Two clichés are often said of football: It’s a game of inches, and it’s often won and lost in the trenches. Each saying proved true for the No. 11 Texas Longhorns on Saturday evening as part of a 36-30 win over the Oklahoma State Cowboys; the program’s first win over the Pokes in five tries.
Offensively, Herb Hand’s unit was nothing short of notable, protecting Sam Ehlinger at an exceptional level and paving the way for a career night from sophomore running back Keaontay Ingram. That much was to be expected, though. But on the other side of the ball, Texas, was smothering around the line of scrimmage courtesy of contributions from all three levels on the defense, which, in turn, allowed the Longhorns to largely limit an otherwise explosive Oklahoma State offense.
This is most evident in the form of the 12 tackles for loss Texas tallied throughout the contest — two more than Michigan has collected throughout the entire season.
Given that sophomore Chuba Hubbard entered the evening as the nation’s leading rusher behind an average of 7.9 yards per carry, it was expected that that Pokes would place an increased emphasis on running the ball to allow freshman quarterback Spencer Sanders to settle into a comfort level on a big stage.
That’s exactly what happened.
Hubbard received a career-high 37 carries — five more than his previous career-high set just one week earlier against Tulsa — but was limited to only 121 yards for an average of 3.3 yards per attempt, which was the second-worst effort of his career when receiving at least five carries. This lack of productivity was largely because of the push that the Longhorns were able to generate, often with only a three-man front.
This was evident as early as Oklahoma State’s first play from scrimmage, as nose tackle Keondre Coburn’s push congested Hubbard’s running lane, which allowed B-Backer Joseph Ossai, safety Brandon Jones, and defensive end Malcolm Roach to swarm to force a four-yard loss. Later on that opening drive, it was LD Brown who suffered a four-yard loss during his lone carry of the night, as sophomore corner D’Shawn Jamison, who was especially active against the run, contained the edge well, which forced Brown to bounce further out and allowed time for safety Caden Sterns to make the stop.
Such efforts were evident throughout the entire evening, which resulted in seven of Hubbard’s attempts being stopped for losses.
“I thought our front played really well and clogged some things up and made him have to bounce it to the un-hatted guys,” head coach Tom Herman said following the game.
More notable than the sheer number of tackles for loss Texas totaled was the timing of the stops and the impact those played on the outcome of the game.
In the second quarter, defensive end Ta’Quon Graham shot the gap on 3rd and 8 to wrap Hubbard up for a four-yard loss, which forced a field goal.
Much later in the action, towards the end the third quarter while faced with a 4th and 1 inside the Texas 5-yard line, Oklahoma State once again put the ball in Hubbard’s hands, but Roach overwhelmed the right side of the Pokes’ offense line, absorbing two blockers and pushing guard Marcus Keyes several feet backwards, which forced Hubbard to trip over Keyes’ foot and fall for a one-yard loss, resulting in a turnover on downs.
On the ensuing drive, though it didn’t go down as a tackle for loss, the impact of Texas’ push remained the same. On a 3rd and 1 to begin the fourth quarter, Ossai, Coburn, and Sterns led the way to overwhelm the Oklahoma State front and stop Hubbard for no gain.
Moments later, the Cowboys’ fake field goal attempt failed in what was then just a five-point game, 28-23.
“So we worked hard during the week with playing with technique and fundamentals, staying square, moving our feet and not committing before [Hubbard] committed,” sophomore Joseph Ossai said, according to the Austin American-Statesman.
The next time Hubbard and the Cowboys took the field, following a Texas touchdown drive to extend the lead to 36-23, the Horns’ pressure paid dividends yet again. On a 3rd and 9, Coburn fought his way into the backfield and hit Sanders’ arm just as he released the ball, directly leading to an interception by Chris Brown.
This, all in addition to the two sacks Ossai and linebacker Juwan Mitchell were credited with recording on Sanders; each of which took place on drives that stalled.
All told, the pressure Texas imposed around the line of scrimmage directly led to two third-down stops in the first half, one resulting in a field goal and the other a punt, and back-to-back turnovers on downs in the second half before Coburn forced the aforementioned interception on the following drive.
The field goal drive in the field half excluded, had only one of those four stalled drives by the Pokes led to points, and specifically, a touchdown, we’d be discussing a Longhorns loss and an 0-1 start to Big 12 play. But we’re not, thanks in large part to a swarming effort from a Texas defense that saw nine Longhorns record a tackle for loss.