NCF Nation: Sooners-Longhorns 2009 coverage

Posted by's Tim Griffin

The stately Cotton Bowl, neatly split in half for Texas and Oklahoma, would appear be an ideal lure for recruiting the top players in the country to play for both national powers.

 Ronald Martinez/Getty Images
 The Cotton Bowl sets a special atmosphere for the annual Red River Rivalry game.
But both Bob Stoops and Mack Brown say that the unique factors of playing the game at Fair Park in Dallas cause some logistical problems for recruiting.

Because the game isn't considered to be on a school campus, one of the biggest recruiting enticements is taken away from Saturday's game.

Texas is the home team. They will be able to give out tickets to recruits, but can have no contact with them. And recruits' high school coaches can't be provided tickets, either.

"We can give kids the allotted amount of tickets from the NCAA, but we can't see them," Brown said. "So it's not as big a positive in recruiting as it would be if it was at home.

"The kids go to the will-call, go to the window, sit in the stands and leave. But you can't speak to them before the game or after the game. You can't speak to them in Dallas -- only on your campus. The only difference is when you are the home team or OU is the home team is who gives out the tickets."

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Stoops agrees that it's a special atmosphere, but probably overrated as a recruiting enticement.

"It's an exciting selling point for both of us having it there in Dallas," Stoops said. "But in the end, will it really change a guy's mind? I doubt it."

But players who have attended those games often come away impressed with the excitement found on both sides of the stadium.

Oklahoma quarterback Sam Bradford started attending the game when he was a boy, attending with his father, Kent, a former Oklahoma offensive lineman.

To this day, Bradford can rattle off his favorite moments in the rivalry, topped by the biggest recent defensive play in the modern history of the game.

"I still remember watching [Oklahoma safety] Roy Williams' leap at the end of the game that won that game," Bradford said. "I remember everybody going absolutely nuts and to see that and then to get to play in it absolutely exciting. You really can't explain the feeling."

Sergio Kindle never attended the game when he was a recruit. But he grew up not far away.

"I remember hearing the bands, the sounds of the stadium and the traffic," Kindle said. "After that, I always wanted to just get inside the stadium and see what was happening."

Jordan Shipley attended the game when he was a high school recruit for the Longhorns. The big crowd and the excitement level of the game still stick with him among the most memorable parts of his recruiting process.

"It's definitely a fun game to be at," Shipley said. "There's no other atmosphere that I've seen that's like it with the State Fair going on and it being on a neutral site, half burnt orange and half crimson. It's really a special atmosphere."

After attending the game, the Red River Rivalry was among the reasons why Shipley decided to attend Texas.

"When you come to Texas, you want to be a part of really big games and be on good teams," Shipley said. "It's definitely the reason you come here is to be in games like this one."

Posted by's Tim Griffin

It's a simple truth that seemingly is as old as the Red River Rivalry itself.

Even with the proliferation of passing games across the conference -- including at Texas and Oklahoma -- the importance of the running game in their annual matchup at the Cotton Bowl can't be overstated.

 Doug Benc/Getty Images
 DeMarco Murray and Oklahoma's other backs will be tested against the Longhorns' stout run defense.
In the Bob Stoops-Mack Brown era of the Texas-Oklahoma game, all six of Stoops' teams have won when they've outrushed Texas. And Brown's teams are 3-0 when they have outrushed Oklahoma. Texas' only other win under Brown came in 2006 when both teams ran for 124 yards.

That history will place huge pressure on both teams trying to run the ball against defenses that rank among the nation's top three in stopping the run.

Texas will be coming into the game with big questions at running back. Co-starters Vondrell McGee and Tre' Newton have been taken off the depth chart because of injuries.

That's on top of the Longhorns' struggles last week against Colorado, where they produced only 46 yards on 25 carries. It was the least productive rushing performance since they produced the same yardage total against Kansas State on Oct. 19, 2002.

“We have not consistently run the ball this year,” Brown said. “OU is one of the best at stopping the run in the country. So that's a big concern for us. We ran it so poorly Saturday night, that if that's the case, we've got a lot of work to do before Saturday."

If McGee and Newton can't go, look for the oft-injured Fozzy Whittaker to get the first crack at a Sooner defense that is third nationally against the run.

“You just kind of have to go with who's healthy,” Texas running backs coach Major Applewhite said. “You have to really rely on your doctors and your players for information and their input and how they feel and get a good read on those players.”

