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October 6, 2006

Game of the Week: No. 7 Texas vs. No. 14 Oklahoma

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Unlike the previous five years, no one is wondering whether Texas football coach Mack Brown can beat Oklahoma.

Instead, they're wondering if he can beat the Sooners without quarterback Vince Young, who directed a redeeming 45-12 victory over the Sooners a year ago.

Brown may be wondering if he can beat OU without VY, but at least he's not being grilled for explanations about the Longhorns' futility against their rival. The Sooners owned a five-game winning streak in the series from 2000 to 2004, which included a couple of monumental blowouts.

"I'm glad to hear this year it's about the kids and national implications instead of what I screwed up and the monkey on our back," Brown said.

Indeed, there are national implications - as is usually the case when these Big 12 South giants collide in the Cotton Bowl.

No. 7 Texas (4-1, 1-0 in the Big 12) stills harbors hopes of defending its conference and national championships, and the winner of this game has captured three of the last four Big 12 crowns.

No. 14 Oklahoma (3-1, 0-0), which would be undefeated if not for some officiating errors in a one-point loss at Oregon, also hopes to climb back into national championship contention. During the five-year win streak, the victory over Texas often vaulted them into national championship contention.

"What did happen (in the streak) was that Oklahoma was better than we were most of those games," Brown said. "They played for the national championship three of those times they beat us. It's just that we weren't losing many others. I did think it put more pressure on the kids because no one talked about what they won, the only talk was about what they lost."

There remains some discussion about what the Longhorns lost with Young departed to the NFL. Now, the No. 7 Longhorns are directed by redshirt freshman Colt McCoy, who is young but not Young. He has proved remarkably efficient during his first year as a starter, completing 71.1 percent of his passes. He has thrown 10 touchdowns passes and only two interceptions, but doesn't have the running skills of Young.

Yet, McCoy's performance may be of secondary importance to the Longhorns, who rank second nationally in run defense. The primary point of concern will be containing Oklahoma tailback Adrian Peterson, perhaps the most dangerous player in college football today.

A year ago Peterson, hobbled by a sprained ankle, managed just 10 yards on three carries. But as a freshman he blazed for 225 yards in a 12-0 victory over the Longhorns.

"Looking back on that now there's no sweet way to put it he just ran all over us," Texas defensive end Brian Robison said.

Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops said that a healthy Peterson, who has rushed for 643 yards and averages 5.5 yards per carry, makes the Sooners a completely different team.

"There is no question that we are a much different football team coming in to this game than we were a year ago," Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops said. "I don't even know if you can compare the two.

"One of the biggest reasons is Adrian Peterson and his health. That changes everything in regards to our play-calling and to the passing game. Overall, our line is playing better, our receivers are much improved and our quarterback is better."

Quarterback was thought to be a position in crisis when returning starter Rhett Bomar was dismissed from the team in early August for accepting money for work not performed at an Oklahoma City car dealership. Bomar's absence led to senior Paul Thompson's move back to quarterback after playing receiver last season.

After a slow start, Thompson has made significant progress completing 62.2 percent of his passes with eight touchdowns and three interceptions. Quarterback is no longer an area of concern for OU.

"He has thrown the ball very well, very efficient," Stoops said. "Compare his overall rating, completion percentage, touchdowns, interceptions, yardage to some of the other guys that are out there being mentioned as the great ones and he is right there with them."

Thompson said he has become more comfortable and confident as the season has progressed.

"I think I've done well," said Thompson. "We definitely have a lot of great receivers that are going to make plays. I feel we've done real well, but obviously (Texas) is going to try and stop us running with the running backs that we have."

Texas might have stopped Thompson from helping Oklahoma five years ago when he was rated the nation's 10th best athlete by Rivals.com out of Leander, Texas just a few miles north of Austin. But Texas recruited him as a receiver, and Oklahoma offered the chance to play quarterback.

"We only took one quarterback that year and that was Vince," Brown said. "And Vince did pretty well."

Indeed, Young did well enough to help Texas end a losing streak against Oklahoma. This year's question is whether the Longhorns can start a winning streak without him.

