NORMAN — Oklahoma linebacker Kenneth Murray has played the scene in his head multiple times when thinking back to last year’s regular-season loss to Texas.
“Just seeing those guys cheering on that field with that (Golden Hat) in their hands,” Murray said Monday. “Last year walking off that field, I vividly remember exactly how I felt.”
Murray and his defensive teammates will get an opportunity to avenge the loss when OU plays Texas at 11 a.m. Saturday at the Cotton Bowl in Dallas.
This game has been important the previous 114 times it has been played, and this year is no different. It was the tipping point in Mike Stoops’ dismissal as OU’s defensive coordinator last season.
The transition sets up Alex Grinch for his Red River Showdown debut Saturday. A veteran coach, he has participated in rivalry games before, such as Washington-Washington State and Ohio State-Michigan.
And he has been educated about the Red River Showdown, thanks to the coaches around him.
“Obviously, coach Thibs (Calvin Thibodeaux) has been around several of these and coach Ruff (Ruffin McNeill) the last couple of years, and you know the emotions of the game,” Grinch said. “You are going to be able to feel them and understand that during a good play, you are going to feel like a home team, a bad play you are going to feel like an away team.
“You have to be able to ride those waves and understand the momentum is real, but also your ability to attack adversity is just as real. You believe in one, you have to believe in another. That’s kind of the message and making sure guys remain focused through all those.”
No. 11 Texas (4-1, 2-0 Big 12) has impressed Grinch at all positions, especially quarterback Sam Ehlinger.
“They got a guy at every spot, which poses a real challenge defensively. Then the one you circle, at the quarterback spot, just the ability to make so much happen, specifically in the pass game but also in the run game,” Grinch said. “The ability to extend plays, he hurts you with his feet and (ability to) direct the ball downfield to some explosive receivers.”
Ehlinger has hurt the No. 6 Sooners (5-0, 2-0) with his legs the past three seasons, but it’s his passing that has been so impressive in 2019.
The quarterback has connected on 120-of-173 passes (69.4%) and has 17 touchdowns against only two interceptions.
“The numbers speak for themselves,” Grinch said. “You got quality in terms of the short, intermediate passing game ... completion percentage and getting it into playmakers’ hands. And then he also has the ability to throw the ball up in jump-ball situations and situations where receivers are behind defensive backs.
“What you see is kind of, spread the field that way, spread the field in the pass game and then obviously what that creates in the run game. It’s impressive.”
Cornerback Parnell Motley said that when he walked off the Cotton Bowl field last year, he was upset, and that flowed into the postgame news conference when his use of expletives described his emotions.
He called that 48-45 loss one of his lowest points, but he’s eager to play the Longhorns.
“Redemption? We’ll leave that out on the field. Let’s play our minds out,” Motley said. “Play what we’ve been coached to do. Don’t change anything. Keep our poise and get ready to play a great game. I just wanna leave it out on the field.”
Grinch prepares his defense for a big game each week, but he also understands there’s some more juice to this one.
“I think, again, to downplay games like this is naive. There is a Week 7 coming after it … but on the same token, what you are trying to do is play your best football, and it’s going to take your best football to be successful,” Grinch said. “That is where the focus has to lie, and you certainly understand that you’ve got a responsibility to play your best in these types of games.”