strong’s Longhorns (2-2, 0-1 Big 12) opened this season with a win over Notre Dame that energized their demanding fans. But allowing 50 and 49 points in losses to California and Oklahoma State prompted a comment from athletic director Mike Perrin, and changes followed. Strong, a former defensive coordinator, took the defensive controls from Vance Bedford this week in hopes that a personal touch can sway the team’s fortunes.
“I don’t think it’s desperate measures,” Strong said. “Talking to defensive staff, they understand what we need to get done. I’ve done it before. I see where I can help. Sometimes you need new energy and eyes.”
Oklahoma’s season hasn’t been a picnic either. The Sooners (2-2, 1-0) entered the season ranked No. 3 and with hopes of competing for a national title after reaching the College Football Playoff last season, but that goal faded after losses to Houston and Ohio State.
All is not lost. The Sooners won their conference opener at No. 21 TCU last Saturday , and a victory over the Longhorns would give the Sooners wins over two of the Big 12’s most talented teams in their bid for another league title.
With all the disappointment each team already has encountered, and the heat rising for Strong and Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops, neither can afford to lose to their top rival.
“From an emotional standpoint, this is a street fight,” Oklahoma quarterback Baker Mayfield said. “That’s absolutely what this is. There’s no hiding that. This is the biggest rivalry in college football. You get in that tunnel and there’s nothing nice to be said. They don’t like us and we don’t like them.”
Here are some things to watch heading into this year’s matchup.
TEXAS NO STEP
Texas running back Chris Warren III is out indefinitely after injuring his right knee Saturday against Oklahoma State. Warren missed the second half against Oklahoma State after rushing for 106 yards on 10 carries in the first half. Leading rusher D’Onta Foreman left the Oklahoma State game in the third quarter with an abdominal injury after churning out 148 yards rushing and two touchdowns. Strong said he expects Foreman to play Saturday.
MIXON IT UP
Oklahoma’s Joe Mixon can be found all over the field. The sophomore running back ranks fourth nationally in all-purpose yards with 191.5 per game. He has 340 yards rushing, 242 on kickoff returns, 162 receiving and 22 on punt returns. He returned a kickoff 97 yards for a touchdown against Ohio State.
Oklahoma linebacker Tay Evans has retired from football after dealing with concussions. It was difficult news for his teammates to hear.
“The guy had been starting, and really had an incredible future, but we want the best for him moving forward in his life first and foremost,” Stoops said.
It will worth watching to see how Oklahoma’s already struggling defense handles losing a significant player. Emmanuel Beal, who had eight tackles against TCU last Saturday, is expected to fill the slot.
Reserve quarterback Tyrone Swoopes is handling business for Texas in short yardage and red zone situations. He has five multi-touchdown rushing games in his past 13 outings, and had two scores last Saturday against Oklahoma State.
Mayfield has been searching for someone to replace Sterling Shepard’s production from last season for the Sooners. Dede Westbrook showed he might be the guy with seven catches for 158 yards and two touchdowns last week against TCU. He had touchdowns receptions of 67 and 40 yards against the Horned Frogs. He has recovered from an unspecified injury that cost him some of his speed earlier in the season.
“You talk about the explosive part of his game, which is what makes him so special,” Mayfield said. “I mean, he’s got such unique speed and top level speed. When he’s able to use it, he benefits from it.”