The Texas Longhorns travel to Stillwater on Saturday to face off against the Oklahoma State Cowboys in what many are billing as the Bowl Eligibility Bowl -- both teams are sitting on five wins with little hope of reaching six without this win.
Through the week, the perspective on how this game will play out has changed a bit as the weather forecast has changed. Where once the prediction was for temperatures around freezing, the forecast is now much more mild:
As a result, the passing games for both teams won't have to deal with wet and/or frozen footballs.
When Oklahoma State has the football
The Oklahoma State offense has struggled this season after replacing starting quarterback Clint Chelf, leading receiver Josh Stewart, and two starters along the offensive line, in large part because the talent level simply isn't there.
Scipio Tex traced the circuitous path that current starting quarterback Daxx Garman took to Oklahoma State:
The short version: ruled ineligible as an Oklahoma prep junior for playing for a school not in his district and they forfeited all games and was banned, tried to play his senior year at Southlake Carroll, but DFW muckraker news media and Southlake trophy parents raised a stink when the Garman's tried the "yes, we live there!" home rental trick, his Dad threw a bag of ice at a camera man while sporting an OU shirt at a gas station, Garman sat out his senior year of high school, went to Arizona on scholarship, then transferred from Arizona to OSU. Whew.
An injury to former starter JW Walsh went down with a soft tissue injury in his foot during the first quarter of the season's second game, affording Garmand the opportunity to play.
Though Oklahoma State fans weren't exactly overly enamored with the skill set of Walsh before his injury, in part because of his general lack of arm strength, especially on the deep ball, the loss of mobility has hurt the Cowboy running game because the zone read is no longer a factor and because Walsh could make off-schedule plays with his feet.
Garman hasn't been decisive enough with the football, throwing for 11 interceptions against 11 touchdowns for an interception rate of 4.4% that is nearly three times what an elite quarterback would manage. The offensive line hasn't helped and a lack of playmaking receivers other than hybrid athlete Tyreek Hill has also made life more difficult for Garman, as he's been sacked 24 times this season.
Some of the throws are kind of inexplicable, like this interception that was returned for a touchdown by West Virginia safety Dravon Henry at a critical moment in that game:
Flat in his delivery, Garman tries to fit the ball over an underneath defender and underneath Henry, but the ball sails on him because he doesn't even come close to hitting the proper trajectory.
Against Kansas State, he stared down his intended receiver as he stepped up in the pocket on 4th and 10 in the first quarter and had a pass intercepted. The second pick against the Wildcats wasn't especially harmful, as it came on a heave down into the end zone at the end of the first half on a Hail Mary that was batted around some before it ended up in the hands of an opponent -- hardly a bad decision.
The arm strength is there for the deep ball, but he hasn't been accurate either -- completely only 60% of his passes twice, going 10 of 15 against TCU, and then just barely over 50% in the last two games.
Replacing departed wide receiver Josh Stewart just hasn't been easy for the offense, as his explosiveness has been sorely missed, even with the addition of Hill. None of the receivers are threatening to the Texas defense in the way that Kansas State's Tyler Lockett and the West Virginia duo of Kevin White and Mario Alford have been in recent weeks.
Against Kansas State, only a pass up the seam to Hill out of the backfield went for more than 20 yards.
At running back, the story is pretty similar, with the offensive line unable to open consistent holes.
For years Gundy has fielded high-powered offenses in Stillwater, but that's simply not the case this season.
The Texas defense
The focus is going to be on containing Hill with a team defensive concept that will probably utilize a lot of three-man fronts and two deep safeties, daring Oklahoma State to ground out yardage with the running game and complete passes in front of Texas defensive backs.
Basically the same strategy that head coach Charlie Strong usually prefers and one that the Longhorns defense has been executing at a pretty high level in recent weeks.
Can senior defensive end Cedric Reed continue to come on? he's been playing hard and pretty effectively as a four technique, but he's mostly doing yeoman's work in those sets. In third-and-long situations, he should have some chances to tee off and won't have to worry about Garman as a runner.
