With not state fair in the background, and a stadium that will only be half full, the Red River Rivalry is going to look a lot different from past seasons in 2020. That said, we’re still talking about Oklahoma and Texas and a rivalry game that transcends recruiting stars and national rankings.
Texas quarterback Sam Ehlinger has the dubious opportunity to lose to four different Oklahoma quarterbacks in four years. That’ll be way down the list of motivations for the Sooners though. In a COVID-shortened season remaining laser focused is crucial but keeping your biggest rival a notch or two behind you in the conference standings is even more so.
Oklahoma should be favored as these two teams clash at the Cotton Bowl but by how much could depend on these three factors.
Can the Longhorns make up for lost time?
Texas went the wrong direction in 2019. A 10-win 2018 season, that saw the Longhorns appear in the conference championship game, UT only went 8-5 in 2019. Tom Herman’s coaching staff fell victim to the subpar season and now the seven new assistants may have fallen victim to the COVID-19 pandemic.
New offensive coordinator Mike Yurcich and defensive coordinator Chris Ash lost precious time to install their new systems and schemes with the cancellation of spring ball. Now with summer camp upon them not only do the Longhorns have to deal with conditioning, fundamentals, and position battles, they also have to install, and learn, new systems and build relationships with new coaches.
Will Sam Ehlinger take another step forward?
Has Ehlinger reached his full potential? Mike Yurcich doesn’t think so and the Texas fanbase hopes that he hasn’t. For the Longhorns to finally hoist a conference championship trophy, for the first time in more than a decade, and be a player in the College Football Playoff scenario they’re going to need more from their senior quarterback.
To complicate matters a little more, as if a new offensive coordinator with new expectations isn’t enough, Ehlinger is entering 2020 without two key receivers from last season. Devin Duvernay ranked top five nationally in catches (106) and receiving yards (1,386) in 2019 and Collin Johnson was a 6-6/222 handful who averaged 14 yards per reception during his collegiate career.
Ehlinger doesn’t just need to develop his passing game more (still freezes up when facing a blitz) but he has to do so trusting Brennan Eagles, Jake Smith, and Michigan graduate transfer receiver Tarik Black to take a step forward with him.
Is the Alamo Bowl version of Joseph Ossai going to be a regular in 2020?
The Longhorns are moving from a 3-4 to a 4-3 under Ash and the Alamo Bowl may have served as a precursor to how it could benefit defensive end Joseph Ossai. Nine tackles, six for loss and three sacks in the 38-10 win over Utah showed the potential Ossai has as the “Jack” in the new defensive scheme. It should also serve notice to offensive coordinators around the conference about the Longhorns’ ability to pressure the quarterback without bringing a blitz.
The pressure is definitely on for Tom Herman. After having let go of both coordinators following last season the next person asked to pack will be the head coach. Herman and the Longhorns must produce and do so immediately and a win over Oklahoma in the Red River Rivalry is the quickest way to turn criticism back into praise.
Follow us on Twitter: @SportsHeartland