Measuring up to the Rival

One of my favorite preseason rituals is to match up the good guys with the land thieves across all the positions and note which squad is stronger where.

As a general rule OU rules RB and LB while Texas typically has the advantage at DB and QB. Where they often go back and forth is in the trenches, Defensive Line is almost always a main strength for both squads while the OLs ebb and flow based on graduation and other infuriating factors.

Because of that fact, the squad with the better offensive line generally wins with the possible exception of 2008 when Texas won with a line that failed to control games like their Sooner counterparts (although they were at least fairly consistent while OU's got jacked by UT and UF). Let's begin.

Quarterback-Texas

Gilbert is going to be asked to win games for Texas while Landry Jones plays a facilitator role hitting the screens and outs left open when teams commit resources to stopping the run. Kevin Wilson saw in the spread an opportunity to employ a power running game against fewer defenders with more contraint options. Greg Davis (eventually) saw in the spread freedom to flood the field with even more short-passing options.

I know NateHeupel and other Sooners will justifiably argue that Jones might be more of a known commodity than Gilbert but I counter with this; if they switched teams could Gilbert run Jones' offense? Could Landry do what Gilbert can? If you answered yes and no you get my point, if not let's just move on.

Interior OL-Even

Habern is being talked up like an NFL center if his ankles stay healthy, I like Snow a lot but I'll give the edge to Habern. Huey holds a small advantage over Stephen Good on the same assumption as above that a season with healthy ankles and friendlier schemes will see him make good on some serious hinted potential. I don't know much about RG Evans and nor do I know what will happen with Mason Walters and Tray Allen. These are potentially Texas' 2 most athletic guards so it will be interesting if the coaches decide to redshirt Allen, move Walters to the bench, or pair them on the right side.

We'll call this a draw.

Tackles-OU

I have very little faith in Britt Mitchell. Definitely less faith than I have in OU's most recent TE-to-tackle project, Mensik. On the left side they have another growing, unproven athlete in Donald Stephenson vs. Kyle Hix who is a known commodity with a limited ceiling for the position.

Hix will probably be underrated this year for a few missed blocks in pass protection that cover what is likely to be a dominant season of run-blocking. It is further likely that neither teams' tackles are remotely prepared to handle the defensive ends of the opposing squad. I think Hix is the best out of the 4 mentioned here, but I'm choosing OU because I expect Stephenson and Mensik to grow into a pair of players that are better than what Mitchell and Hix can become.

RB-OU

It isn't really close here. Scipio makes the case for Cody Johnson as the starter while NateHeupel projects a 1600 offensive yardage season from DeMarco Murray. Texas has plenty of decent options for depth but OU pulls in better recruits here almost every season. While the Texas system is designed to maximize the quarterback as a weapon, OU's offense is much more friendly to the backs. They run screens well and ask their backs to hit holes generated by premium linemen blocking down and pulling.

I know Texas has clowned this running game the last few years but even in 2007 when Texas stuffed most everything there was a crucial 65 yard touchdown in a one score game by Murray after a miscue by Bobino. The dude also went for 116 yards receiving last year. Texas doesn't have a proven weapon like that at RB. Yet.

TE/HB/FB-Texas:

I can't speak real authoritatively here on OU's personnel but Matthews' ability to stretch the field and block paired with Smith who has pretty sticky fingers, if no open field athleticism, seems like enough to give the edge to the good guys. Eldridge is gone, Gresham is gone, Clapp is gone. Is there anything in the cupboard? Hopefully NateHeupel or someone will show up and fill in with better info here and elsewhere. Until then, I'm guessing that Stoops is having as much trouble finding someone who can block AND catch as Mack has had.

WR-Even

Broyles is head and shoulders above anyone lining up at Texas and then you have a true freshman Kenny Stills...and some other guys. Scipio has pointed out that Texas can at least stretch out a defensive backfield with multiple solid options and then hit wherever the weakness are. I'm going to point out again here that this is putting a lot more responsibility on Gilbert then Landry will have finding Murray on a screen or Broyles on an out.

When OU plays Texas or Nebraska (hopefully they don't)  and AJ or Prince is draped over Broyles what do they do? You saw this with Shipley last year, most teams could not eliminate him but if they did Texas' offensive production was effectively halved.

Defensive End-Texas

OU is experimenting with the Buck package for 3rd downs with Ronnel Lewis as the Buck and Beal spinning down to the 3-tech. Beal and Acho are virtually the same player though I'll give Beal the edge in overall talent and his production has been a bit better. Eddie Jones and Alexander compare similarly but then Texas has Okafor, Jeffcoat, Wilson, Johnson and Ronnels-counterpart Emmanuel. You will notice over the course of these unit breakdowns that Texas' victories over OU in recruiting have yielded some big differences in depth, even where OU is strong.

