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Texas Values: The Longhorns defense will be tested against the Cowboys

Oklahoma State has arguably the most-dangerous offense in the country and Texas must find a way to slow it down.

NCAA Football: Oklahoma at Texas Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

The Texas Longhorns are in a unique position. When Texas prepared to take on the Oklahoma Sooners, they were preparing to take on the No. 1 offense in the country. Now, as they prepare to take on the Oklahoma State Cowboys, they are again preparing to take on the No. 1 offense in the country.

The Cowboys are an offensive juggernaut, racking up a blistering 610.7 yards per game, 411.2 of which come through the air. The Texas defense, which looks like an elite unit outside of a Week 1 embarrassment against Maryland, will again be called upon to neutralize a top-tier unit.

Completion Percentage and Interceptions

If OSU quarterback Mason Rudolph was a team by himself, he would have accumulated more total offense this season than 43 FBS schools, with 2,368 yards. However, his accuracy, not his yardage, is what seems to move the Cowboys’ offense. In Oklahoma State’s lone loss this year, to TCU, Rudolph turned in a season-low 53.66-percent completion percentage and threw two of his four interceptions this season.

Defensively, Texas has held every quarterback they have played in check — opposing quarterbacks average 56.9-percent completion against the Longhorn defense. A week ago, they held the other Heisman candidate from north of the Red River, Baker Mayfield, to a season-low 63-percent completion percentage and forced him into his first interception since the 2016 season.

Long Passes

A quarterback is only as good as the weapons around him, and Oklahoma State may have the best tandem in the conference with James Washington and Marcell Ateman. These two receivers capitalize on every chance they get, and routinely pick up big chunks against opposing defenses. Washington is averaging 25.94 yards per reception, has had a catch longer than 60 yards in four of the Cowboys’ six contests this year, and a season ago had five catches over 50 yards. Ateman has done his best to keep up with the elite Washington, and has nearly eclipsed his own 2016 receiving touchdown total in the first half of the Cowboy’s season.

Texas fans will not have to look too far to see the impact of big plays against its defense. The Longhorns surrendered two scoring passes longer than 50 yards a week ago against Oklahoma, including the 59-yard pass to Mark Andrews that put the Sooners back on top for good.

Third Down Conversions

Oklahoma State is not just elite at moving the ball, they are elite at keeping drives alive on third down, converting on 54.8 percent of their attempts this season, good enough for second in the country. Last week against Baylor, the Cowboys only had to punt once — their first drive of the game.

Defensively, Texas has found a way to clamp down in crucial situations and force the opposing offense off of the field. This week they find themselves at No. 6 in the nation in third down conversion defense. Last week, third-down defense was key to the Longhorns’ comeback in the second half against Oklahoma, keeping Mayfield in check and allowing Sam Ehlinger and the offense to close the gap. After giving up a field goal to start the second half, Texas forced the Sooners to punt on three consecutive drives, which allowed the Longhorns to take a 24-20 lead in the fourth quarter.

It will be an uphill battle as Texas tries to avoid its fifth-straight loss to the Oklahoma State Cowboys, with much of the pressure falling on the defense to find a way to slow down the high-powered OSU offense. If Texas can pull off the upset, it will be in prime position to end its three-year bowl drought, needing to win two of its next five games.