STILLWATER – Take away logos and records, Oklahoma State’s stats through seven games are on par with Texas.
Offensively, the Cowboys own the advantage. The Longhorns are better defensively. In miscellaneous categories, each team has its strengths and weaknesses.
Yet No. 6 Texas (6-1 overall, 4-0 Big 12) is atop the Big 12 while OSU is reeling, having lost three of its past four contests. After a season-opening loss, Texas has defeated three ranked teams while trying to recapture its glory.
The Longhorns and Cowboys will square off at 7 p.m. Saturday in Boone Pickens Stadium with both teams trying to accomplish different goals. For OSU, it’s working to avoid dropping to a .500 record while maintaining its bowl streak. Texas is working toward its first College Football Playoff birth and trying to prove that it is actually back.
“They are a really talented football team,” OSU coach Mike Gundy said. “Seems like they are playing with more confidence at this time. Defensively, they are sound. They can run to the football and you are not going to get a lot of freebies on them. They minimize big plays due to their speed and athleticism.”
OSU has controlled the series this decade, but it had only two wins all-time against Texas until 2010. Since that season, OSU has captured six of the teams eight contests, including five straight in Austin.
Texas quarterback Sam Ehlinger suffered an injury to his throwing shoulder in the teams 23-17 victory against Baylor on Oct. 13, and it was unclear whether he would be able to play against OSU. All signs pointed to him being able to play as of Thursday, but OSU’s defense has been forced to prepare for two quarterbacks.
OSU’s defense has struggled this season under first-year defensive coordinator Jim Knowles at containing mobile quarterbacks. In all three losses, and especially the Iowa State and Kansas State losses, the quarterback’s ability to scramble was a thorn in the Cowboys’ side for 60 minutes.
“We played against (Ehlinger) last season,” defensive end Jordan Brailford said. “We kind of know what to expect (from him). We’ve been going through his tendencies. We’re expecting him to play, so we’re practicing to play him.”
Fellow defensive lineman Enoch Smith said OSU’s defense needs to exploit the Longhorn weaknesses to be able to win. Jarrell Owens, a defensive end, said Ehlinger is effective in running the draw with its quarterbacks, so they need to make sure they always have quarterback containment.
K-State quarterback Skylar Thompson was effective at finding an open gap and scrambling for first downs on pass plays. Gundy said following the game, the schemes were correct but the players weren’t in the right gaps.
Gundy said the poor defense of the run is a culmination of not defending the pass well. During the second half of the season, Gundy wants to see his team rebound and be more cohesive defensively.
The Cowboys have a chance to garner heavy momentum if they perform well against the stout Longhorns.
“Offensively, we’ve gone into games where we haven’t protected very well, then had games where we haven’t run blocked really well,” Gundy said. “We haven’t put it together in a while. Defensively, we go through phases where we don’t defend the deep ball really well, then we haven’t defended the run very well. We really haven’t put that together, so I would like to see us do that. That would be a good start.”
Why No. 6 Texas wins
Texas has its most confident team since this decade. Even after a stunning season-opening loss to Maryland, the Longhorns have rebounded tremendously. If Ehlinger is healthy and can run the ball against a shaky OSU front, Texas could be in for a big day offensively.
Defensively, Texas has one of the league’s best run defenses. Limiting Justice Hill will be a key for Texas defensive coordinator Todd Orlando. OSU quarterback Taylor Cornelius has yet to show he can handle the pressure when the offense relies on his arm. Expect Texas to load the box and make Cornelius uncomfortable.
Defense wins championships, and it’s why Texas will beat OSU on Saturday.
Why Oklahoma State wins
The Cowboys play well against Texas. It didn’t used to be that way, but when the burnt orange longhorn emblem is on the other side of the ball, OSU has played to a higher level, especially this decade.
After a week to regroup and work on some little things, like penalties and offensive line play, OSU will get back to its habit of running the ball effectively. Hill’s ability to get 5 yards a carry will help open the passing lanes in the secondary. If Cornelius can take care of the ball, there will be chances to score for OSU’s offense.
With two weeks to prepare for Ehlinger’s scrambling ability, the run defense will be fundamentally sound and more effective at stopping the QB run game. OSU has struggled against big receivers this season, but with more experience and time to prepare, A.J. Green and Rodarius Williams are ready to prove they can cover the Big 12’s elite receivers.
OSU has something to prove. A fundamentally sound performance, similar to OSU’s against Boise State, is why it will upset Texas on Saturday.
With both teams coming off byes and one having more questions than the other, it’s not hard to see why Texas should win this game easily. Its strength’s are the Cowboys’ weaknesses.
I believe OSU will be prepared to play this game like it was prepared to play Boise State earlier in the year. A loss in this game could derail OSU’s season while a win could help the Cowboys out of the proverbial hole its in.
In games against ranked teams, Texas has been stout. Against underwhelming opponents, the Longhorns have struggled. I believe Texas gains an early lead because of an OSU turnover and holds on to win, 27-21.
DETAILS TO KNOW
What: No. 6 Texas (6-1, 4-0) at Oklahoma State (4-3, 1-3)
Where: Boone Pickens Stadium (Stillwater, Oklahoma)
When: 7:00 p.m. CT Saturday
TV: ABC (Chris Fowler, Kirk Herbstreit and Maria Taylor)
Radio: 96.1 KXY, Cowboy Radio Network (Dave Hunziker, John Holcomb and Robert Allen)