Early on this season, everyone talked about the depth of the Longhorn defensive backs. But that depth has been tested with the loss of Chykie Brown for the season, while Aaron Williams is returning from a week off after suffering a concussion. Don't be surprised if a freshman like Carrington Byndom has to plug in at times, and that's not good news when you're facing the best receiver in the country. With the name on the front of his jersey, Blackmon reminds a lot of people of former Cowboy standout Dez Bryant. But with his body type and route running skills, Blackmon is actually more like former Texas Tech standout Michael Crabtree. Whatever your comparison, Blackmon is a difficult matchup for anybody.
The Texas defensive line has been able to get to the passer with regularity this fall, but the Oklahoma State offensive line has only allowed nine sacks in nine games this year, the best mark in the Big 12. This, as they say, is where the unstoppable force meets and immovable object. Brandon Weeden can be forced into throwing interceptions when he is pressured, and it will be up to those three Longhorns to supply that pressure.
Hunter is the Big 12's best back, and he does it through his exceptional quickness and vision. That makes gap responsibility and playing assignment-sound that much more important. Get sucked in, and the 5-foot-8 Hunter will bounce it outside and make the defense pay. Cheat to the outside and he'll split the linebackers up the middle. It will be important for Acho and Robinson to play their responsibilities, and once they see Hunter, react quickly and tackle well. Of course, all of that is easier said than done, especially since the Cowboys will use the spread to space everybody out and eliminate extra players in the box.
Texas receivers vs. the Oklahoma State defensive backs
The Cowboys have struggled to stop the pass this year, and can give up chunks of yardage and points through the air. The Longhorns have been able to throw the ball at times and should be able to find openings in the Cowboy coverage. Bill Young defenses often sell out to stop the run, leaving themselves open for big passing plays, and it will be up to Texas's receivers to take advantage, get open and make those plays. The Cowboys haven't been held under 24 points this year (and in that game, they were without Blackmon). The Longhorns haven't scored more than 22 points in their last six contests. If Texas hopes to keep pace, the offense will have to make big plays in the passing game.
If the Longhorns are going to compete in this game, they'll probably need to win some field position battles. Phillips did a nice job against Kansas State of catching the ball, but he has yet to return a punt. Oklahoma State gives up some chances to return, thanks to Sharp's huge leg. He's averaging 47.3 yards per punt. But the Cowboys have covered those punts well, leading the Big 12 in net punting average. If Phillips can make the most of his chances and leave the offense with some shorter fields, it would help the offense in what could amount to a shootout.
X-factor: Texas mistakes
This is the story every week, but it's always prevalent for a reason. The Longhorns have shown they can move the ball, but have been doomed by turnovers and penalties. Defensively, the Longhorns are first in the league in total yardage allowed, but give up too many big plays and miss on assignments. If the Longhorns can play relatively error-free ball, this is a game they can win. If they play the way they have played, this is a game that could get out of hand in a hurry.
The Cowboys have some demons to exorcise in this series, having failed in several close games in recent years. In fact, the Cowboys have never beaten a Mack Brown Texas team, with their last win coming in 1997. That could easily end this year, with the Cowboys coming off a big win over Baylor and the Longhorns riding a three-game losing streak. Expect a strong effort from the Longhorns, but the Cowboys seem to have the horses this year.
Oklahoma State 35