Oklahoma quarterback Dillon Gabriel had a concussion and never took the field against Texas last season.
Brent Venables was there for the entire debacle. He had been on the sideline for some big romps over the Longhorns in years past, but left his first game in the rivalry as Oklahoma’s head coach through a south end zone empty of Sooners fans. They had long cleared out rather than stay to the bitter end of a 49-0 Texas rout.
Both are looking for much different outcomes this Saturday when No. 12 Oklahoma and No. 3 Texas clash in their annual border rivalry in Dallas.
One thing is sure: Gabriel is healthy and slinging the ball around like few quarterbacks in the country, with nearly 1,600 yards passing and 15 touchdowns. The kid from Hawaii finally gets the full-throated Cotton Bowl experience of the 50-50 fan split at midfield, the drive in through the State Fair of Texas and the momentum shifts that happen in an instant.
Last year, Gabriel had to take it all in from the coaches’ box high above the field. On Saturday, he’ll smell the grass, hear the cheers and boos cascading through the stadium, and maybe get his chance to wear the golden hat that goes to the winner.
“It’s an atmosphere, environment you live for, dream of,” Gabriel said.
Less sure is whether Venables can avoid a personal 0-2 start in the rivalry. The Longhorns (5-0, 2-0 Big 12) look like the best burnt orange unit since the 2009 Big 12 championship team.
The full-velocity energy Venables brought with him from Clemson back to Oklahoma took a kick in the gut in the Cotton Bowl a year ago as the season spiraled to a 6-7 finish. Then he rebuilt. The Sooners (5-0, 2-0) went heavily into the transfer portal and the defense alone has nine new scholarship transfers.
Add those newcomers to the impact freshmen and Venables said the team is bringing up to 50 players who have not been in this game before. His message for them is to not get carried away by the emotion and intensity.
“Don’t allow your emotions to hijack you,” Venables said. “You can’t just be intense and a crazy guy out there.”
Texas too, has been rebuilding. Coach Steve Sarkisian’s first season in 2021 finished 5-7, including an wrenching 55-48 loss to Oklahoma after the Longhorns led 28-7 in the first quarter. The bitter taste of that defeat made last season’s 49-0 win so much sweeter.
Dispatch Oklahoma again and the Longhorns are a serious contender for the College Football Playoff.
Saturday is the first time since 2011 that both teams enter the game undefeated, but the 119th Texas-Oklahoma matchup is the last one in the Big 12. Both teams move to the Southeastern Conference next year.
NO MORE BACKUPS
Gabriel is something the Texas defense hasn’t faced in a while: a starter. As dominant as the Longhorns defense has been this season, its hasn’t faced an opponent’s No. 1 quarterback since week two against Alabama because of injuries. Kansas scrubbed Big 12 preseason offensive player of the year Jalon Daniels in pregame warmups before Texas won 40-14.
Texas players shrug off the coincidence.
The Oklahoma secondary must keep track of Texas wide receiver Xavier Worthy, whose breakout game came against the Sooners in 2021 with 261 yards and two touchdowns on nine catches. He has now caught a pass in all 30 career games and his 24 touchdowns are ranked second among active major college players.
Saturday drops the curtain on a Stoops family legacy in the Cotton Bowl. Sooners wide receiver Drake Stoops is the son of former Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops, who went 11-7 against Texas and ranks No. 1 in school history with total 191 victories, one national title and 10 Big 12 championships.
Drake Stoops leads Oklahoma with 25 catches. He walked on to the Sooners program in 2018 and is now in his sixth and final season. He caught the game-winning touchdown against Texas in the fourth overtime in 2020.
“That play was something. I’ll remember that the rest of my life, for sure,” Drake Stoops said.
KICKING QUESTION MARK
Texas kicker Bert Auburn is 9 of 14 on field goals this season with three misses in the last two games, already matching his miss total of 2022. Sarkisian said this week he wasn’t going to change kickers but did plan to give the field goal and extra point team some extra work. Auburn is 30 of 40 for his career with a long of 49 yards.
LIGHT ON HIS FEET
Oklahoma linebacker Danny Stutsman is the do-everything player and leading tackler for the Sooners. He has to contend not only with the emerging Texas running game behind tailback Jonathon Brooks, but the new threat of Longhorns quarterback Quinn Ewers as a runner.
Since losing more than 20 pounds before the season, Ewers has shown surprising agility and speed while scrambling. He has five rushing touchdowns, including two scrambling TD runs of 29 and 30 yards the last two weeks.
AP Sports Writer Cliff Brunt contributed from Norman, Oklahoma.
AP college football: https://apnews.com/hub/college-football and https://apnews.com/hub/ap-top-25-college-football-poll