Texas Football: 3 Longhorns poised to breakout in their first Red River game

Adonai Mitchell, Texas football (Photo by Tim Warner/Getty Images)
Adonai Mitchell, Texas football (Photo by Tim Warner/Getty Images) /

Texas football enters Saturday’s Red River Rivalry with its highest ranking since the 2009 edition of this historic rivalry. Saturday’s showdown inside the Cotton Bowl is arguably the most highly anticipated Red River Rivalry since No. 5 Texas and Colt McCoy bested No. 1 Oklahoma and Sam Bradford 45-35 in 2008.

Earlier this week on Twitter,I wrote that this was the most nationally consequential game for the program since Jan 7, 2010. Texas football suffered through some incredibly lean years. They seem to have turned a corner in year three of the Steve Sarkisian era, but that will be tested again this weekend.

The stakes are always high when Texas and Oklahoma meet, but that becomes even more magnified this year as both programs have attainable College Football Playoff aspirations.

There has never been a team with two losses that has made the College Football Playoff. COVID season aside, there have only been seven Power Five teams with one loss that have missed the Playoff (2014 Baylor & TCU, 2015 Iowa & Ohio State, 2017 Wisconsin, 2018 Ohio State, 2021 Notre Dame).

The winner of this Saturday’s game inside the Cotton Bowl will put one team in an incredibly advantageous position for national supremacy. At the same time, the loser must toe a very fine margin for the rest of the season.

The Red River Rivalry is an atmosphere unlike any other in sports. Because of this, we can often see players get caught up in the moment and not bring their A-game to the Cotton Bowl. There are a few Longhorns that I have identified as candidates to shine in their first Red River game. Let’s break them down.

3 Texas football players poised to breakout in their first Red River Rivalry

Adonai Mitchell – WR

2023 stats: 22 receptions, 31 yards, 4 TD

When Adonai Mitchell announced his intentions to transfer to Texas this offseason, Longhorn fans could only imagine what a duo of him and Xavier Worthy would do to opposing defenses. We saw it in Week 2 against Alabama, where they combined for 153 yards and three touchdowns. Last Saturday, we saw much of the same.

Mitchell finished the win over Kansas with career highs in receptions (ten) and receiving yards (141). He added his fourth receiving touchdown of the season as well.

When we think of recent editions of the Red River Rivalry, conversation about how the multitude of weapons on the outside for the Sooners would trouble Texas was often at the forefront of the discussion. This year, that narrative is flipped.

Mitchell’s presence as an elite No. 2 wide receiver has completely transformed this Texas offense. He and Worthy open up opportunities for each other against single coverage, leading to success on the deep ball for Quinn Ewers. The Sooners have a few big corners that, on paper, match up well with Mitchell. That said, everything we have seen over Mitchell’s collegiate career shows he plays his best on the biggest stages.

Jalen Catalon – S

2023 stats: 14 total tackles, 1 TFL, 1 FF

One of Texas football’s most significant transfer portal additions this offseason was former Arkansas safety Jalen Catalon. In 2020, Catalon was selected to the All-SEC First Team after finishing the year with the most tackles in the nation by a defensive back. Subsequently, he played in just seven games the previous two seasons. Health was a critical question for Catalon heading into the 2023 season, but he has yet to deal with any prominent injury issues this fall.

That said, Coach Sarkisian is clearly mindful of how much he plays the hard-hitting safety. Catalon is third in safety snaps behind Jerrin Thompson and Kitan Crawford. He played just 13 snaps against Baylor, though that was likely due to the nature of the lopsided score.

On Saturday, Sarkisian and defensive coordinator Pete Kwiatkowski should unleash the downhill ability of their veteran safety. Catalon showed his ability to find the football with a few punishing hits against Kansas last weekend. Expect him to be around the ball often against the Sooners.

Anthony Hill – LB

2023 stats: 17 total tackles, 2 TFL, 2 sacks, 2 QB hurries

Expectations were sky-high for five-star Denton Ryan (TX) linebacker Anthony Hill when he stepped on campus in January. The nation’s No. 1 linebacker was a massive recruiting win for Coach Sarkisian and his staff and is paying immediate dividends this fall.

Hill broke onto the scene in Tuscaloosa, notching two sacks and a 30 percent quarterback pressure rate. The freshman plays with a relentless motor and has a knack for finding the football. He finished with a career-high six tackles against Baylor and seemingly gets better every week.

Hill proved he is a big game player with his performance against Alabama, and I once again expect to see that level of play during his first Red River appearance. Pete Kwiatkowski has a proclivity to bring Hill on many exotic blitzes. PK should have those packages dialed up for him on Saturday.

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