Saturday, October 11, 2008
Pregame report from the Cotton Bowl
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin
DALLAS -- It's hard to believe that the Texas-Oklahoma rivalry could get any bigger.
But first glance inside the renovated Cotton Bowl gives the stadium an even larger big-game feeling. A new facade outside has given the storied old stadium a completely different look. The stadium is now enclosed, making it feel like a real football stadium. Something tells me it's going to rock once the spectators start arriving. A record crowd of more than 92,000 is expected for today's game.
I only saw one scuffle between Texas and Oklahoma fans and it was relatively tame compared to many of the donnybrooks I've seen on the midway over the years. Of course, it's still early and they haven't started selling beer yet. There's hardly a line at the corny dog stands, either.
Here are some of the things I'll be watching for, once the game starts.
- Whether Texas can withstand an early rush by Oklahoma's potent offense. The Sooners have outscored opponents 103-3 in the first half and will be gunning for a quick knockout. I look for Texas defensive coordinator Will Muschamp to cook up some exotic blitz packages to try to confuse Oklahoma quarterback Sam Bradford and protect Texas' young secondary.
- Can Texas take advantage of its edge in special teams? The Sooners have been susceptible to big kickoff returns, yielding a 97-yarder for a score against Cincinnati and a 75-yard return against TCU. Texas will throw better athletes at Oklahoma than either of those teams. And it will also be interesting to watch Oklahoma redshirt freshman Jimmy Stevens, who has attempted only one field goal in his college career -- a 36-yarder against Cincinnati three games ago. How will he handle a clutch situation when the game is on the line?
- How much Fozzy Whittaker's expected return means to Texas' offense. Whittaker is back and as healthy as he's been all season. He was counted to become Texas' breakaway threat before battling injuries earlier this season. If he's close to being at 100 percent, Colt McCoy's life just got a lot easier.
- Who establishes the running game? Here's a statistic to chew on before watching the game: In the last 10 years of the rivalry, the team that has gained more rushing yards has won nine of them. It was even in 2006 when both teams produced 124 yards. So it will be imperative to establish the running game and establish play-action passes for either McCoy or Bradford. Oklahoma has better talent, but DeMarco Murray has been slow to return to form after his knee injury late last season.
- Can Oklahoma protect Bradford? The battle between Oklahoma's offensive line and Texas' defensive front will determine the game. Look for Muschamp to throw a variety of blitzes to try to get around the mammoth Oklahoma front. But if Bradford remains upright he should be able to blister Texas' young secondary.
Injuries: Both teams are relatively healthy. Whittaker's return is big for Texas, looking for some balance to keep from using McCoy so much as a running threat. Oklahoma defensive tackles DeMarcus Granger (foot) and Gerald McCoy (toe) and defensive end Frank Alexander (stab wound on arm) all are expected to play and add depth to the Sooners' defensive front. Center Jon Cooper (knee) is expected to play, although the status of Oklahoma backup tackle Branndon Braxton, who missed the Baylor game with an undisclosed injury, is questionable.
Weather: It's expected to be a hot, muggy day with temperatures in the 80s at kickoff. There's a 20 percent chance of rain, but any precipitation should blow through after the game is over.