Defensive Tackle-Texas

If  I could trade any Texas player for a Sooner at the same position I would take a healthy Adrian Taylor in exchange for Calvin Howell. As it stands though, Taylor is hurt and the 2 next best tackles on the roster are nose guards. Randall is of course the superior to either of them. Should Taylor come back strong and healthy this season, by say early october, perhaps OU will carry this matchup. Otherwise it's McFarland/Walker and Beal vs. Randall and Acho.

Linebacker-Oklahoma

This is no longer the slam dunk it normally is for Venables' crew but still a place where they have more developed talent. Travis Lewis has done for 2 years already what we hope Keenan Robinson will do this year. The mohawk of the Sooner people is in reality a hunter-killer drone programmed by Venables to seek and destroy ball carriers.

Ronnel Lewis is getting a lot of attention for his hard-hitting and ridiculous speed (an alleged 4.5 40) that will see him on the field at SLB/Buck, but Acho uno ocho is equally adept at flying from sideline to sideline and would play the Buck were Muschamp not equipped with several pass-rushing specialists or if Acho didn't possess the mental faculties to move over to Mike in the nickel, which Lewis lacks the necessary schematic understanding to do. Unless Lewis shows Kindle-esque productivity in his pass-rushing role, which is possible, Texas wins this matchup.

Austin Box Tom Wort is a faster, more coverage-friendly option than Earnest/Norton although at 6'0'' 220 he's less of a prototypical run-stuffer. Texas could be the stouter team up the middle but that has limited value in this league, and it's not as though OU will be soft. If Texas needs to go nickel and have someone capable of coverage at Mike they slide over Acho. The Sooners will remove the 3-tech and slide Beal and Lewis down when they go nickel. Both systems are sound and loaded with playmakers, but Travis Lewis makes the difference.

Safety-Even

Overall at defensive back, besides there additionally existing better talent at the top, there is more depth and options for Texas than OU.

Starting at Free Safety you have Quinton Carter vs. Blake Gideon. From a numbers perspective, Carter had 88 stops in 2009 along with 4 picks. Gideon had 62 tackles with 6 picks and neither forced a fumble. They are fairly close in production but in his 2nd year starting I'm guessing Carter is better as he is the more physical player.

Because watching Sam Proctor play was akin to allowing a proctologist to examine him every saturday, Stoops moved his best Corner, Nelson, over to strong safety. He's a sub-200 pounder but he brings significantly more options to the secondary than Proctor. The good guys counter with Christian Scott and Kenny Vaccaro who don't have the on field production of Nelson but, being 2 in number, can cover more offensive threats on the field.

I'm not sure what OU does here in the nickel but after Carter and Nelson there aren't options like Vaccaro demanding time on the field.

Corner-Ha Ha Ha Ha!

Demontre Hurst is the best defensive back with a C by his name on the roster. He's not a 4.4 burner but he plays physical...he's also 5'9" 165 pounds. If Malcolm Williams turns out to be a difference maker this season I'm not sure what Oklahoma will do to him because pressing him at the line with Hurst would be ridiculous and covering him over the top with safety help expensive and still somewhat dubious in effectiveness.

At the other spot they have Jamell Fleming, who is 5'11" at least but not yet anything close to a shutdown corner. Nelson was supposed to be an answer here but we addressed how Stoops' alleged recovery from hemorrhoids ruled that out as an option.

Against most teams they'll be content with what they have but against the 6-3 220 pounds types that can run a 4.5 or better and go up for the deep ball they don't really have an answer. Jackson and Franks were really good last year and their departure is the biggest blow to the D.

Special Teams-Texas

They are having open tryouts for kicker, as I'm sure you heard. While Stoops seems to have no end of booming punters special teams plays have had him running for his preparation H in the last 2 RR games. Go read NateHeupel's trepidation about using Broyles on returns and you'll see the mentality that has held back OU in this department the last few years.

Stoops overall strategy is this:

1). Hammer whatever you love to do on offense and even manufacture turnovers from this aggressiveness.

2). Spread you out and then make you defend power runs and screens led by the nastiest OL he can find or manufacture along with throws to the sideline to a cast of receiving options that have approached greatness.

Their philosophy on offense is of the same variety that they love to destroy with their defense, base plays and tactics that will require you to out-execute their athletes. When they encounter teams with comparable players and more complex schemes they lose. The no-huddle was a logical extension of this philosophy in increasing the number of encounters between your linemen and their own on both sides, insuring that the better group (usually theirs) won.

In this overall philosophy there isn't a great appreciation for special teams. They've had great returners (Antonio Perkins) but they haven't mastered the Texas system of using exceptional talent to create game-changing opportunities in the plays that take place on fourth down. Meanwhile Mack takes delight in his rugby punts, trick plays, and return game and for good reason as special teams plays have finished big wins for Mack and were a wildly successful part of the gameplan for beating Alabama. Big advantage to Texas.

To conclude this state of the Rivalry, Texas has maintained dominance at QB and DB after some strong runs by OU in the last few seasons, battled even in the trenches, and bridged much of the gap at linebacker. ESPN will be airing Cibolo Steele as he opens their season this Saturday and you'll be able to find the proposed answer at Running back then.

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