After another close loss to an elite opponent last weekend, Burnt Orange writers are not as optimistic about the ‘Horns chances this Saturday against Mason Rudolph and the top ranked Oklahoma State offense.
We discuss why Texas is still worth watching, key players to the game this weekend, and of course final score predictions in this edition of the BON roundtable.
Right now, Texas is sitting at 3-3 with a difficult stretch of the schedule coming up. Why is this Texas team still worth watching?
Cody Daniel, co-editor: It's worth watching because it's become an extremely competitive unit. Moral victories don't matter, but Texas is a few plays away from being 5-1 with wins over two teams that have seen the top-five this season — USC and Oklahoma. Not to mention, the finishes if each of those games, and even against Kansas State, have been thrilling.
Wes Crochet, staff writer: Because football season only happens once a year and I'm not a quitter.
Gerald Goodridge, staff writer: This is a Texas team that is on its way up. Sam Ehlinger is progressing and will continue to progress as the offensive line gets healthier, and the defense may be one of the best in the conference. Those combine to make a team that will probably surprise a few teams as they close out the season.
Anthony Rizzo, staff writer: This Texas football team is simply fun to watch, well, for the most part. They show up and compete every single week, it’s just a matter of time before it translates into big success on the field. It will be interesting to see if this team can take some major steps and have a strong second half of the season. Don’t forget, the ‘Horns still have some Big 12 championship aspirations.
Texas is set to face yet another elite quarterback in Mason Rudolph. What challenges do Rudolph and the Ok. State offense present that Texas hasn't faced yet?
Cody: When Oklahoma State attacks, it does so downfield. USC and Oklahoma did, as well, but to an extent. This week, Rudolph and the Cowboys are going to throw the ball downfield a ton and let guys like James Washington and Marcela Ateman do what they do best.
Wes: OK State brings the best set of receiving targets this Texas defense will have faced all season up to this point to go along with one of the better quarterbacks in the country. This will be a big litmus test for the Longhorns defense.
Gerald: Rudolph and his top-tier receiving corps like to take big chunks in the passing game, averaging 17.37 yards per completion, which is the top result among teams with more than 40 completions. Texas has to find a way to keep receivers in front of them and limit these big chunk plays.
Anthony: Oklahoma State brings the best offense in the nation into Austin, which presents a monumental challenge for the Texas defense. Mason Rudolph, Justice Hill, and James Washington are undoubtedly the best QR-RB-WR duo in the nation. The ability to run the ball effectively along with an explosive passing game poses major problems.
What were some errors that Texas made against Oklahoma that need to be corrected against Ok. State?
Cody: The slow starts are obviously an issue, and broken coverages and simply getting beat deep downfield against an Oklahoma State offense that leads the nation in yards will mean Texas sits at 3-4.
Wes: The safeties have to play better, and really that goes for the entire secondary. The lapse in coverage against Oklahoma State will get exposed at a higher rate than it did against Oklahoma if there isn't better coverage. And offensively, Texas has to find a way to start the game the more effectively and get points on the board in the first quarter.
Gerald: The obvious answer is the miscommunications on the big pass plays, giving up 54 and 59 yard touchdown passes, that changed the course of the game. Additionally, without penalties on the last two drives that halted any sort of progression and halted any attempt at a comeback.
Anthony: The busts in coverage in the Texas secondary CANNOT happen in this game or else it will be one long day for the defense. After having little success getting pressure on Baker Mayfield, Malik and company must get to Rudolph on blitzes and force him to throw the ball away.
What were some positives from the OU game that Texas needs to build on?
Cody: The offense found its stride once it finally found the scoreboard and once it did, the defense clamped down and held OU to just nine second-half points. If Texas can put forth that kind of performance for an entire game, we may finally be talking about the 'Horns finishing against an elite opponent come Saturday evening.
Wes: Texas didn't give up in the end, and that was good to see. And even though the front of the Texas defense couldn't get to Mayfield enough, they were relentless in their pursuit of him and that effort could pay off against a quarterback like Rudolph.
Gerald: A 20-point comeback shows a level of resiliency that didn’t seem to exist under former head coach Charlie Strong, and it was done with sound defense. Adjustments to defensive alignments put players in the right place at the right time, allowing them to hold the Oklahoma defense to nine points in the game’s final 34 minutes.
Anthony: The Texas offense can build upon the success in the screen game with the running backs. Kyle Porter is a tough loss as he is a solid receiving back but the man averaging 13.7 yards per reception should be more involved. Chris Warren, that is.
Who is one player who must step up for Texas to be competitive with Oklahoma State and why?
Cody: Kris Boyd. He's struggled throughout the first half of the season and Texas will need its secondary to be at full strength if it hopes to prevent Rudolph and that OSU offense from running wild. I'd expect the Pokes to test him early.
Wes: I wish this question was "Who do you think should get more playing time that currently isn't" because I'd have multiple answers. For this question, though, I'll go with Denzel Okafor. If Okafor could find more consistency, it could have a ripple effect across the offensive line.
Gerald: Kris Boyd has received a lot of heat for his play this season, and he will need to step up in a major way if Texas has a shot to shut down the Cowboys’ offense. Washington is not the only talented receiver Oklahoma State brings to the table, so every member of the secondary, including the embattled Boyd, must be on their A-Game.
Anthony: Kris Boyd. This is Boyd’s chance to silence all the criticism he’s received thus far. If not, the junior could see himself on the bench very soon. He will be matched up one-on-one with either Washington or Ateman, two of the best wide receivers in the nation.
Is it clear at this point that Ehlinger will be the guy to solve Texas' offensive woes? Why or why not?
Cody: I'm not going to look past this season, but for this current Texas team with a rag-tag offense line and a non-existent running game, yes. Ehlinger has proven he keeps plays alive outside of the pocket whereas Buechele may have been sacked, and he's kept several drives alive, rushing for 217 yards the past two weeks.
Wes: Ehlinger alone won't solve all the woes at all. He doesn't play on the offensive line and he doesn't have "fairy dust" to sprinkle on any player, as Herman would say. What is clear is that Ehlinger gives this team the best chance to win at quarterback and he brings a gritty personality this team rallies behind.
Gerald: The offense simply moves better with Ehlinger in the game. When Shane Buechele came in after Ehlinger’s injury, the offense stalled out, managing just one yard on five plays. Add in Ehlinger’s ability to move the ball with his feet, which is almost required with the current offensive line situation, and you have the right man for the job.
Anthony: Yes. Ehlinger is a much better fit than Shane Buechele in this Texas offense. With a banged up offensive line and the serious threat to run the ball, Ehlinger is the guy. He’s proven time and time again he can be the savior for this struggling Texas offense.
What is your final score prediction?
Cody: Oklahoma State 34, Texas 24.
Wes: 35 - 28, Oklahoma State
Gerald: I think this turns into a shootout, but Texas just can’t keep up late and Oklahoma State wins 45-35.
Anthony: Texas finally gets over the hump and pulls out a big time victory over Mike Gundy and the Cowboys. A 50-yard reception touchdown for Devin Duvernay is the difference. Texas 34, Oklahoma State 31.