Despite the recent struggles, Applewhite remains confident in his running game.

“I was very optimistic about what I saw today. I feel good about that," Applewhite said. "When you've got guys like Vondrell and Tre' who have taken a lot of reps, it's good to get somebody else some reps to get them worked in the routine and those guys can get mental reps.”

The Longhorns were able to control the line of scrimmage last year against Oklahoma, gaining 161 rushing yards compared to 48 for the Sooners. Texas held the ball for more than 37 minutes, icing the victory when Chris Ogbonnaya exploded for a 62-yard run that set up the clinching touchdown in a 45-35 triumph.

"The Texas-OU game makes everyone healthy, because everybody wants to play," Brown said. "This is a game that gets you well fast."

Oklahoma is in a similar predicament, although the Sooners' running game picked up last week at Baylor late in the game.

The Sooners struggled for much of the game last week, producing only 52 rushing yards midway through the third quarter as Baylor committed to stopping the run.

Eventually, the running of DeMarco Murray and Chris Brown wore down the Bears and Oklahoma finished with 197 yards -- their best performance this season against an FBS opponent.

Murray first made his name in the Texas-Oklahoma rivalry with a breakthrough game two years ago. Murray rushed for 128 yards, including a 65-yard jaunt that catapulted the Sooners to their last victory in the series.

That was a marked contrast from last season, when he produced only 6 yards on seven carries as he was still slow to heal from a fractured kneecap suffered late the previous season.

But his rebound last week has given him confidence, even playing with an inexperienced Sooner offensive line that lost starting guard Brian Simmons last week with a knee injury. Oklahoma will be tested against a Longhorns defense that leads the nation in run defense and has permitted opponents to produce an average of 15 yards per game and 0.6 yards per carry over the last three games.

"We've been running the ball pretty good and we need to keep being physical, just like we've been doing,” Murray said. “I have a lot of confidence in this group and I think we'll be fine."

The history of this game demands patience. It's why you'll likely see both teams set an example early that they will try to run the ball.

“Running yards in this game have been hard,” Brown said. “You have to pick and choose. People can say Saturday night it was hard to run. It will be harder this Saturday than last Saturday.”

Posted by's Tim Griffin

As Oklahoma quarterback Sam Bradford surveyed his available offensive weapons last week , it was impossible for him to miss his large former target in sweats along the bench, propped up by a pair of crutches.

The loss of preseason All-American tight end Jermaine Gresham has altered how the Sooners have played and explain some of their offensive shortcomings during a disappointing 3-2 start.

Gresham was expected to be Bradford’s go-to target and the player who will help bridge the gap as a young but talented group of wide receivers developed confidence in the offense as the season progressed.
 J.P. Wilson/Icon SMI
 The Oklahoma offense hasn’t been the same without tight end Jermaine Gresham.

But Gresham’s preseason knee injury has ended all of that. It’s made the Sooners’ lack of productive receivers and tight ends their biggest liability as they prepare for Saturday’s game against Texas.

“Obviously, this is a different team,” Bradford said. “With Jermaine not in the lineup, it is a little bit of a different offense from last year.”

At this time last season, Oklahoma had scored 26 touchdowns on 27 trips inside the red zone. One of the biggest reasons was Gresham, a tall, productive receiver with the knack for getting into the end zone.

In Oklahoma’s first five games this season, the Sooners have converted only 15 touchdowns on 25 red zone trips. The Sooners' scoring average is down from a nation-leading 51.1 points last season to 35 points per game this season.

“Not having Jermaine impacts everything,” Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops said. “You’re talking about somebody who arguably is one of the top 10 to 15 players in the country. He’s a special player who was very important in the red zone. It’s tough because he’s a special player.”

And with Gresham gone, tight end has almost become a forgotten part of the Sooners’ offensive arsenal. The Sooners’ tight ends have combined for seven catches so far this season. Gresham had eight or more catches in each of his final three games of the 2008 season.

It’s caused the Sooners to look to their young group of wide receivers for production. And Ryan Broyles was one of the nation’s best early in the season before he sustained a fractured scapula early in the Sooners’ 21-20 loss to Miami.

That led to one of the youngest receiving corps in Stoops’ tenure playing last week against Baylor.

Brandon Caleb was Bradford’s primary target against the Bears, grabbing seven catches for 139 yards. And sophomore Dejuan Miller (five catches, 67 yards) and freshman Jaz Reynolds (three catches, 39 yards) both had their best games against Baylor.

