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DALLAS (AP) – Everything about Texas football seems broken right now.
The Longhorns are 1-4, off to their worst start since 1956 and coming off a humiliating 50-7 loss to TCU. The players were sniping at each other on social media earlier in this week. Now, Longhorns mascot Bevo the steer is critically ill.
It would be tough for it to get much worse for coach Charlie Strong’s program, though losing the biggest rivalry game on the schedule would certainly push things in that direction.
Texas (1-4, 0-2 Big 12) faces No. 10 Oklahoma (4-0, 1-0) on Saturday in their annual grudge match at the Cotton Bowl. Longhorns fans must be feeling as if they have already eaten too much fried food at the Texas State fair watching their team play this season.
Only 18 games into Strong’s tenure in Austin, his future looks murky.
“The thing I say about it is adversity’s going to hit you and you want to do more because it’s just who you are when you have that competitive nature in you,” Strong said. “You expect more, you want to see more. And I say to people all the time, I’m OK. I can only imagine what you’re going through. It is what it is. This is the University of Texas. This is what you sign on for.”
Beating Oklahoma won’t cure all that ails Texas, but it would provide some much-needed relief and it wouldn’t be the first time a struggling Texas team beat Oklahoma. Texas is 5-2 in the Red River Rivalry since 1989 when it is unranked and the Sooners are ranked.
Just a couple years ago, during Mack Brown’s rocky final season with Texas, the Longhorns beat the Sooners 36-20.
Maybe TCU was rock bottom for the Longhorns?
“Now everyone is more focused because of what happened last Saturday, and they don’t want it to happen again,” quarterback Jerrod Heard said. “I feel like everyone is in the books and in the film room more than there was last week.”
Sooners coach Bob Stoops is quick to point out that winning the Red River Rivalry doesn’t make for a good season. Oklahoma has won four of the last five against Texas, including last year when the Sooners still struggled to an 8-5 finish.
“So the only way to win them all or to keep winning is you do the same things every week,” Stoops said. “They’re all important, and they are. The players, coaches — we have the same routine. We put the same importance on every single one of them. That’s the only way you can have consistent play through the year, because you have to win.”
Things to watch for when Texas and Oklahoma meet for the 110th time:
NEW QBs: Both starting quarterbacks will be making their first starts in the Red River Rivalry.
Heard was inserted as the starter in the second game of the season and gave some hope to a Texas offense that looked hopeless against Notre Dame in the opener. The Longhorns are still trying to figure out what they are, transitioning from a West Coast offense to more of a spread. Heard is averaging 196 yards per game in total offense, but the Longhorns are still last in the Big 12 in total yards at 339 per game.
Baker Mayfield, who is from Austin and transferred to Oklahoma from Texas Tech, is in his first season as a starter for the Sooners. He has fit in perfectly to their new Air Raid-style attack, averaging 380 total yards per game.
“Being from Austin, there’s always Longhorn fans that wish you good luck, but say, `Hey, I’ll still be cheering for my team,”‘ Mayfield said.
TURNOVERS: Texas has scored three defensive touchdowns this season and an interception return against the Sooners two years ago helped swing momentum to the Longhorns. The offense has scored only two touchdowns the last two games so defense may have to do it for the Longhorns.
The Sooners have been giving, with eight turnovers and a minus-1 ratio on the season. Texas is plus-five.
PENALTIES: The Sooners’ other problem has been penalties. They are 126th in the country in penalties yards per game with 94. Texas is 101st at 70.6 yards per game in penalties. The Big 12 in general has been a flag-happy conference this season, so expect the officials to be busy at the Cotton Bowl.
(© Copyright 2015 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed. AP sports writers Cliff Brunt in Norman, Oklahoma, and Jim Vertuno in Austin, Texas, contributed.)