Cowboy Football: Previewing OSU vs. Texas
AUSTIN, Texas - And so the onslaught begins.
No. 12 Oklahoma State controls its own destiny in the conference title race but heads on the road to face a Texas Longhorn squad in a similar position.
The Cowboys (8-1, 5-1 Big 12) start the toughest part of their schedule with their final road trip of the year at UT (7-2, 6-0) before hosting No. 5 Baylor and No. 18 OU to close out the season.
OSU has won five-straight games and will face a 23rd-ranked UT squad that has won six-straight, most recently in a 47-40 overtime nail biter against West Virginia, which handed OSU its only loss back on Sept. 28th.
This is the biggest game of the season for either team so far as the stakes are raised and the wins and losses are magnified. Here is a breakdown of what to watch for in Austin at 2:30 p.m. on Saturday:
Survival of the Fittest
It's not uncommon to see a lengthy injury report this late in the season, but the Cowboys and Longhorns have both been bitten by the injury bug pretty hard at key spots. First and foremost, the most recent injuries for both teams are potential game changers. The Cowboys will be without leading receiver Josh Stewart, who sprained his ankle in the first half against Kansas. Stewart was ruled out Friday afternoon but said he will be back next week for BU.
But the injuries sustained even worse news after their last game as starting running back Johnathan Gray and star defensive lineman Chris Whaley will both undergo season-ending surgeries.
Added pressure will be placed on an already-depleted Cowboy receiving corps but OSU could have Blake Jackson back in the fold after missing several weeks to help soften the blow. Texas, on the other hand, will have a very difficult time replacing Whaley. Gray will be missed mightily, as well, but the Horns have a wealth of talent at the position.
Oklahoma State's stout run defense surrendered a season-worst 202 yards on the ground to lowly Kansas on Saturday and now face a Longhorn ground game that loves to impose its will at the line of scrimmage. UT ranks 37th nationally in rushing at 197.3 yards per game but the loss of Gray in the backfield will certainly hurt.
That said, Texas has Malcolm Brown and Joe Bergeron waiting in the wings and both are proven commodities. Brown has eight touchdowns this season and Bergeron has three scores and 5.5 yards-per-carry average.
OSU has been stout in its ability to stop the run, save for the KU game, ranking 27th nationally with 131.7 yards allowed per game. And the front seven has only gotten better and more aggressive as the year has gone on with senior linebackers Caleb Lavey and Shaun Lewis roaming behind their monster defensive tackles in the middle.
If the Cowboys can bounce back and control the line of scrimmage, it would force erratic quarterback Case McCoy to fling it around in the passing game, which would play right into the ball-hawking OSU defense's hands.
It's highly unlikely the Cowboys will be as "vanilla" in their play calling as they were against KU. In fact, it's even more likely that the playcalling was bland in an effort to prepare for Texas by giving nothing away for the Longhorns on film. That said, the offensive play calls used against the Jayhawks will not be good enough against an athletic Texas defense. Not having Stewart available in the passing game could play a factor in the coaching staff's willingness to branch out, as well.
Clint Chelf will need to avoid major mistakes to open up the run and Desmond Roland will have to keep up his current torrid pace to take advantage of a subpar UT run defense that is surrendering 185 yards per game. If OSU can establish its ground attack early, it will take the pressure off and give Chelf plenty of passing lanes. It could be easier said than done, however. After allowing 7 yards per carry in losses to BYU and Ole Miss, the Longhorns have stiffened up and are allowing just 3.2 yards a carry in conference play, where they currently hold a 6-0 record.
• Oklahoma State has won the past two meetings with the Horns in Austin and, should the Cowboys win on Saturday, it would become the first team to beat UT three-straight times at home since Colorado did in 1990, '94 and '97. OSU would also become just the third school ever to accomplish this feat, joining CU and Texas A&M ('84, '86, '88).
• The Cowboys have 71 Texans on this year's team, good for the most on any non-Texas school's roster in the NCAA.
• Oklahoma State had four 8-1 starts in its first 102 years of football. Mike Gundy has now done it four times in six years.
• If OSU wins it will give the Cowboys their sixth conference victory of the season, marking only the fourth time OSU would have ever accomplished that. All four would have come under Gundy (2009, '10, '11 and '13).
• The Cowboys have an 18-0 record under Mike Gundy when they do not commit a turnover, including last week's win against Kansas.
• Staying on that thought, OSU has now forced a turnover in 17-consecutive games.
• More on turnovers: OSU ranks sixth in the country in turnover margin with a 1.2 average, having forced 23 miscues against just 12 turnovers of its own. However, the Longhorns have some swagger on this front, as well. Texas has committed only 13 turnovers and has forced 22, good for 10th nationally in turnover margin.
• Oklahoma State is 10-1 in its past 11 games in the Lone Star State.
• Texas defensive ends Jackson Jeffcoat and Cedric Reed are tied for second in the Big 12 with seven sacks each.
• One area that could make a big difference on Saturday is red-zone defense. OSU ranks ninth in the country with a 71 percent scoring average allowed, giving up just 14 touchdowns and eight field goals in 31 opponent trips inside the 20. On the flip side, Texas ranks 85th with an 85.7 average. UT has surrendered 19 touchdowns (15 of them rushing) and 11 field goals on 35 visits.
Texas has righted the ship after its early-season struggles, but so have the Cowboys, who have averaged 50.6 points per game the past three weeks. Focus shouldn't be a factor for either team in this game, as it is of the utmost importance for both school's conference-title aspirations with Baylor still on the schedule for the Pokes and Horns.
The Cowboys have had UT's number in Austin recently and should also be looking for a measure of revenge after Texas won in questionable fashion a season ago in Stillwater.
Overall, the Cowboys have more explosive offensive talent even without Stewart and, if the game plan is up to snuff, OSU should win this in a close contest. That said, Texas is stout and extremely talented. OSU will have to be at its best.
Score: Oklahoma State 35, Texas 27