“We’re getting better with more confidence,” Caleb said. “We’re getting a chance to play more and it’s coming a little easier for all of us.”

But the young receivers also had their struggles, combining for 11 dropped passes, including three in the Baylor end zone.

"I was disappointed in the drops, but again, I think a lot of that is just inexperience," Stoops said. "We've got all kinds of yardage and big plays if we'd just catch the ball better. I'm hopeful and I believe that the ability is there. It's just time, time on the field for those guys to make improvement and make those plays when they're there to make."

Broyles, who is tied for the national lead with seven TD grabs despite missing nearly two games, has returned to practice. Oklahoma offensive coordinator Kevin Wilson said Broyles' shoulder blade has improved enough that there isn't a concern he could do more damage by playing Saturday against the Longhorns.

"I know there's not a sense that they feel like he's going to injure it worse," Wilson said. "It's range of motion and pain tolerance, how productive can he play."

Texas defensive coordinator Will Muschamp is preparing like Broyles will be back for Saturday’s game.

“He’s an electric player who is really special with the ball in his hands,” Muschamp said. “He’s a guy you have to account for when he’s on the field.”

His return is crucial, considering he is one of only two wide receivers, along with Caleb, with substantial experience in previous Texas-Oklahoma games.

But the young Sooners receivers say they are more comfortable after working with Bradford for another week.

“We’re just trying to get better,” Caleb said. “This is the kind of situation where guys are going to have to step up. One play builds on the next. It’s something we’re all going to try to do.”

Posted by's Tim Griffin

AUSTIN, Texas -- Jordan Shipley initially didn’t have much go right during his college career.

His first two years at Texas were marked by a horrifying series of setbacks that included a season-ending knee injury as a freshman and a hamstring injury that prematurely ended his sophomore season. It seemed like his career with the Longhorns was cursed before it even started.
 Brian Bahr/Getty Images
 Jordan Shipley has recorded at least 10 receptions in three of Texas’ five games this season.

“I didn’t have any idea what would happen,” Shipley said. “But I had faith that if I would work hard and handle myself the right way, that hopefully things would work out the way I wanted them to.”

After an excruciatingly long wait, Shipley is making up for lost time, developing into the Big 12’s most explosive player so far this season.

And he wouldn’t trade any of his travails to get to the point where he is at today.

“If I could go back and do it all over, I wouldn’t change anything,” Shipley said. “The injuries just made me stronger.”

Heading into Saturday’s game against Oklahoma, Shipley leads the conference in receptions and receiving yards and ranks second in receiving yards per game. Additionally, he leads the Big 12 with an average of 18.9 yards per punt return and is tied for the national lead with two punt returns for touchdowns.

Combating Shipley already has caught the attention of Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops.

"It's always a challenge," Stoops said. “He’s a guy you have to account for on every play.”

Last year’s Oklahoma game represented his coming out party. Because the Longhorns lacked a true tight end, he was moved inside to a flex end position where he produced 11 catches for 112 yards to spark Texas’ offensive attack. And his dramatic Red River Rivalry record 96-yard kickoff return pulled the Longhorns from an early deficit, helping to spark Texas’ 45-35 comeback victory.

Shipley played that slot position for most of the rest of the season, producing 89 catches for 1,060 yards and 11 touchdowns.

But with the graduation of Quan Cosby, Shipley has moved outside and has flourished so far this season at the new position.

He produced 11 catches for 147 yards -- his school-record third straight double-digit reception performance -- to spark the Longhorns’ 38-14 victory over Colorado. And for good measure, he also produced a 74-yard punt return for a touchdown in the fourth quarter that help blow open the closer-than-expected game with the Buffaloes.

“That was one of the greatest games in the history of the school,” Texas coach Mack Brown said.

If Shipley continues at his current pace, he would smash every single-season receiving record in school history.

His multiplicity of talents was first showcased in high school in Burnet, Texas, where he was the prime receiver on a team quarterbacked by former Texas A&M star Stephen McGee. Shipley produced the second-most receiving yards in national high school history (5,424), notched 23 interceptions as a defensive back, returned 18 kicks for touchdowns and was his team’s kicker.

His knack for making big plays was apparent early in his career. As a freshman at Class A Rotan, Shipley produced 459 yards of total offense and scored three touchdowns on punt returns in his first high school game.

That was only a start. He's continued in college, developing into the Longhorns’ prime receiver, punt returner and holder for kicks.

