This is what a Texas-OU game should be.
Long before the outcome was decided, it was apparent that the 2008 Red River Rivalry would go down as one of the greatest in the series. There was big play after big play by the incredible athletes on display at the Cotton Bowl, but as great as the players involved in the game were, it was going to be the best team that won. Both the Sooners and the Longhorns were asked to come back, to answer the other's challenge time and time again.
Was one more talented than the other? Hard to say, but in the end it was Texas that was able to take hold of the game, run the ball and show why it was the better team.
There were crazy, incredible plays, but it was team football that really mattered. This is what Texas-OU should be.
On to the observations...
-Alright, let's get this one out of the way first.
From the 2008 NCAA Rules and Interpretations Book, Rule 2, Section 2, Article 7c, Definition 2: Loss of ball simultaneous to returning to the ground is not a catch, interception or recovery.
It wasn't an interception. I know, it sure looked like one, and you can debate as much as you want about whether or not it should be the rule, but it is. Ask Drew Kelson about Rule 2, Section 2, Article 7c, Definition 2. It wasn't an interception.
-There could not possibly have been a better time for Jordan Shipley's kick return for a touchdown. Oklahoma was up 14-3 and if OU was allowed to keep the momentum, the game could have gotten ugly in a hurry. But Shipley (or White Lightning, the Phantom, the Kelly Green Lantern, whatever else you want to call him) caught the ball at the four-yard-line and raced up the field for the score.
I was sitting in the press box, so I had a view of the entire field on the play. When Shipley made his first cut I immediately stood up out of my chair because there was nothing but open field in front of him. It wasn't the only play that I, and everyone else in the press box, had a big reaction to. While actively cheering for one team is not allowed, you can still naturally react to things and there were a lot of 'wow's and 'you've got to be kidding me's from both the Texas and OU writers throughout the game.
-Since cheering is not allowed, I was surprised in the second quarter when after a big play for Texas I hear “YEAH!! ALRIGHT!!!” over my right shoulder, followed by vigorous clapping. I and everyone around me turned to see who the offender was and were surprised to find Governor Rick Perry.
Not entirely sure why the Governor of Texas decided to drop by the press box, but there he was cheering on the Horns. He made the rounds, shaking hands and talking football. When he came over my way I asked if he remembered my father, who used to be chairman of the LCRA's board of directors. He said he did and we talked about family and what I'm doing these days and whatnot. It was a very pleasant conversation.
At the end I complimented the Governor, a former Aggie yell leader, on being able to cheer for Texas.
“Oh, this is easy. I'll cheer for Texas on pretty much any day,” said Perry. “Just not on Thanksgiving.”
-Good call by the Sooners to change the tempo at the start of the second quarter. I've seen a hurry up offense before, but that was no hurry up offense...that was a fast break offense. The series of quick snaps kept the Longhorns on their heels, at least momentarily, and resulted in some big gains and some busted coverages. Speaking of which...
-This is what you get with Earl Thomas. A few mistakes, a few missed assignments, but the potential for big, game-breaking plays. His diving, over-the-shoulder interception is a great example of this. He's made some errors, which is natural for a freshman who has been thrust into the starting role, but because of the athleticism and big-play potential he brings to the table, overall I'd say he's been a net positive for the Longhorns this season.
-I like the idea of the John Chiles running back plays, and they did actually work from a schematic standpoint: Get Chiles into the open field, where he only has to make one guy miss. Unfortunately for Texas, he didn't make that guy miss on either.
-Speaking of running backs, I'll admit it, if I was told at the start of the year that a Texas RB was going to put up 127 yards on the ground against OU, Chris Ogbonnaya would probably have been my fourth guess. But, after getting shuffled around between several roles on the team, Ogbonnaya has emerged in his senior year as the perfect running back for the offense Texas is running this year. He can block, he can catch, he protects the football and, now apparently, he's got the acceleration to make big plays.
Of course, if Ogbonnaya continues to be the star running back in this group, and assuming Fozzy Whittaker doesn't blow people away when he returns (still a possibility), Texas will be back to square one at the position heading into next season. But, for now, the Horns have their running back.
-When did calling a wide receiver screen inside the 10 suddenly become a good idea? And why did it work for both teams? I suppose it's what happens when the linebackers on both teams get too aggressive, a by-product of the high level of emotion in the game. Still, it seemed bizarre to watch.
-And the Oscar goes to...Mike Knall!
Twice in the game, with the second being especially egregious, the Oklahoma punter intentionally acted like he was knocked over by a Longhorn, drawing a penalty both times. It's hard to bag on him too much, though, because he was only doing what he was told to by his coaches and the second one did help his team significantly, giving OU a first down at midfield.
Then again, it is stated clearly in the Nuremberg Principles “the fact that a person acted pursuant to order of his Government or of a superior does not relieve him from responsibility under international law, provided a moral choice was in fact possible to him.”
“Under orders” is not an excuse for cheating.
-The refs did get a lot of attention on Saturday, which is almost never a good thing. Both teams benefited frequently from some very questionable calls (and I'm not talking about the interception, we've been over that). But doesn't that often seem the case in the Texas-OU game? Doesn't it seem like a strange coincidence that the bigger the game is, the more screw-ups there are and the bigger impact the officials have?
If I may, I'd like to present a theory as to why there are so many bad calls in good games. Players will often talk about how the speed of the game changes when two top-level opponents, like Texas and OU, face off. That was obviously the case on Saturday and it's tough for a player to follow to ball and keep track of the action as the tempo increases...so too with officials.
Perhaps if there was an NFL officiating crew working the game the performance would have been better, and not just because they're better officials (which they likely would be), but because the speed of the game is closer to what they're used to. But that's not what Texas got on Saturday. This is a Big 12 crew, the same group of refs that is assigned to games like Texas A&M - Arkansas State. The speed just isn't the same.
Maybe that's not the main reason, but it does seem like when NFL-caliber players are on a collegiate field there are more bad calls.
-Apparently Quan Cosby can also block. The senior receiver showed shades of Johnny Walker when he blasted OU's Lendy Holmes as Shipley was streaking down the field. This is the kind of thing I'm talking about when I say the game was full of “big hits”.
-On the Podcast this past week, I said that as many complex match-ups as there are in this game, it may come down to one very simple question: Strong as he may be, is Oklahoma LT Phil Loadholt quick enough to stop Brian Orakpo?
I'm going to go with “no”.
Orakpo made himself a lot of money on Saturday. He's already famous for his workout numbers (see: College Football's Top Workout Warriors on ESPN.com), meaning he'll probably add a strong performance at the combine to the numbers he'll put up this season.
Brian Orakpo is an NFL player, for sure, but he was one of many on the field at the Cotton Bowl in a phenomenal football game.