Advantages, disadvantages and early preview of Texas vs. Oklahoma

The Texas Longhorns and Oklahoma Sooners play next season in the Cotton Bowl like they have since 1929. For the first time, the teams will play as members of the SEC.

The game will be of added importance for Texas after losing last year. While the Oklahoma game might have been on the back burner in preparation for Alabama last offseason, the Sooners should be the Longhorns’ top priority out of spring ball.

Oklahoma stunned Texas in Dallas in 2023. The game went down to the final seconds as the Sooners drove downfield with ease to take the lead with 15 seconds left.

Several faces from the game won’t be on the field for both teams. The Longhorns lose their dynamic interior defensive duo of T’Vondre Sweat and Byron Murphy along with the majority of their receiving production. The Sooners will have a new offensive coordinator, quarterback and mostly new offensive line.

Let’s look at a few advantages and disadvantages each team will have in the game.

Johnny Nansen

Arizona defensive coordinator Johnny Nansen comes over from Arizona as the Longhorns’ new linebackers coach. While Nansen’s defense allowed big plays to Oklahoma in last season’s Alamo Bowl, the unit wreaked havoc on freshman quarterback Jackson Arnold and new play caller Seth Littrell. In the positive, Arnold went 26/45 for 361 yards and two touchdowns with 38 yards rushing. In the negative, Arnold had five turnovers including three interceptions. Despite a decided talent disadvantage, Nansen’s defense held the Sooners to 24 points on the game.

New Oklahoma playcaller

Seth Littrell and Bill Bedenbaugh are set to coordinate the Oklahoma offense. My guess is we haven’t seen what they will bring to the Cotton Bowl in October. In December, Nansen did a good job defending against the unknowns and baiting turnovers from a tunnel vision prone freshman, but Arnold and company will have more time to prepare for this big game. The offensive style we saw in the Alamo Bowl might not be the one we see from the Sooners this season.

Continuity at quarterback, offensive line

Starting quarterback Quinn Ewers and three of his linemen enter their third season or more as starters. Two other offensive linemen have several games started over the last two seasons. That’s continuity and stability. In a game that features several momentum swings, that’s a huge advantage for Texas.

Veteran defense

The majority of Oklahoma’s best defenders returns with linebacker Danny Stutsman, safety Billy Bowman, edge rusher Ethan Downs and cornerbacks Woodi Washington and Gentry Williams returning. While the veteran defense allowed 527 yards to Texas last season, they showed up when it counted. A goal line stand, two early interceptions off Quinn Ewers and other timely plays went in the team’s favor. They’ll look to duplicate that success.

Oklahoma's dual threat

Oklahoma’s downfield passing game was the topic of discussing heading into Red River in 2023. How could Texas slow the Sooners’ passing game? It was the quarterback run that gashed the Longhorns defense. Oklahoma quarterback Dillon Gabriel did have a strong day through the air completing 23-for-38 for 285 yards and a touchdown. Even so, Gabriel’s 113 yards rushing and 8.1 yards per carry that did the most damage. You could argue Arnold is a better runner and more gifted passer than Gabriel, and Oklahoma’s downfield receiving threat isn’t going away. Texas might have to get to the quarterback consistently to break up the Sooners’ offensive rhythm.

Focus shifts

The Texas Longhorns’ focus should shift from proving itself, as it did against Alabama, to taking care of business in the rivalry. The Oklahoma Sooners have a brutal SEC schedule to worry about, and one that’s much more difficult than the Longhorns’ slate. Texas has to beat Oklahoma this year. The game didn’t affect their playoff hopes last season, but a second consecutive loss isn’t what head coach Steve Sarkisian needs to allow. Beating Texas a second consecutive year won’t give the Sooners the same positive momentum if they fail to beat other top SEC teams on the schedule like Alabama, LSU, Ole Miss, Missouri and Tennessee. I tend to believe it could be Alabama, not Texas, who Oklahoma might prioritize.

Proven offensive commodities

Some opined that Texas’ cupboard would be bare following the loss of receivers Xavier Worthy, Adonai Mitchell, Jordan Whittington and Ja’Tavion Sanders. Those losses have been replaced by Alabama’s Isaiah Bond and Amari Niblack, Houston’s Matthew Golden and Oregon State’s Silas Bolden, all productive players elsewhere. One interesting returning production ranking sees Oklahoma at No. 16 of 16 in the SEC. As unknowns go, that would seem significant.

Proven defensive commodities

Oklahoma, of course, has a defense that could counteract whatever questions arise on the offensive side. They look to be one of the ten most trustworthy defenses in college football. Can they force three turnovers off Texas quarterback Quinn Ewers again? The Sooners played like they wanted it more last season with more intensity and urgency than the Longhorns. If they do it again, Texas will have another tough battle on its hands.

Outside projections

FanDuel recently had the Texas Longhorns as 10.5-point favorites over the Oklahoma Sooners for this year’s game. It’s uncertain from where that confidence comes, but it appears they’re banking on Texas’ upward trajectory or leaning on uncertainty for their opponent. Oklahoma won the turnover battle 3-0 in last season’s four-point win. Texas also outgained their rival, 527-486. If the margin for error is that slim for the Sooners again, one would assume that favors the Longhorns in 2024.

Story originally appeared on Longhorns Wire