Colt McCoy, who finished second in the Heisman last season and is Shipley’s roommate, believes that Shipley deserves a trip to the Heisman presentation.

“Sure,'' McCoy said. "In our offense, Jordan will get the ball. He's playing the position that Quan played last year, and the thing that sets him up is that he can return kicks and punts.”

The move outside has come with some changes in coverage for Shipley. He’s facing more direct man-to-man coverage than when he played in the slot and was mostly matched with slower linebackers and safeties.

The new position and his recent notoriety also are changing how opponents try to combat him. More defenses are relying on press coverage as he tries to get off the line of scrimmage.

That’s a little more difficult for the 6-foot, 190-pound speedster to overcome. But he’s making the most of his opportunities when they come despite the change.

“It’s different being on the outside,” Shipley said. “You’ve got to be really physically to get off the press. I don’t know if it’s harder, but it has a different feel.”

His big season almost didn’t come about. He earned a sixth season of eligibility only after petitioning the NCAA following last season because of the earlier injuries.

Shipley will turn 24 in December, causing his teammates to kid him about his advanced age. When he arrived at Texas in 2004, Cedric Benson and Derrick Johnson were still on the team’s roster, and Vince Young was in his first full season as the Longhorns’ starter.

But Shipley can't imagine being any place but playing for the Longhorns.

“It’s such a rush to be back here,” Shipley said. “I’m just thrilled to be back at Texas for one more year and having fun every week.”
Posted by's Tim Griffin

AUSTIN, Texas -- Maybe the Texas coaches are using a little psychological ploy to get the Longhorns ready for Saturday's game at the Cotton Bowl in Dallas against bitter rival Oklahoma.

Throughout the week, Texas coaches have arranged to bombard the Longhorns in their locker room with a continued loop of "Boomer Sooner," the Oklahoma school fight song.

"I think it's kind of funny they make everybody sick of 'Boomer Sooner,'" Texas senior wide receiver Jordan Shipley said. "It's one of the things they do every year, play the fight songs of the other teams so you get sick of it. It kind of adds to getting ready to play every game."

Posted by's Tim Griffin

Colt McCoy and Sam Bradford's personal relationship goes beyond football.

But Saturday's game will decide their storied rivalry that stands at a game apiece after the last two seasons. Bradford won the Heisman Trophy last season with McCoy finishing second.

 Ronald Martinez/Getty Images
 Sam Bradford and Colt McCoy became friends while attending awards banquets last season.
McCoy will make history Saturday as one of the few Texas quarterbacks to start four games in the Texas-Oklahoma series.

“The first one seems like it was a long time ago,” McCoy said, thinking back to his first start in the series in 2006. “But the last one I played in seems like it was forever ago, too. We’ve both changed since then.”

The annual rivalry is something that both quarterbacks relish.

Bradford remembers watching games with his father, Kent, a former Oklahoma offensive lineman. Roy Williams’ leap in 2001 that saved the Sooners’ 14-3 victory remains one of Bradford's most vivid memories of the series. He’s had even more fun playing in the games.

McCoy said that participating in the series is one of his most treasured college memories.

“These four games over the last four years are some of the most fun games I’ve played in,” McCoy said. “They are the games you remember because of the tradition, the rivalry and just how big a conference game it is.”

The duo developed a friendship while attending awards banquets last season. They had some fun during an ESPN shoot at the Cotton Bowl earlier this summer.

And after Bradford sustained a third-degree sprained shoulder earlier this year, McCoy immediately contacted him.

“Colt is a great guy,” Bradford said. “Him sending me a text message after I got hurt telling me he was praying for me and to keep my head up shows a lot about him. For him to keep encouraging me, it says a lot about him.”

Both have talked about maintaining their relationship after their college careers end.

"In the end, we’re both football players,” Bradford said. “Obviously, we are both trying to beat each other, but at the same time we can help each other in a lot of different ways. We play a lot of the same teams this year. Our offenses are fairly similar. Helping each other out, we can do that.”

Here’s a look at Bradford and McCoy’s statistics in previous Red River Rivalry games.

Colt McCoy vs. Oklahoma
Year Comp Att Yds TD Int QB rtg W-L
2006 11 18 108 2 0 148.18 W
2007 19 26 324 2 1 195.45 L
2008 28 35 277 1 0 155.91 W
Totals 58 79 709 5 1 167.16 2-1

Sam Bradford vs. Texas
Year Comp Att Yds TD Int QB rtg W-L
2007 21 32 244 3 0 160.61 W
2008 28 39 387 5 2 187.20 L
Totals 49 71 631 8 2 175.22 1-1

Posted by's Tim Griffin

It will be a typical trip to Fair Park Saturday morning for Bob Stoops.

