SHOWDOWN IN DALLAS

Texas-Oklahoma: The Red River Rivalry is back

Tom Herman has UT ranked. Tim Warner/Getty Images

 

The Red River Shootout is back. No, I know the name isn't back on the game, they call it all sorts of less-awesome names now. But believe me, Texas and Oklahoma are going to put the turn of the century feel back into this game. 

Texas and Oklahoma both enter this game ranked for the first time since 2012. Not that the little numbers matter all that much, Texas has pulled off a couple of upsets in that time, but the feel of this game is much closer to 18 years ago when Oklahoma was a powerhouse and Texas was coming up fast. It feels closer to 13 years ago when Texas had turned the Big 12 burnt orange and knocked down Oklahoma. The conference, coaches, and players are ready to ignite thing game again. 

The Big 12 is far closer to being the conference of a decade ago than it the past five years. Oklahoma and Texas are ranked and another team in the conference is making noise. That role has been played by a few teams, Texas Tech and Oklahoma State but also the departed Nebraska and Missouri on occasion. This year it is West Virginia. They could trip up both the Longhorns and the Sooners but the rest of the conference is a fringe top 35 team at best. The conference waves have started to shift back to the two powerhouses in Austin and Norman. Both have a legit shot at the conference championship and if West Virginia falters we could see this rematch played in the title game. 

The coaching is finally on par with the recent history as well. Lincoln Riley has done an amazing job taking over for Bob Stoops when he surprisingly retired. The Sooners have boasted one of the most terrifying offenses in football under Riley and this year also displays amazing firepower. The coaching at Oklahoma never faltered, that was all on Texas. Mack Brown's tenure was a disaster late and hiring Charlie Strong was the wrong move, but Texas has their guy. Tom Herman has the potential to be one of the names in college football at Texas. He's had some hiccups sure, but there's plenty to like about his tenure so far. He has a ways to go, losses to Maryland and Texas Tech at home are unacceptable for the Texas football program, but he's shown signs. His only losses outside of those were to ranked teams and only TCU was a game where Texas wasn't competitive. 

Oklahoma has done its part in putting premier players in this game the past few years. This year is no different. Kyler Murray is a Heisman contender and he has no trouble finding Marquise "Hollywood" Brown. Caden Sterns brings people back to the conversation of Texas being defensive back university and Sam Elhinger is far from the David Ash, Case McCoy, and Tyrone Swoopes era. This is the most important element. It finally feels like a lot of players from both teams will be transitioning to Sundays and succeeding there as well. 

This game used to be a marked on the calendar affair. It was one of the preeminent rivalry games in college football. An early season clash with national championship implications. Sometime in the past five or six years, it has really lost its luster. The game has tumbled from the marquee to be buried under games with less meaning and less history. This is the first year of the comeback. It might not seem like it Saturday, but in years to come, this is the game we will all remember as the start of Red River Success. 

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A WEEKLY REVIEW OF CRENNEL'S COACHING

Now my job: Texans feast on Lions

Photo by Getty Images.

Thanksgiving is full of tradition. There's the typical family gathering, large meal, and of course, football. Sometimes, new traditions are added and old ones are retired. I think the Texans did both in their impressive 41-25 win over the Lions in Detroit. Old traditions were carried on (Lions losing on Thanksgiving), some were put to rest (Texans not being able to get turnovers), and new ones were started (multiple passing touchdowns by Deshaun Watson in six straight games).

The fact that this defense got three turnovers in the game was unbelievable! They got all three in the first quarter within the span of eight plays. JJ Watt's pick-six was insane. He went for a batted ball, ended up catching it, and ran it in. They forced Jonathan Williams to fumble on the Lions' very next play from scrimmage and recovered it. On the Lions' next possession, the Texans recovered yet another fumble after the challenge was reversed. Great call by the coaching staff to challenge and win. The defense looked good. Tyrell Adams stood out because he was in on those two fumbles, made 17 total tackles with 14 of them being solo tackles. They also brought pressure that seemed to make Matthew Stafford very inaccurate and resulted in four sacks. I give defensive coordinator Anthony Weaver credit for knowing he needs to blitz to get pressure, but the run defense has to improve.

The offense kept the tempo up in this game as well. The spread and hurry-up were used to keep the Lions already staggered defense off balance. Knowing the Lions were without a couple defensive backs, I thought it would be the perfect marriage of their defense and the Texans' offense. A buddy asked before the game about the line (Texans -3.5) and the over/under (52.5). I told him bet the Texans and the over because neither team can play defense and both have good quarterbacks. Offensive coordinator Tim Kelly put together another good game plan and Watson executed it flawlessly. One route combo I saw later on in the game I particularly enjoyed. Two receivers were tight to the left side. Cooks ran a hook/curl and settled in the middle of the zone while Fuller ran a vertical route. Duke Johnson ran a swing route to that same side. It left Cooks wide open as the attention went to Johnson in the flat, Fuller deep, and the action to the other play side. Route combos are important because it gives the quarterback different reads as he goes through his progressions and lets him pick apart the defense based on what he sees. Combine that with Watson's play and the way Kelly has changed his play calling now that he's liberated from he who shall not be named, we're seeing a beautiful thing.

As good as things were, there's still room for improvement. The defense gives up way too many easy yards, both run and pass. They can't get pressure bringing only four and will often give up big plays if the blitz is picked up. Plus the run defense is still an issue as evidenced by the Lions' first possession of the second half. The Lions ran the ball 10 plays straight for a total of 58 yards on that drive. Utterly ridiculous! Watson was good (17/25 318 yards and four touchdowns), but he missed two more touchdowns with passes slightly off, and continues to hold onto the ball too long at times. The difference between these two issues I've presented here is the fact that Watson has so played well, his "issues" are minor and very correctable, while the defense is terrible and there's no easy fix in sight. But let Romeo Crennel and Anthony Weaver tell it, they're getting the most out of these guys and they're playing disciplined.

The thought that this team may actually creep into the playoff picture may take shape better after next week if they can beat the Colts. I doubt it, but it is getting interesting. Let's see what else happens around them because they need help getting there.

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