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Texas vs. Oklahoma State: Five things to watch

Can the ‘Horns generate turnovers and commit fewer penalties?

NCAA Football: Texas at California John Hefti-USA TODAY Sports

The Texas Longhorns travel to Stillwater on Saturday for an 11 a.m. CT kick against the Oklahoma State Cowboys as the ‘Horns try to reverse the road woes under head coach Charlie Strong.

1) What type of game plan will Texas have for OSU’s trio of wide receivers?

The big, obvious question looming before the start of this game is whether or not this Texas defense will have made enough improvements during the bye week after the frustrating loss to Cal.

No one is saying this defense has to be elite, and it likely won’t get to that level this season. But as we all know by now, this defense has to play better than it has through the first three games of the season.

By the end of that Cal loss, it was apparent that defensive coordinator Vance Bedford and his Longhorns defense, specifically the secondary, were not prepared to execute and defend against wide receiver Chad Hansen and the rest of Cal’s passing attack like it needed to.

On the night, Hansen racked up 196 yards and scored two touchdowns on 12 receptions.

Though game-stats like that have become the norm for Hansen this season (seriously, take a look for yourself and yea, take opponents into consideration... still, it’s impressive), this Texas defense can’t afford to be giving up those types of stats to an opposing receiver each week.

Oklahoma State has a trio of wide receivers, led by 6’1 junior James Washington, that Texas will need to keep in check.

Along with Washington, who put up 296 yards and scored twice on nine receptions against Pittsburg earlier this season, 6’1 senior Jahjuan Seales and 5’10 sophomore Jalen McCleskey have also both eclipsed the 100-yard receiving mark in at least one game this season while recording at least seven receptions in that same game, respectively.

The Longhorns will need to keep tabs on Washington, but the secondary can’t afford to sleep on Seales and McCleskey either.

If I were calling the plays, I’d be running a two-high safety look for most of this game any time the Pokes are in a three-wide receiver set. Along with that, getting good pressure on Oklahoma State quarterback Mason Rudolph (cough, Malcolm Roach, cough Breckyn Hager) before he gets his passes off is another way to defend against those receivers and that passing game.

I won’t be calling the plays from my couch but I absolutely will be watching how Texas defends against Oklahoma State, especially when the Cowboys line up in formations with three or more wide receivers.

2) Don’t sleep on the Oklahoma State running game

Seriously, don’t. The Cowboys’ offensive line may still be a unit that need’s to improve its run-blocking, and Oklahoma State still may be a team that relies on its passing-game more so than the running game, but the Pokes have some talent in the backfield capable of gaining chunks of yards on the ground thanks to a freshman that broke out last week.

After seeing a total of just 24 carries through the first three games, true freshman running back Justice Hill broke onto the scene against Baylor a week ago rushing for 122 yards and a touchdown on 20 carries, averaging 6.1 yards per carry for the game.

Sure, Baylor’s defense isn’t the litmus test for college football defenses. And fumbles have also been an issue for Hill so far. But he still flashed solid running-ability against Baylor and will probably be the lead back for the Cowboys against Texas.

I’m not saying Texas can’t handle the Cowboys run game. I’m just saying Hill, along with senior Rennie Childs, shouldn’t be overlooked.

Barry Sanders Jr., the son of the great Barry Sanders, is also on OSU’s roster at running back via a grad transfer from Stanford but he’s yet to make much of an impact other than in the return game on special teams.

3) Shane Buechele and the receivers will need to make plays

Even with a new scheme and new offensive coordinator on offense, Texas is still very much a team that relies on its running backs a majority of the time.

Through three games, Texas has run the ball 157 times and passed 94. In comparison, through four games, Oklahoma State has run the ball 151 times and passed 171.

I’m not saying it doesn’t make sense, because it does. The Longhorns’ strength on offense is their run game, and quarterback Shane Buechele is still just a true freshman.

To win this game, though, the Texas offense will need to attack Oklahoma State’s weaker secondary and make plays through the air to complement the run game.

In a loss against Baylor last week, the Oklahoma State defense gave up four scores and 387 yards through the air on 18 receptions, which allowed Baylor to average 21.5 yards per reception.

Texas will need Shane Buechele and the receivers to make plays and get points on the board from the get-go to get this Oklahoma State defense off balance.

4) How will the Texas offense line stack up against the solid Oklahoma State defensive front?

Running the ball and making plays through the air sounds great, but in order to get that done, Texas will need its offensive line to have a solid game across the board.

Among the conference, Oklahoma State is third to Baylor and Kansas (yes, Kansas) in tackles for loss, averaging almost nine a game. And the Cowboys are tied for fourth with Baylor, Iowa State and Kansas in sacks per game, averaging just over two a game at 2.25.

In comparison, Texas actually leads the conference in sacks per game with an average of almost four (3.67) and is fourth in tackles for loss per game at almost eight (7.67).

It will be interesting to see who fills in for the suspended Kent Perkins at right guard. Whoever it is will have to take on the 6’3 310-pound Vincent Taylor, one of Oklahoma State’s defensive tackles, at different times throughout the game.

For Texas’ sake, hopefully the bye week has helped prepare the ‘Horns for this entire match up during the game.

5) Can Texas generate turnovers and commit fewer penalties?

Look, it’s no secret, one of the issues on defense has also been the lack of turnovers being generated so far this season. Part of that is probably due to poor execution on defense while the other part has just been some bad turnover luck.

Last season, Texas boasted one of the nation’s best turnover margins all season. With an average of .92 per game, the ‘Horns ranked eighth in the country and were only second to Oklahoma State in the Big 12 (the Cowboys averaged exactly one per game last year),

I’d argue without that strong turnover margin last season, the ‘Horns would have lost at least another game, if not more.

Through three games this season, Texas is averaging -1 turnover per game, which ranks the ‘Horns 110th nationally and leaves them tied with Oklahoma at eighth in the conference

In addition to a poor turnover margin, Texas also continues to shoot itself in the foot with penalties.

With an average of just over nine per game (9.3), Texas ranks 116th nationally and ranks only better than Texas Tech (9.8) and Baylor (10.3) in the conference. In comparison, Texas ranked 76th nationally last season averaging just over six per game.

I don’t know the data on which specific penalties, if any, the Longhorns are committing the most. I do know that many turnovers is not good.

Neither of these trends can continue if Texas wants to avoid another dismal season. Penalties and losing the turnover margin are killing drives and giving opponents yards and the ball at a rate that will make Texas work hard just to keep the overall season record near .500 the rest of the way.

I wouldn’t say it’s time to hit the panic button if Texas loses this game as the ‘Horns still could split the series between the Oklahoma teams by winning in Dallas the following week.

I will say the way Texas performs in the game will tell us a lot about this team and what the rest of the season could look like.