OSU-Texas: Matchups & Prediction

ESPN's Thursday night college football offering of third-ranked Virginia Tech and 13th-ranked Boston College was a strong indicator of what the Cowboys will be up against on Saturday. Texas is in a fight to keep its standing as either the number one or number two spot in the BCS poll.

The ESPN coverage featured Game Day analyst Kirk Herbstreit commenting on whether he thought Texas or Virginia Tech was the better team. Texas head coach Mack Brown knows his team is in a beauty pageant with the human and computer elements of the BCS to stay at the top. Against a heavy underdog like Oklahoma State that means piling up an appropriate victory margin and the game is out there for all to see on TBS.

This week Brown has repeatedly reminded his team of the Oklahoma State and Kansas games from last season. Texas trailed OSU in Austin 35-7 last season before storming back with 49 unaswered points for a 56-35 win. The next week, after celebrating the biggest comeback win in Texas history, the Horns nearly lost to Kansas before a last minute drive salvaged a win in Lawrence. The message has been treat all of the final four games the same.

"Being named number one in the BCS is quite an honor," Brown said earlier this week of the Longhorns edging past Southern Cal primarily on the strength of the computer polls. "This is October and the real goal is to be number one or two in December. Our players and our program are excited to be number one, and this should only further motivate our players going to Stillwater this weekend."

At the same time Brown truly understands what first-year Cowboy head coach Mike Gundy is going through. Brown documented all the problems Gundy has encountered since taking the job including having to clean up the program by making dismissals of several players that would have really helped this season, the death of Vernon Grant, the injuries, and the slow progress of picking up new systems on both sides of the ball.

"Mike Gundy is a good coach and he will have Oklahoma State where he wants them in the future," said Brown. "We know the OSU program and it has been good and has the tools to be good again. I know the feeling because I had a similar situation at North Carolina and went 2-20 in my first two seasons. It's a tough deal."

That comment will be the only sympathy Gundy can expect from Brown. The charity will stop at the gate at Boone Pickens Stadium. Texas has a point to prove and the Longhorns will not let up until Brown feels the computers and the poll participants have it. The game is also a road game for the Longhorns which means they have a travel squad of 66 players. The bottom 40 players in the Texas program will be back in Austin unavailable for mop up duty against the Cowboys.

All this sounds so ominous, but the Cowboy coaches and players aren't thinking about mop ups. They are going in with a plan to win and the idea that they will execute that plan.

"I know what we are going to do," said defensive coordinator and former Texas cornerback Vance Bedford. "I'm a fighter and I expect my players to go out there and fight. I understand in a fight I might get beat, but I am going to come back and keep fighting. I don't want a player on the field that doesn't have that same attitude."

It's that kind of attitude every Oklahoma State player better have in their heart when they run on the field Saturday night. Make it a fistfight and be prepared to keep punching.

OSU – Texas Key Match-ups

OSU Defensive Front vs. Texas Offensive Line

This will be the biggest mismatch on the field. Texas may have one of the best offensive lines in the history of college football. That's right, one of the best in the history of college football. All five of the offensive linemen for the Horns will be moving on to the NFL. The Cowboy defensive line and linebackers are beat up and short-handed. It will be difficult, but they will have to hold up under bulldozer-type blocking. If Texas comes out and can run the ball anytime for big yards then the scoreboard and the clock will both belong to Texas. Besides, while Vince Young has improved in the passing game you still want him throwing the ball rather than Young or anyone else running it. Young still makes mistakes in the throwing game, so you want him in predictable passing situations as often as possible.

OSU Wide Receivers vs. Texas Secondary
Running the ball will be tough against Texas, especially up the middle. Look for the Cowboys to attack the perimeter. The Cowboy receivers will be a major part of that and they must catch the ball cleanly and do something with it when it is in their hands. This has to be a perfect game for the receivers. Also, whether it's for each other or for a running back coming wide or those times the Cowboys probe the interior of the Texas defense, the receivers had better be laying some blocks down.

OSU Special Teams vs. Texas Special Teams
In a game against a potentially dominant opponent hidden yardage is a key factor. The best place for hidden yardage is in the special teams. Texas special teams are much improved, but Oklahoma State has a chance to make big plays. Texas will likely kick the ball deep on kickoffs and there will be chances to return some of those kicks. The Cowboys must do a better job on punt returns, which really means they need to eliminate the penalties that have brought back so many returns. Finally, the Cowboys must have shored up their coverage units from last week's first half debacle at Iowa State.

Al Pena vs. Al Pena
This may seem weird, but Pena must improve and absolutely has to keep from turning the football over. The trick is he still needs to hang a little loose with that "gunslinger" mentality in order to make plays. Expect the Cowboys to attack the perimeter and use quick developing plays. Pena can't hang onto the ball for very long because the blitz happy, powerful up front Longhorns will be coming. A throw out of bounds is not a bad thing and neither is a failed third down when the Cowboys can use Matt Fodge to punt the ball downfield rather than turn the ball over and give Texas quarterback Vince Young and that talented offense easy opportunities to score. Pena has to play the best game of his life, especially in decision making to give the Cowboys a chance to score the upset of the year in college football.

Prediction
Texas owns just about every head-to-head matchup on paper going into the game. As described above it is simply a bad time for Oklahoma State to play an ultra-talented team. The crowd can be a big assist. Believe me, from being down on the sidelines I realize that the Cowboys can and will feed off their fans. Oklahoma State fans could make this a better situation by doing a Texas A&M impersonation. I know that may sound critical, but the Aggie fans are the best and most supportive in the Big 12. OSU students don't need to stand like the A&M students, but they do need to make their presence felt. OSU students and fans have proven that they too can be great - they do it virtually every Big 12 home basketball game in Gallagher-Iba Arena. A home field advantage similar to that would be nice. It will take a total team effort to hang in there against the top-ranked Longhorns. If the game gets out of hand, solid support could lead to minimal damage and give the Cowboys a reason to recover and fight for some momentum in the final three games.
Texas 49, Oklahoma State 17

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