For the third time in just seven outings this season, the Texas Longhorns will take the field on Saturday against an elite foe with eyes on a College Football Playoff berth — the No. 10 Oklahoma State Cowboys.
Worse yet, the Pokes may prove to be a much taller task than even USC and Oklahoma, as college football’s premier offense will test the Texas defense well beyond comfort and challenge a Longhorns offense quarterbacked by true freshman Sam Ehlinger to simply keep up.
The good news for the ‘Horns is that Saturday won’t mark the first time Texas has slowed an elite quarterback and a bevy of offensive weapons after doing so against the Trojans and Sooners. Yet, despite holding USC and Oklahoma to 27 and 29 points, respectively, the ‘Horns dropped both match ups, scoring just 24 points of their own each time out.
If Tom Herman and the ‘Horns can finally get over the hump against a prolific opponent on Saturday, it would mark the first time Texas has sat above .500 through seven games since 2013. If not, then the challenge of simply making a bowl game becomes increasingly complicated, as Texas would then be tasked with finding three wins in five games with road meetings against No. 4 TCU and No. 23 West Virginia still to come.
- Texas leads the all-time series 24-7
- Oklahoma Sate has won five of the last seven meetings
- The Cowboys have won four straight at Darrell K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium
- Oklahoma State won last year’s meeting in Stillwater, 49-31.
- The current two-game win streak against Texas is the longest OSU has enjoyed against the Longhorns.
- Texas won 12 consecutive meetings between 1998-2009.
Considering what Texas has accomplished since the season-opening loss to Maryland — a 3-2 record with losses to then-No. 4 USC and then-No. 12 Oklahoma by a combined eight points — Saturday appears to be the kind of game where Texas shouldn’t be expected to win, but it wouldn’t exactly be a major upset if the ‘Horns did just that.
What will determine the outcome on Saturday is quite simple — how well can Todd Orlando’s defense keep an Oklahoma State offense that leads the nation in yards per game (610.7) in check?
If Tim Beck’s offense is forced to play keep up with Mason Rudolph and the Pokes expansive arsenal of offensive weapons, Texas will almost assuredly be 3-4 by Saturday evening.
As noted, an Oklahoma State offense that features Rudolph, the nation’s second-leading receiver in James Washington (882 yards) and the Big 12’s leading rusher in Justice Hill (633 yards) is as explosive as they come. Along with leading the nation is yards per game, Oklahoma State’s 48.8 points per game is the second most in college football, but the Pokes haven’t exactly been steamrolling stout defenses.
Oklahoma State’s lone loss this season came against a TCU defense that currently ranks 31st in yards allowed per game. The ‘Horned Frogs controlled the clock (39:04), kept Rudolph and that dynamic offense sidelined and thus, limited the Pokes to a season-low 31 points in a double-digit loss. Although their meetings with Oklahoma State are factored into this statistic, the Cowboys haven’t seen another defense this season ranked inside the top 80 — Tulsa, Pittsburgh, Texas Tech and Baylor all feature defenses ranked outside of the top 100 in yards allowed per game.
The ‘Horns are a happy medium, currently ranked No. 65 (381.5). Since allowing Maryland to run free for 482 yards, the Longhorns defense has improved dramatically, holding each opponent below its season average in yards and scoring and allowing just 361.4 yards per game — an effort that would rank No. 42 nationally.
Of course, slowing an offense that’s fresh off of a school record 747-yard onslaught against Baylor is far easier said that done and the fact remains that Texas hasn’t seen an offense quite this potent this season.
But the same could be said for the Cowboys, who have only seen a defense comparable to the one Texas currently boasts against TCU and as noted, the result was a season-low scoring effort in a loss.
To have any sort of similar success, though, the Texas to-do list is a lengthy one.
For starters, what better way to slow an explosive offense than by simply keeping it sidelined?
Through six games, Texas has been among the best in the country at getting off the field on third downs, ranking No. 6 nationally by allowing opponents to convert on just 26.6 percent of attempts. This will make for a strength-versus-strength match up against Oklahoma State, as the Cowboys rank No. 2 nationally after converting 54.8 percent of third down opportunities.
Oklahoma State’s offense is going to move the ball and convert on some third down opportunities because that’s simply what it does. For Texas to win, though, the Longhorns will need to get off the field when presented with the opportunity more often than not, especially on clear passing downs.
From that point, it’s up to Sam Ehlinger and the offense to do their job
They say the best defense is a good offense, right?
The ‘Horns haven’t exactly been good offensively, but they’re improving under Ehlinger, as Texas averages nearly 100 more yards per game and 14 more points per game with the true freshman behind center. Now, two weeks after guiding Texas’ offense to a season-high 40 points against Kansas State and then finding success throughout the final 34:32 against Oklahoma, scoring 24 points, the ‘Horns will need to take another step forward against OSU.
To do that, overcoming the slow starts that have plagued Texas all season is an absolute must, especially considering the Cowboys defense has allowed just 20 first-quarter points all season long. Even if the defense plays at an elite level and limits Oklahoma State dramatically, it’s quite likely that the Cowboys still churn out at least 30 points. That means the ‘Horns offense will need to find success of its own, and sooner than later.
Oklahoma State has proven to boast the kind of offense that simply buries opponents early and never looks back, and expecting Texas to hold the Cowboys to just nine second half points as it did against Oklahoma would be a bit far-fetched.
Furthermore, just as the defense will need to get off the field on third downs, the Texas offense will need to remain in action because again, the Pokes offense can’t score if it’s watching from the sidelines.
The good news for Texas is the ‘Horns have controlled the clock throughout the first half of the season with an average edge of 32:50—27:10. Ideally, the Longhorns would like to add a few more minutes to that edge, just as TCU did by controlling the ball for nearly 40 minutes.
That’s yet another task that won’t come easy, though.
Although the high-flying offense receives the bulk of the praise, Oklahoma State’s defense is allowing just 149.8 rushing yards and 222.7 passing yards per game — each headline the Big 12. Thanks in large part to the insertion of Ehlinger and the 875 yards of total offense he’s added the last two games, though, the ‘Horns averaged nearly 500 yards against K-State and Oklahoma, and did so after falling behind 10-0 and 20-0 against the Wildcats and Sooners, respectively.
But again, that kind of performance won’t get the job done against the Cowboys.
What will is a fairly close to complete game — making defensive stands throughout, keeping drives alive and of course, capping drives with any amount of points, because as we’ve seen in the USC and Oklahoma losses, field goals can prove to be the difference in 5-1 and 3-3.
The ‘Horns have come that close to getting over the hump against a pair of elite opponents and they’ll get their third opportunity at a crucial juncture in the season on Saturday.