On the interior, defensive tackles Malcom Brown and Hassan Ridgeway should continue to be extremely disruptive -- there's a reason why Gundy said that the Texas front is the best that they will have faced this season.
Given the decision-making of Garman and the likelihood of pressure against a line that hasn't given up so many sacks, the defensive backs should have a couple of chances to intercept passes. Can those players finish, especially in a moment that could chance the game?
When Texas has the football
The Texas offense
Justifiably, much of the talk this week has been about the development of the offensive line, which turned in a second straight strong performance against West Virginia as Texas has made some significant changes using freshman tight end Andrew Beck more as a move blocker and running more man and gap concepts.
The calculation from offensive coordinator/offensive line coach Joe Wickline seems to be that his big linemen, especially the right side of sophomore tackle Camrhon Hughes and sophomore guard Kent Perkins, are more capable of making simple blocks screening or covering up defenders than running the zone schemes that require understanding and coordination for combo blocks.
Here's a look at two running plays from the West Virginia game from Alex Dunlap of Orangebloods.
Beyond the implications of the current injuries for the offensive line, the big news over the last two weeks is that junior running back Johnathan Gray looks completely healthy now a year removed from his Achilles injury. HIs level of play through much of the season lingered behind the offensive line, but his jump cuts are back, he's cutting to the second level and having some opportunities in the open field, and when he's getting those opportunities, he's taking advantage and finishing runs with touchdowns like he did in high school.
"He made some jump cuts and then exploded. We talked after the game briefly about it, but I feel like he's very confident about where he's at coming off of his injury," said play caller Shawn Watson.
"He's playing like he played last year. When I saw him on film last year, he made jump cuts that were explosive. He put a foot in the dirt, he could cut through a weak shoulder of a defender, and he was gone."
At quarterback, the concern is that sophomore Tyrone Swoopes hasn't been playing well, reverting to some of his worst habits and struggling to get on the same page as his wide receivers on the post-snap West Coast-style reads he has to make.
He also hasn't been having an impact in the running game as it has morphed. With less zone plays, the opportunities for the zone read have decreased as a result. Perhaps picking up some yards with his feet is exactly what he needs to get going.
But expect Texas to stick with the plan that has been working.
In the passing game, however, Watson has to find ways to get Swoopes going. Will his pocket presence be better this weekend? His mechanics? Were did the ball control passing game go? Can Swoopes hit some of the long passing plays that he missed against West Virginia?
The Oklahoma State defense
How much did the Cowboys lose offensively last season? How about seven of the top nine tacklers, 50% of the team's tackles for loss, and 11.5 sacks.
Gone were starters at defensive tackle, defensive end, linebacker, cornerback, and safety.
The results have been mostly acceptable in terms of S&P rankings given those losses -- No. 31 versus the run and No. 52 against the pass.
The problem is that those numbers are quite adjusted for the opponents, having played Florida State, TCU, West Virginia, and Kansas State this season -- the team is giving up 5.76 yards per play (No. 89 nationally) and FEI doesn't like Oklahoma State nearly as much as S&P+, ranking the Cowboys No. 83 overall because of major issues giving up explosive drives and conceding more field position than expected.
On the year, Oklahoma State has given up 143 plays of 10 yards or more (tied for 90th nationally) and 20 plays of 30 or more yards (tied for 71st nationally).
There are a handful of good players -- junior defensive tackle James Castleman was passed over by the Longhorns and is a quality starter, sophomore defensive end Emmanuel Ogbah is an imposing presence at 270 pounds, and undersized linebacker Josh Furman is an Eric Striker starter kit with five sacks on the season.
And there is some young talent in the secondary, including two San Antonio-area product in leading tackler Jordan Sterns and blossoming cover corner Ramon Richards.
But like the offense, this group isn't as good as it has been in recent seasons, so the Longhorns should be able to move the football.