Longhorns ready to finish countdown clock to Saturday

Malik Jefferson at the Red River Shootout. (Will Gallagher/IT)

Malik Jefferson at the Red River Shootout. (Will Gallagher/IT)

The new additions and renovations to the Moncrief-Neuhaus Athletic Center astounded both players and media when they were finally revealed to the team before the season. The flat screen-adorned and ventilation-laden lockers were the talk of the college football world, only to be somewhat lampooned a short time later following an embarrassing opening week loss to Maryland.

Though the new locker room remains as awe-inspiring and cutting edge as it was just two months ago, another Moncrief renovation takes on added importance during the second weekend in October of the Longhorns’ football season.

In one of the hallways of the renovated facility, a large mural of the game day atmosphere at the Cotton Bowl during the Red River Showdown sits behind two helmets. One is a white Texas helmet, with the other one being a crimson Oklahoma helmet. Over the helmets sits a large countdown clock that second by second gets closer and closer to zero hour — 2:30 pm in Dallas on October 14.

“I remember it being like 108 a long time ago,” junior linebacker Malik Jefferson said on Tuesday. “Now it’s four days, I think? It’s crazy how time flies and you look at all the hard work you’ve put in.”

The clock’s place in the building allows it to be seen by players and coaches walking around the facility extremely often.

“I walk by it every day,” junior running back Chris Warren said. “I look at it. I remember when it first went up. It was really cool. I thought it was nice to have a little mural thing for it to show that it’s a rivalry and it means something to us. It gets the blood pumping every time you see it with each day, each hour, each minute.”

Sometimes, some players alter the display, knocking over the symbol for the biggest, and arguably the only, rival on the schedule.

“Every day you walk into the facility, and there’s a Texas helmet and an OU helmet,” junior safety DeShon Elliott said. “Every day, the OU helmet is always flipped upside down. Someone always comes by and puts it right side up. I don’t know who does it, but for some reason it happens and we all just can’t wait for that game.

“Every game is a big game, but that game, OU and Texas, it doesn’t matter what anyone’s ranking is or how good one team is playing, it’s always going to be a great game.”

Collin Johnson (Will Gallagher/IT)

Collin Johnson (Will Gallagher/IT)

The addition of a clock in a building does not make the 112th edition of the Red River Showdown any more or less important. This weekend, one of the most storied rivalries in all of college football, and an important game in the landscape of the Big 12 conference, will take place once more in an equally historic stadium, the Cotton Bowl.

Neutral site rivalry games are common throughout the nation, but none are an environment quite like Texas-OU.  Two fan bases split down exactly the middle create an atmosphere normally seen during the postseason.

“It’s an experience all in its own,” Warren said about running onto the field to both cheers and boos. “It’s definitely different. I haven’t been to a bowl game or anything, but it’s the closest thing to it.”

Some players have family ties to the game, including sophomore wide receiver Collin Johnson. Johnson’s father, Johnnie Johnson, played at Texas from 1976-79 and was an All-American twice during that time.

The elder Johnson went 2-1-1 against the Sooners. Collin knows from listening to his father talk about the game just how important it has been for not just 40 years, but for more than 100 years.

“He just always used to talk about this game and how big it is,” Johnson said. “It’s something I grew up on, always watching and hearing about the OU-Texas game. It’s deep in our family tradition, and it’s a very unique game.”

It is a unique game, but Texas is currently in a unique spot. Though underdogs in Las Vegas (+7.5), Texas sits ahead of Oklahoma in the Big 12 Standings, currently 2-0 to the Sooners’ 1-1. The Red River Showdown is important, but it presents the Longhorns an opportunity to be undefeated in Big 12 play one-third of the way through the slate.

“It is a rivalry game, but at the same time it’s a normal game,” Jefferson said. “It’s a Big 12 Conference game. What (Tom Herman) has been emphasizing is keeping that same mentality we’ve had going throughout the whole week.”