Carlson: Why 'The Day After' version of OU-Texas may be even more apocalyptic than feared
Lincoln Riley admits Saturday will be different.
An OU-Texas game like no other.
Driving into the fairgrounds, there will be no throngs of people. Pulling up to the stadium, there will be no familiar chants from friends, no questionable hand signals from foes. Running onto the field, there will be no deafening roars.
The coronavirus pandemic has changed nearly every aspect of this historic and intense rivalry.
“But it’s still gonna be a very high quality football game and a very competitive football game,” Riley said.
At a time when the OU head coach and his Texas counterpart would normally be talking about the important match-ups and the high stakes of this game, Riley and Tom Herman instead spent a good chunk of Monday answering questions about what ails their squads. The Sooners are losers of back-to-back regular-season games, the first time that’s happened since 1999, and the Longhorns are coming off a loss to TCU a week after needing to rally from a 15-point, fourth-quarter deficit and win in overtime against Texas Tech.
This is only the third time in the 2000s both teams will arrive at Fair Park after losses, and the last time it happened (2014), Texas finished the season with a losing record and OU ended with a drubbing from Clemson in the Russell Athletic Bowl.
Are these teams as bad as those teams? Time will tell, but these two teams sure don’t provide much hope for a memorable game, much less a classic.
The hits just keep coming.
Thanks a lot, 2020.
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We’ve known for months this OU-Texas game was going to feel weird. Think “The Day After.”
Those of us of a certain age will remember the made-for-TV movie from the early 1980s. It told of the effects of nuclear war in Middle America, showing decimated cities, burned homes and charred landscapes. Landmarks were gone. Nothing was recognizable.
Worse, there were only a few people there.
The whole thing was off putting.
So it will be with OU-Texas on Saturday.
The State Fair of Texas isn’t happening. That means no rides and no games. None of the sights or the sounds that normally assault your senses when you enter the fairgrounds will be there either, though a few food vendors will be open, including Fletcher’s Corny Dogs.
Breathe in that fry-grease goodness while you can.
Even though some of the landmarks remain — Big Tex and Texas Star, the gigantic ferris wheel, are still standing last anyone checked — many of the ways we navigate on game day will be gone.
The scene inside the Cotton Bowl will be just as off putting. Instead of 100,000 fans, there’ll be about 25,000. And those clear lines of delineation, crimson on one side of the 50-yard line, orange on the other? No way they will be as obvious. There won’t be enough fans there to see that clear split.
It has to be this way. I understand that. But that doesn’t mean I can’t be a little sad about it.
“Yeah, it’ll be different,” Riley agreed. “It will.”
Then, without skipping a beat …
“It’ll still be awesome. It always is. You love it every single year.”
I’d love it a whole lot more if the teams were better. Both have had trouble on offense; OU’s offensive line is as suspect as it’s been in quite some time and Texas is dealing with inconsistency, even from veteran quarterback Sam Ehlinger. The teams are struggling on defense, too, would-be-tacklers repelling off ball carriers like the wrong end of a magnet.
Don’t you need great teams to have a great game?
“I’ve been in this game in all kinds of different scenarios,” Riley said. “When both teams are just OK. Maybe one team was hot, rolling, and the other team wasn’t.
“It seems like the quality of play and the quality of competition is always at a high level.”
Maybe this game will be great. That would be splendid because the whole scene is going to feel like “The Day After.”
It would be nice if the game wasn’t apocalyptic, too.
Jenni Carlson: Jenni can be reached at 405-475-4125 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Like her at facebook.com/JenniCarlsonOK or follow her at twitter.com/jennicarlson_ok.