The Texas Longhorns have been the instigators of many rough nights for Oklahoma State in Stillwater over the years.
The Cowboys last beat the ‘Horns in Payne County back when Ricky Williams was toting the ball for UT in 1997, but a few things have changed in this series since the last time Mack Brown and Co. rolled into Boone Pickens Stadium in 2009.
Namely, OSU hasn't lost to Texas since.
The Cowboys were forced to play in Austin in 2010 and ‘11 because of scheduling issues related to conference realignment but it didn't matter as the Pokes handled UT with relative ease, winning 33-16 and 38-26, respectively.
Despite Texas' return to national relevancy so far this season coupled with the Cowboys' youth and Wes Lunt's injury, Oklahoma State shouldn't lack any confidence when the teams take the field at 6:50 p.m. on Saturday.
A lot of what will determine how the game unfolds on Saturday will come down to how well Oklahoma State's defense can adjust to a similar – albeit improved – Longhorn offense.
"I wouldn't say they're different. I think their philosophy is the same," OSU coach Mike Gundy said. "I'm an outsider looking in. They're more of a power running team variation to formations and movements like last year. They try to get the safeties involved in the running game and throw it over the top. They're a better football team overall and not just on offense. In my opinion, because the quarterback (David Ash) has gained some experience since he's played in some games, he seems to have a better understanding of what they're trying to accomplish on offense. The running backs are making plays and running the ball effectively, which keeps the defense off the field more than last year.
"Experience would be the main reason that they've improved on offense."
And that experience has paid obvious dividends in UT's offensive production up to this point this season, resulting in a No. 12 national ranking.
The Longhorns also started last season 3-0 but they have raced out to the same mark far more impressively in 2012. The defense has been predictably stout, but the improvement of Ash and the running game has a lot of people piling on the burnt-orange bandwagon.
The Longhorns rank a pedestrian 44th in passing yards per game with 255.7 – compared to OSU's 378.3, which ranks No. 2 – but the increased efficiency has made them a much tougher assignment for opposing defenses.
Ash completed just 56.9 percent of his passes last season, throwing for four touchdowns and eight interceptions.
Through three games this year, Ash is completing 76.4 percent and has already thrown for seven scores. But even more impressive than that, he has yet to throw a pick.
"David Ash has matured as a player since last year so we're going to have our hands full," OSU linebacker Caleb Lavey said. "We're going to have to come out harder than we have this whole year. We have to give them a good game."
But focusing the gameplan on Ash will be hard to do because UT's bread and butter is in its run game. The three-headed monster of Malcolm Brown (238 yards, 3 TD's), Joe Bergeron (207 yards, 3 TD's) and freshman Johnathan Gray (89 yards, 0 TD's) is a headache for any defense and is only amplified running behind a massive offensive line.
Texas ran effectively last year but teams routinely stacked the box because of the limited success of its passing game – that is no longer the case.
"They are not a lot different, just a lot better," OSU defensive coordinator Bill Young said. "They've got multiple starters coming back. Almost all their skill players are back. They have a big, strong, physical offensive line. We are playing a powerful football team that is a lot different from our offense. We will see a lot of powers, counters and unbalanced lines, things that we haven't seen from our offense."
OSU ranks 40th in total defense but some might argue that ranking is misleading after an 84-0 drubbing of hapless Savannah State.
OSU struggled mightily against the only high-powered offense it has faced this season in a loss at Arizona. The Cowboys' defense has an opportunity to make a statement against the 'Horns, and on Monday seemed eager for the opportunity.
"It will be a real test," Young said.