Two Saturday night matchups -- Stanford-Oregon and Florida-Alabama -- are expected to be excellent college football games. But the Red River Rivalry is still a destination for scouts perusing next year's NFL rookies.
Despite Texas' disappointing home loss to UCLA last week, the winner of this contest is the odds-on favorite to face Nebraska in the Big 12 title game and could possibly earn a BCS championship game berth.
|Landry Jones can take a break while handing off to explosive back DeMarco Murray. (US Presswire)|
In this case, talented but inconsistent sophomores hold the reins of their respective offenses. Oklahoma's Landry Jones has the experience edge over Texas' Garrett Gilbert because he played quite a bit last year due to Sam Bradford's shoulder problems, but neither has set the college football world afire this year. They rank 47th and 81st, respectively, in pass efficiency among FBS quarterbacks, mixing excellent and perplexing performances.
Jones looks the part of a future NFL quarterback with his prototypical 6-foot-4, 235-pound frame and enough arm strength to excel at the next level. To illustrate his inconsistency, consider that he outdueled Florida State senior Christian Ponder earlier this season (30 of 40, 380 yards, four touchdowns) one week after making poor decisions in a narrow win over Utah State (17 of 36, 217 yards, two touchdowns, two interceptions). He has plenty of confidence to lead receivers and stick throws in tight spaces, but throws the occasional head-scratcher and his 64.4 completion percentage includes a lot of short passes to receivers and running backs in the flat. Jones hasn't yet had the breakout performance needed to make him a contender for the Heisman Trophy and early-round selection in the 2012 draft -- a big game here could be just that.
Gilbert's skill set falls somewhere between pocket-passer Jones and former Longhorns leader Colt McCoy (whose brother, Case, is Gilbert's backup as a true freshman). Though Jones is no statue, Gilbert is more capable of making plays on the run. And like Jones and most other first-year starters, Gilbert stares down receivers and forces passes into coverage. He also must improve his internal clock to sense when a pass rush is coming and ability to go through progressions, finding a balance between getting rid of the ball when nothing is available and taking off when his first read is not open. The lanky 6-4, 215-pound Gilbert also has only average arm strength, winding up to deliver the ball with pace and giving defenders an extra split-second to break on the ball.
Given the aggressive defenses playing in this game and the relative youth of the quarterbacks, look for both teams to throw a lot of horizontal routes to quickly get the ball into their receivers' hands on the outside -- and get the sophomore signal-callers into a rhythm. As the game progresses, the quarterback who makes plays downfield and does not make costly mistakes gives his team the best chance to win.
Oklahoma receivers vs. Texas cornerbacks
Jones has another advantage over Gilbert in that he throws to the top receiver in this game, junior Ryan Broyles, a slight but tough and reliable receiver capable of taking a short pass a long way. Broyles, Cameron Kenney and up-and-coming frosh Kenny Stills (son of the former NFL player by the same name), however, face one of the toughest corner trios in the country in physical junior Aaron Williams, quick Curtis Brown and gambler Chykie Brown. UCLA managed only 27 yards passing in their win over the Longhorns, but the Sooners can't expect to win with such paltry production.
Texas offensive line vs. Oklahoma defensive line
Quarterbacks can only prosper with solid line play. UT has two solid seniors on the edge protecting Gilbert in left tackle Kyle Hix and right tackle Britt Mitchell, but Oklahoma's defensive-end duo of Jeremy Beal and junior Frank Alexander can be as explosive as any in the country. Beal will usually line up on the strong side vs. Mitchell, but also rushes from a standing position and drops into coverage on occasion, portending a potential move to linebacker in a 3-4 scheme in the NFL. Texas junior center David Snow and right guard Michael Huey won't have an easier afternoon handling the Sooners' Adrian Taylor, still on the mend from his bowl game injury, and a young, strong defensive-tackle rotation inside.
Oklahoma running game vs. Texas front seven
The Sooners' DeMarco Murray is an explosive runner and receiver (he ranks second on the team in receptions) able to both break off long runs and fight for extra yardage inside. But he and an inexperienced OU offensive line that includes unheralded right guard Brian Lepak and former tight end Eric Mensik, now at right tackle, go up against a talented Texas front seven looking to redeem themselves after a poor showing at home against the Bruins (264 rushing yards allowed). Athletic junior outside linebackers Emmanuel Acho and Keenan Robinson are active but not particularly stout, and middle linebackers Dustin Earnest and Jared Norton are not as strong as the team has had recently at that position. The Texas front four must, therefore, get off blocks to make plays. Defensive ends Eddie Jones and Sam Acho are capable, and can also pressure Jones if he holds onto the ball too long. Junior defensive tackle Kheeston Randall and true freshman DE/OLB Jackson Jeffcoat (son of former Cowboys star Jim) are future stars to watch. Murray's backup, Mossis Madu can also pick up chunks of yardage if given a hole to work with.