Week 6 Game of the Week: No. 7 Texas vs. No. 14 Oklahoma
Oklahoma running offense vs. Texas run defense: This matchup probably decides the outcome. Peterson may be the best running back in America (and that includes the NFL). Despite running behind an average offensive line, Peterson - who needs 442 yards to pass Billy Sims as OU's all-time rushing leader - has rushed for 643 yards and seven touchdowns this season. He's big, fast and strong and is almost impossible to tackle one-on-one. He performs best when needed most, as evidenced by his 211-yard effort in a 34-33 loss to Oregon. The Sooners will need another big effort from him, but it won't come easy against a Texas defense which ranks second nationally against the run, allowing only 36.6 yards per game. The Longhorns have not allowed an opponent to rush for 100 yards this season. Texas has allowed just one rushing touchdown. The front four - ends Brian Robison and Tim Crowder and tackles Frank Okam and Derek Lokey - is one of the best in the nation and the linebackers are fast. However, Texas still has shown a tendency to allow sizeable gains (Iowa State's Stevie Hicks had a 26-yard run, Sam Houston's D.D. Terry had a 17-yard run). Peterson can exploit that. Edge: Oklahoma
Oklahoma passing offense vs. Texas pass defense: Quarterback was a great area of concern for OU after Bomar was dismissed from the team, forcing Thompson to move back under center. Yet, after a predictably slow start in which he threw three interceptions in the first two games, Thompson has come on with strong performances against Oregon and Middle Tennessee State. He is 13th nationally in passing efficiency. Sophomore wide receiver Malcolm Kelly is a game-breaker who's coming off a five-catch, 164-yard effort against Middle Tennessee. Juaquin Iglesias is an effective second receiver who has 16 catches on the season. Tight ends Joe Jon Finley and big Jermaine Gresham provide excellent alternative targets. Oklahoma has allowed five sacks, which would be a point of concern against a Texas pass rush that has already produced 18 sacks - 13 by linemen. However, the Longhorns have had issues against good passing teams, allowing 269 passing yards to Ohio State and 302 to Iowa State. Edge: Texas
Texas running offense vs. Oklahoma run defense: The offensive line remains Texas' strength. Even in their loss to Ohio State the Longhorns were dominant up front, averaging 5.5 yards per rush. The one-two punch of Selvin Young and Jamaal Charles, who rushed for 116 yards against OU last year, is as good as any in the country. They're both averaging more than 6 yards per carry. For a change of pace Texas can bring in 270-pound sophomore Henry Melton, who is especially effective in short-yardage situations. Overall, the Longhorns average 205.2 yards per game to rank 14th nationally in rushing. Oklahoma's run defense has been disappointing. Washington's Louis Rankin and Oregon's Jonathan Stewart exceeded 100 yards rushing against the Sooners, who rank 66th in run defense. Edge: Texas
Texas passing offense vs. Oklahoma pass defense: McCoy has had the luxury of excellent protection, having been sacked just four times in five games. Limas Sweed is a top-flight receiver with 19 catches for 340 yards and five touchdowns. Freshman tight end Jermichael Finley could be an emerging star with six catches for 91 yards. Oklahoma has been good against the pass, but was expected to be better than it has shown. Its first three opponents had reasonable success throwing, but the Sooners buckled down and held Middle Tennessee State to just 73 yards passing after Reggie Smith moved from cornerback to safety. OU has allowed four touchdown passes, but one was meaningless in the final minutes of a win over Washington. Another came against Oregon after the Ducks were awarded possession of an onside kick they did not recover. Nickel back Nic Harris has three of the Sooners' four interceptions. Defensive end Larry Birdine registered the first sack Oregon has allowed this season, but it's the only one of OU's five sacks recorded by a defensive lineman. Edge: Texas
Oklahoma special teams vs. Texas special teams: Both teams have excellent return men in Oklahoma's Reggie Smith and Texas' Aaron Ross. Also, Adrian Peterson wants to return punts for the Sooners, too, which could be a huge factor. Punters Michael Cohen (43.9 average) of Oklahoma and Greg Johnson of Texas (43.2 average) are about equal. The Longhorns have been better on coverage and have blocked three kicks this season. However, Oklahoma place-kicker Garrett Hartley has converted nine of 10 field-goal attempts. Johnson is 1-for-2. A reliable kicker is invaluable in a close game. Edge: Oklahoma
Oklahoma coaches vs. Texas coaches: Last week's victory over Sam Houston was Brown's 87th at Texas, which makes him the second-winningest coach in Longhorns history behind Darrell Royal. Texas has never won fewer than nine games in eight seasons under Brown, and last season won the national championship. Stoops led the Sooners to the national championship in 2000. He has three Big 12 championships in seven seasons. Stoops is 5-2 against the Longhorns. Edge: Oklahoma
Oklahoma will win if: Peterson has a big day rushing. If he has a successful day, which would require the Oklahoma offensive line to provide openings against the Texas front, that might force the Texas safeties to play closer to the line. In that case, it might give Thompson a lot of space to throw to his receivers. The Sooners' pass defense must prove the improvement in its last game was not a byproduct of playing inferior competition.
Texas will win if: The Longhorns need to control both lines of scrimmage. Texas seems to have an advantage with its offensive and defensive lines, and must capitalize on it by controlling the ball and containing Peterson. Protecting McCoy, who may feel jitters in a game of this magnitude, will be of greater importance than usual. Pressuring Thompson could exploit his inexperience.
X-Factors: The series tends to go in streaks. Oklahoma won five in a row from 2000 through 2004 before Texas prevailed last season. Prior to that, Texas won three consecutive from 1997-1999. Texas also won four in a row from 1989 to 1992 after OU won from 1985-1988. Turnovers and penalties are usually pivotal in close games. OU has forced 11 turnovers, while committing nine. Texas has forced nine and committed eight. Also, Oklahoma has been penalized an average of 39.25 yards per game - Texas which has been penalized 58.4 per contest.
Notes: Oklahoma backup quarterback Hays McEachern is the son of Randy McEachern, who quarterbacked Texas to a 13-6 victory over the Sooners in 1977. Oklahoma has allowed opponents just one first down via penalty. Linebacker Rufus Alexander tied a school record with five tackles for losses against Middle Tennessee in OU's most recent game. Oklahoma has rushed for at least one touchdown in every game dating back to Nov. 7, 1998. Peterson is the nation's No. 3 leading rusher and the only one of the top three that has not faced a Division I-AA opponent. Oklahoma starts four sophomores in the offensive line and none of them sat out a redshirt year. Texas has a streak of 16 consecutive victories against Big 12 Conference opponents. The Longhorns have not allowed a punt returned for a touchdown since 1999, a span of 90 games. Texas' McCoy has completed 82.6 percent of his passes in the last three games and he has completed passes to 11 different receivers this season.
Buchanan's pick: Texas, 21-14
Other Rivals.com Expert picks:
Steve Megargee, national college football writer: Texas 17-14
Bobby Burton, editor-in-chief: Texas 21-17
Bill King, RivalsRadio host: Oklahoma 17-16
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