The 107th installment of the Red River Rivalry will take place this Saturday from inside the Cotton Bowl where the 13th ranked Sooners will face-off against the 15th ranked Longhorns. Special teams play has been huge in the past, and considering that both teams are so evenly matched, it will once again play a major factor.
After losing Justin Tucker to graduation, the Longhorns came into the season with some uncertainty at kicker. True freshman Nick Jordan won the job out of preseason camp, but when the Longhorns got the news that Penn State kicker Anthony Fera was leaving for Texas, Fera quickly became the starter. Before the season opener, Fera suffered a groin injury, and was inactive for the first three games. This meant that Jordan was once again the starter. Through the first three games, Jordan was very inconsistent going 3-7 with a long of 46. After Fera finally got healthy last week, a change was made and he was named the starter for the West Virginia game. Fera connected on his first attempt early in the 3rd quarter from 38 yards, but missed a potential game tying 41 yard field goal late in the game. Fera has proven in the past that he can be reliable, but Texas isn’t as strong as they have been in the past at kicker.
It wasn’t long ago when the kicking game for the Sooners was the biggest question mark on the team. Michael Hunnicutt has erased all doubts on the kicking game, and has proven he can be very reliable. Hunnicutt is 5-of-6 on the year with a long of 38, and was 2-of-2 last week against Texas Tech. Experience in this game is something that Hunnicutt has, whereas both Texas kickers will be playing in their first Red River Rivalry game. EDGE: OKLAHOMA
Texas punter Alex King has had an excellent start to the season, and is currently third in the Big 12 with a 45.7 average. King is a senior, but this is his first season with the Longhorns after transferring from Duke in the offseason where he was a second-team All-ACC selection a year ago. Like Fera, King will be playing in his first OU-Texas game.
Tress Way continues to be a force in the punting game, and is ranked 6th among active punters in the FBS with a 43.9 yard average. Last week, Way had a 71 yard punt that tied for the third-longest in his career. Way has a lot of experience in this game, and it eases the coaching staff to know that he can be effective when called upon.
One of the few bright spots in last year’s game for the Longhorns, was the 100 yard kickoff return from Fozzy Whitaker that resulted in a touchdown. D.J. Monroe and Marquise Goodwin are both very dangerous in the return game, and will try to break open a game changing kick return. Monroe already has one kick return for a touchdown this year, when he returned a kick 100 yards in the Oklahoma State game. He is averaging 43.3 yards a return so far this year. Goodwin is lethal as well, and is averaging 30.0 yards a return with a long of 48. This will be the most dangerous return duo that the Sooners will see all year. We saw in 2008 how a kickoff return can change the momentum in this game. The Sooners need to make sure to prevent that from happening again.
The return game for the Sooners has been solid, but nothing spectacular. Roy Finch gives the Sooners the best chance to break open a kick, and is averaging 25.5 yards on four returns. Brennan Clay has proven to be solid as well, averaging 27.3 yards on three returns. Jalen Saunders could eventually find himself in the return group, but Finch and Clay will most likely be the ones returning kicks on Saturday.
Texas return man Quandre Diggs only has three returns on the year, but he’s averaging 16.0 yards a return with a long of 35. Diggs also serves as one of the starters at cornerback, and is very elusive in the return game. It’s likely that Tress Way will neutralize the punt return game for the Longhorns like he has so many times in his career.
Teams have taken noticed of Justin Brown’s explosion in the return game, and have neutralized his return abilities the past two games. Brown’s stat sheet is still very impressive, averaging 18.4 yards a return, but there’s no doubt that he’s itching to make a huge impact in his first and last Red River Rivalry game. If given the opportunity, Brown can change this game at the drop of a hat.
Overall, the Sooners have a better special teams unit than the Longhorns, and that hasn’t been the case the last few years. In a game that’s so evenly matched, it will come down to who makes the least mistakes. .
The Sooners will force Texas to make enough mistakes, and the special teams unit proves to be the difference. Sooners make it three-in-a-row over the Horns and win by a score of 27-21