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What To Watch For: Previewing the Oklahoma State Cowboys

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The Cowboys will come to Austin with another explosive offense led by running back Chuba Hubbard and wide receiver Tylan Wallace.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: SEP 14 Oklahoma State at Tulsa Photo by David Stacy/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

After posting a 2-1 record to start the 2019 season, the Texas Longhorns now begin their pursuit of a Big 12 championship this Saturday when they host the Oklahoma State Cowboys in Austin.

Not only would Texas start 1-0 in the Big 12 with a win on Saturday evening, the Longhorns would also snap a five-game home losing streak they’ve endured from the Cowboys that dates back to 2010 when Texas finished 5-7 on the season and just 2-6 in Big 12 play.

Overall, a win over Oklahoma State this weekend would be the first over the Cowboys since 2014 when then-starting quarterback Tyrone Swoopes passed for 305 yards and two scores in a 28-7 victory in Stillwater.

Since that 2010 season, the Longhorns have gone a mere 2-7 against Oklahoma State, a far cry from the 12-0 record that Mack Brown and Texas enjoyed from 1998 to 2009. All time, Texas leads the series 24-9.

Though they may not be fully built to run the Big 12 this season, this 2019 Oklahoma State squad is no team to sleep on. The offense is the team’s strength and it’s highlighted by two key pieces in running back Chuba Hubbard and wide receiver Tylan Wallace.

Hubbard and Wallace have excelled to start the season, combining for 13 touchdowns and over 900 yards of offense, including plays of 75 and 90 yards, respectively (both coming last week against Tulsa).

RB Chuba Hubbard takes the first snap 75 yards for the score

WR Tylan Wallace takes a pass 90 yards for a touchdown

Unfortunately, Texas is no stranger to Hubbard or Wallace. In the 38-35 loss last season, Hubbard rushed for 80 yards on nine carries and Wallace dominated with 10 receptions for 222 yards and two scores.

Through three games, first-year Oklahoma State offensive coordinator Sean Gleeson has essentially built the offense to run through Hubbard and Wallace, and so far it’s paid off.

Gleeson, who was hired away from Princeton University this past offseason, has brought a scheme to Oklahoma State that can get creative in the run game with both the running back and quarterback while taking shots downfield over the top of defenses.

At Princeton, Gleeson coached running backs for four seasons before being promoted to offensive coordinator for the 2017 and 2018 seasons. And most recently, thanks in large part to Gleeson’s 2018 Princeton offense, the Tigers went undefeated and led the FCS in scoring, averaging 47 points per game.

So far at Oklahoma State, Gleeson has displayed that desire to run the ball and take shots downfield, and in doing so he hasn’t been shy to utilize extra blockers up front either.

What does Oklahoma State’s offense look like in 2019?

12 Personnel

With the help of some extra blockers, pulling guards, and the threat of a Wallace deep pass throughout games, Hubbard has rushed for 521 yards and seven touchdowns through the first three contests.

The defenses he’s faced may not have been all that great, but what Hubbard has put on display is his ability to use his lateral movement, vision, and burst to break open a big run at any moment.

Keys for the Texas defense Saturday evening will include muddying up gaps at the line of scrimmage and pursuing the ball carrier with the correct run fits as plays flow one direction or the other.

Speaking of flow, in re-watching Oklahoma State’s win over Tulsa, it looked like the Cowboys preferred to run Hubbard to the right. In my unofficial count, it was 27 runs to the right and 13 to the left — almost a 2:1 ratio. I don’t know Tulsa’s defense well enough to know if that was game-specific or if Gleeson prefers to run Hubbard to the right in general.

As a receiver out of the backfield, Hubbard has yet to bring in a reception and has had just a few targets.

Regardless of which way the play begins, Hubbard has an uncanny ability of shuffling down a line to find creases. In doing so, he’s leading the Big 12 with 173 rush yards on 22 carries per game. Defending Hubbard will be the top goal for Texas defensive coordinator Todd Orlando and the Longhorns come Saturday evening.

Backing up the 6’1, 207-pound Hubbard is 5’9, 191-pound fourth-year junior LD Brown. He’s rushed 16 times for 40 yards and a score.

Once the Cowboys have drawn a defense in or notice a favorable matchup on the outside, Gleeson then turns to redshirt freshman quarterback Spencer Sanders and the 6’0, 185-pound Wallace to take advantage.

Like Hubbard in the run game, Wallace currently enters Big 12 play leading the conference in receiving yards, averaging 130 yards per game and 26 yards per reception.

By targeting Wallace deep and on the outside, Oklahoma State forces safeties to get caught reading a potential Hubbard run, then try to do their best to catch up to the pass play.

Against Tulsa, even when passes weren’t completed, the Cowboys still benefited from taking shots downfield. Tulsa committed four pass interference calls when defending Wallace deep.

Two other wrinkles to Gleeson’s first-year Oklahoma State offense have been wide receiver screens and jet sweeps. Below is a wide receiver screen Princeton ran under Gleeson and a similar play design the Cowboys have run with Wallace.

Behind Wallace, 6’0, 198-pound junior Dillon Stoner has caught 12 receptions for 88 yards and fielded most of the punt return duties.

While defending against Hubbard and Wallace, the Longhorns defense will also need to keep tabs on the ability of quarterback Spencer Sanders to extend drives and make plays with his legs.

Through three games, Sanders has rushed for 219 yards and a score, with some big plays coming on scrambles. Against Texas and in conference play, Gleeson could ramp up the number of designed runs he calls for the elusive Sanders.

On paper, defending the Oklahoma State offense can seem pretty straight forward — 1) Slow down Chuba Hubbard, 2) prevent Tylan Wallace from hurting you downfield, and 3) don’t let Spencer Sanders expose your defense with his legs.

In practice, however, this can get tough if Oklahoma State can run the ball at will. Come Saturday, a priority for Orlando will be to provide enough bodies to defend the run without sacrificing too much in the secondary.

How has the Oklahoma State defense fared so far?

Defensively, it’s been a different story for the Cowboys from Stillwater. Second-year defensive coordinator Jim Knowles has mixed in three- and four-man fronts while trying to find some consistency with his unit.

The Cowboys have been susceptible against both the run and pass, and currently rank second to last in the Big 12 in yards per game giving up an average of 387. So far, Texas ranks last giving up 417 yards per game.

For the Longhorns offense, the opportunities could lie in running the football at the Oklahoma State defense while also attacking the safeties on the back end. Towards the end of the first half last Saturday, Tulsa took advantage of a tired Cowboys defense and marched down the field for an 84-yard touchdown drive to briefly take the lead, 21-20.

On the drive, Tulsa found success running the ball with plays like the one below, rushing 13 times to just three passes.

This game will be a solid test for the Longhorns, especially for a Texas defense that continues to work through some question marks throughout its ranks.

Texas performed well last week against a weak Rice team but there are definitely aspects of that performance and the previous two games the team can build off of as it shifts its focus to conference play.