Head coach Charlie Strong made his rounds at the Cotton Bowl in Dallas in 2014, shaking hands and exchanging words with Oklahoma head coach Bob Stoops after a slim five-point loss to the Sooners. Strong’s debut in the annual Red River Showdown ended in heartbreak.
Strong and the Longhorns were once again long shots to beat No. 10 Oklahoma in 2015, but the aftermath last year was different. Strong made his way around the historic stadium, but this time he did so after a triumphant, unexpected victory.
The players hoisted Strong above their shoulders, and there was a sense of both relief and optimism that Texas earned the victory that would cast the program back into the national spotlight.
But it didn’t turn out to be that type of win. The Longhorns are one year removed from their 24-17 upset victory over the Sooners, but this year’s team has just as many unanswered questions as the one that entered last year’s Oklahoma game with a 1-4 record. But Strong isn’t worried about the rumors that his job is in jeopardy.
“We still have plenty of games left,” Strong said. “That’s when I said to our players, you just go play and let me handle everything else. It doesn’t matter to me any more, because what’s going to be said is going to be said.”
Given Strong’s track record in the Red River Showdown, it is no surprise that he is not concerned. His loss in 2014 was a close one — 31-26 — and his team outgained the Sooners 482 to 232 in total yards.
Last year, Strong’s team dominated the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball much like the way it had the year prior. Texas gained 313 yards on the ground to Oklahoma’s 67.
“I think it’s [our] mentality,” sophomore offensive lineman Connor Williams said. “I think we go into the game knowing that it’s up for us to [step up] for ourselves. Other teams can’t stop us. So I mean, we can run the ball all over them and they can’t do anything about it.”
This year, Strong and offensive coordinator Sterlin Gilbert bring a running game to the Cotton Bowl that’s even more capable of gashing the Sooners’ defense. Texas ranks No. 14 in the country in rushing yards per game with 261.
“It’s just the trust that [offensive line] coach [Matt] Mattox has on the offensive line,” senior offensive lineman Patrick Vahe said. “[If] we’re going to run power, we’re going to run power. But it’s just execution at that time.”
Strong’s success against Oklahoma last year came at a time of turmoil for the program. Texas started 1-4 for the first time since 1956 and had it lost to the Sooners that day, Strong might not be coaching in this week’s game — let alone any other game this season.
But despite the rumors of his being fired flaring up once again, he’s here. And he has an opportunity to get the type of win that would keep him around on the 40 Acres until at least this season’s end.
Strong thought he had the sort of victory over OU last season that would solidify his place at Texas for many years to come, and he’s upset that wasn’t the case.
“I look at that game and I do go back to that game, actually,” Strong said. “It’s almost like, ‘Did we know how to win and did we know how to handle winning?’ I look at that, I do. I go back to that game all the time because that could have been a turn right there, because it takes one game to really turn the program.”