With both teams ranked heading into the Red River Rivalry for the first time since 2012, Saturday’s matchup between Texas and Oklahoma at the Cotton Bowl has all the ingredients for another classic edition in a historic rivalry. A win on Saturday will propel either team in prime position in the Big 12 title race.
Here are four Sooners who will be pivotal difference makers in deciding who leaves Dallas with the significant victory:
# 1 Kyler Murray — Quarterback
When Baker Mayfield departed for the NFL Draft in the spring, many college football fans presumed the Oklahoma offense would regress. Bring in quarterback Kyler Murray. The Allen, Texas, native has energized the Sooners’ offense in his first five weeks as the starting quarterback, throwing for 1,460 yards and rushing for 285 en route to a perfect 5–0 record.
In fact, Kyler’s 2018 campaign is arguably off to an even more impressive start than Mayfield’s 2017 Heisman season. Kyler’s 230.95 passing efficiency rating through five games ranks 32 points higher than Mayfield’s 198.9 rating last season, which stands as the current FBS single-season record for a quarterback. Although Kyler has collected these statistics against opponents who have combined for a 9–14 record, he has an opportunity against a stout Longhorns defense to prove he’s a bonafide Heisman candidate.
#5 Marquise Brown — Wide receiver
One of the country’s most explosive players, wide receiver Marquise Brown, possess the ability to provide a game-changing play each time he takes the field. For that reason, he’s been Kyler Murray’s favorite target this season, with Brown corralling a team-leading 24 receptions for 544 yards. His 22.67 yards-per-reception comes in at seventh in the FBS among wide receivers and first in the Big 12.
If Texas hopes to contain Oklahoma’s offense, it starts with finding a way to bottle up Brown and prevent his renowned big plays.
#9 Kenneth Murray — Linebacker
In the last two weeks, linebacker Kenneth Murray has emerged not only as an unquestioned leader for the Oklahoma defense, but also as one of the best defensive players in the conference. After a dazzling performance against Army where he totaled an eye-popping 22 total tackles, the sophomore followed it up with a solid performance against Baylor last week where he recorded nine tackles and a sack. Thanks in part to these performances, Kenneth now leads the Sooners in tackles, tackles for loss and sacks.
Oklahoma’s defense has been notorious for being a porous unit in the last few seasons, but Kenneth is the type of versatile linebacker who can reverse those perceptions. The Longhorns will undoubtedly try to challenge him and the Oklahoma front seven by establishing the run game early on Saturday, so keep an eye out for Kenneth, especially in the first half. His presence, or lack thereof, will influence the direction of the game.
#11 Parnell Motley — Cornerback
After a strong 2017 season, cornerback Parnell Motley returns as the most decorated member in the Oklahoma secondary. He has continued his success so far this season by leading the Sooners in interceptions and sharing the team lead in pass breakups. But Motley’s performance hasn’t been enough to elevate Oklahoma’s pass defense overall. The Sooners sit just eighth in the Big 12 in total pass defense this season.
With those struggles in mind, Texas offensive coordinator Tim Beck will look for a variety of ways to attack Motley and the Oklahoma secondary this weekend. It’ll be a collaborative effort in handling the Longhorns’ passing game, but how Motley handles the duties of going against Collin Johnson and Lil’Jordan Humphrey, Texas’ two best receivers, will play a big part in determining the effectiveness of Oklahoma’s pass defense.