  Steve Mitchell/US Presswire
  Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops’ Sooners have a lot riding on their tangle with Texas this Saturday.
He’ll board the team bus and cruise through traffic en route to the Cotton Bowl. When he arrives at the fairgrounds, Texas fans will be yelling and taunting him just like usual. Some might even pound on the team bus in a quaint but familiar way of greeting them to the yearly festivities.

Stoops is familiar with these mid-October encounters with Mack Brown and Texas. Saturday’s will be his 11th -- six victories and four defeats over the years. It’s the longest continuous rivalry between two coaches in the nation.

The old familiar foes have staged some great battles over the years. And it can be argued that the upcoming Red River Rivalry is the biggest for Stoops in a long time.

After a 3-2 start, the Sooners are in need of a restorative boost that an upset victory over the No. 3 Longhorns would provide. A win on Saturday would put the Sooners in the driver’s seat for an unprecedented fourth-straight Big 12 title.

But a loss might send them spinning to some potentially ominous events that are unfamiliar in Stoops’ program. With tough upcoming road games against Kansas, Nebraska and Texas Tech the Sooners could skid to a four- or five-loss season that has occurred just twice since his arrival in 1999.

Stoops isn’t called “Big Game Bob” as much as he used to be when he claimed a national championship in his second season in 2000 and marked the early rivalry with five-straight victories over Brown and Texas from 2000-04.

The rivalry has turned a little bit in recent seasons as Brown has claimed three of the last four games in the series including last season's 45-35 comeback victory. Stoops’ recent BCS struggles have hurt as well as the Sooners BCS title game loss to Florida was his fifth BCS bowl game loss since 2004.

But his domination remains just as strong in the Big 12, where the Texas-Oklahoma rivalry has defined the recent history of the league. In his own playground, Stoops’ coaching record has made him the most significant figure in the Big 12’s history.

Since Stoops arrived in 1999, either Oklahoma or Texas has won the Big 12 South Division championship every year. In the Big 12 title game, the Sooners have won six to the Longhorns one during the 10-year period. During that same period, every Big 12 North team has claimed at least a share of the title. No other coach has won more than one Big 12 title.

That success is what Stoops focuses on rather than vagaries of what has been a streaky series with the Longhorns over the years.

Stoops discounts any “mojo” that Brown has over him because of the Longhorns’ recent success against the Sooners.

“To me, everybody makes a big deal of this game, but in the end, the objective is the championship,” Stoops said. “That’s what matters. If we win this game and don’t win the Big 12 title, nobody is patting us on the back. And I’m sure it’s the same way for them.”

Stoops prefers a larger view than merely one game and he has point.

“It’s part of it, but the rest of it matters more than just one game like this one,” Stoops said. “And that’s what the focus will be on as long as I’m here.”

It's not quite like it used to be for Stoops in Oklahoma. The Oklahoma radio talk shows have pointedly ripped the Sooners for a predictable run-oriented offensive attack. And despite the return of Sam Bradford, the Sooners’ struggles inside the red zone are a big concern. The Sooners were forced to rely on four field goals after their receivers dropped 11 passes against Baylor, including three in the end zone.

The defense has needed to make two critical stops that would have marked the season. Instead, the Sooners allowed a 16-play game-winning scoring drive to BYU. And the Sooners allowed Miami to kill the clock when they couldn’t get the ball away from the Hurricanes in a game where they were gashed for 140 yards rushing.

Because of those struggles, Oklahoma defensive tackle Gerald McCoy wants a close game on Saturday with the challenge on the Sooners’ defense at the end of the game to preserve the victory.

“If we had given the ball back to our offense, I think we would have been able to win,” McCoy said. “Our defense has a lot to prove after those games.”

That entire attitude infuses the Oklahoma program heading into the game.

In reality, the Sooners are only a pair of one-point losses removed from the national title race. Most observers agree that the presence of Bradford at full strength likely would have made a difference in both games.

But the Sooners have to pick up the pieces to finish the season strongly.

And the most important step in that rebound will come Saturday amongst the Ferris Wheels and corny dogs in a game that will be as important as any recent Red River Rivalry games.