For the first time since 1998, Texas and Oklahoma are meeting as unranked teams. For Brent Venables, who is preparing for his first game in the rivalry as a head coach, he hopes the Sooners treat it as any other week on the schedule.
“Hopefully we’re not more excited to play this one than somebody else,” Venables said at his weekly news conference. “We shouldn’t prepare for this game any different we do any other game. And if we are, if I allow that, then I’m not doing a good job of leading. We shouldn’t do extra this week or be more committed this week. We should be habitual in how we get ready to play.”
The timing of the game isn’t ideal, with the Sooners’ defense struggling, including giving up the second-most points by an unranked opponent in program history in a 55-24 loss to TCU on Saturday. The Horned Frogs ran up 668 yards of total offense and averaged 8.8 yards per carry on 41 rushing attempts.
And starting quarterback Dillon Gabriel is in the concussion protocol after taking a late hit to the head on a slide in the second quarter. Venables did not give any new update on Gabriel, and just said that three quarterbacks will be taking snaps this week in case Gabriel isn’t ready to play. Pitt transfer Davis Beville, who went 7-of-16 for 50 yards, replaced Gabriel against TCU, and General Booty, a junior-college transfer, made a brief appearance during the game as well, but did not attempt a pass. Venables said that true freshman Nick Evers is also in the mix this week.
Venables compared the adversity facing his team to last year’s Clemson team when he was serving as defensive coordinator. After six straight conference titles, the Tigers started 4-3, then rallied to a 10-3 finish.
“Everyone wanted to burn everything down. We’ve got the worst players and coaches in America in the history of the game,” Venables said. “But that team made a decision to get better and not allow themselves to be influenced by the outside noise, only be influenced by straining to do everything you can to improve every day.”
Oklahoma won’t be the only team coming into the game with a mystery at quarterback. Texas coach Steve Sarkisian said on Monday that he won’t say whether Quinn Ewers, who suffered a shoulder sprain in Week 2 against Alabama, would play, or if Hudson Card, who went 21-of-27 for 303 yards and three touchdowns in a win over West Virginia on Saturday, would be the starter.
“My philosophy is pretty simple: Play the guy that I think gives us the best chance to be successful, whether he’s the starter, the backup or the hot hand,” Sarkisian continued. “Whoever I think is going to give us the best chance to be successful and put us in position to win the ballgame, that’s who we’ll play.”
The Sooners are 10-3 against the Longhorns since 2010, including last year’s 55-48 victory that marked the most points in the 117 years of the rivalry. The Longhorns had a 28-7 lead after the first quarter in Sarkisian’s first game in the matchup, but the Sooners mounted the second-largest comeback in school history.
Venables was an assistant for Oklahoma in 13 of these games previously. He said he has challenged the team to look forward to the game at noon Saturday in the Cotton Bowl rather than worrying about the Sooners’ recent struggles.
“I want the focus to be on what’s ahead,” Venables said. “You know, what’s in front of us right now, going down to Dallas and the challenge. That is where all of our focus is right now.”