We'll have more on Adrian Phillips later. But Byndom and Diggs will play exclusively on the outside, meaning that they'll find themselves matched up with arguably the Big 12's best playmaker in Blackmon. Blackmon has been catching more underneath throws this year than a year ago, but still has the ability to torch even the conference's top cornerbacks. Look at what he did a year ago against players like Aaron Williams and Prince Amukamara, both high-round NFL Draft picks. Byndom had what defensive coordinator Manny Diaz called his best game of the season against Oklahoma, when he was tested repeatedly. Diggs struggled a bit more. They'll both have to pick it up against a player who's an even tougher matchup than guys like Kenny Stills and Jaz Reynolds.
Malcolm Brown, Texas running back, versus the Oklahoma State linebackers
Brown struggled to assert his power last week against the Sooners, and in fact often found himself driven backward after contact. He can't allow that to happen this week against a Cowboy group that averages slightly more than 220 pounds among the five primary rotation players. Oklahoma State is built for speed, and could be helped dramatically if players like Shaun Lewis can get multiple tacklers around the Longhorn power back. But if Brown is able to do his typically strong job of making yardage after contact and bulling through smaller defenders, he could tire out and slow down a defense that would then have to chase speedsters like Fozzy Whittaker and D.J. Monroe around.
Weeden has a reputation as a gunslinger, one backed up by the fact that he throws for a ton of yardage and touchdowns, but still averages more than an interception per game (he's started 18 career games and thrown 19 interceptions, including six in five games this year). There isn't a throw he can't make, and because of that, he can get in trouble at times. Phillips and Vaccaro serve as the Longhorns' primary turnover machines, and they'll often find themselves in coverage spots where Weeden will try to tuck the ball into a small spot. How they're able to convert on those plays could tell a big tale in terms of how Texas is able to stay in this game. Another challenge will be covering inside receivers like Josh Cooper and Tracy Moore, who average a combined 107 receiving yards per game.
David Ash, Texas quarterback, versus the Oklahoma State secondary
Talk out of practice this week was that Ash received the majority of the snaps heading into Saturday's game. And he'll need all of them when facing a secondary group that has a pair of hard-hitting safeties in Daytawion Lowe and Markelle Martin and two ball-hawking cornerbacks in Brodrick Brown and Justin Gilbert. Many teams try to pick on Brown because of his size, but he has three interceptions on the year. Gilbert has two. And if Ash doesn't keep eye control on the safeties, he'll see his receivers laid out by Lowe and Martin, each of whom have forced two fumbles on the year. Martin leads the Cowboys with five passes broken up, and typically uses his pads to achieve the desired effect. Texas will have to throw the ball to keep the Cowboys out of the box, so play from Ash, and Case McCoy, will be key.
Jaxon Shipley, Texas receiver, versus the Oklahoma State linebackers/secondary
Speaking of which, the one passing game matchup that directly favors the Longhorns is that of the true freshman Shipley. The injury to Devin Hedgepeth, normally a starting cornerback for the Cowboys, has thinned out the Oklahoma State secondary, leaving a question about who's going to defend the Longhorns' speedy and savvy slot receiver. Shipley has already shown himself to be the Longhorns' most consistent receiving option — with more consistent quarterback play, he'd probably be considered one of the league's best receiving options — and this week he'll find himself matched up against either Oklahoma State's No. 4 cornerback, a linebacker or a safety. That's a matchup that Shipley should expect to win, and the Longhorns need to be able to find him with the ball.
We listed this as the primary factor last week, and it certainly came into play. This week, both teams have shown a tendency to take care of the ball — most of the time — and the potential to get sloppy with it. As mentioned above, Weeden can make mistakes. But the Cowboys have lost just one fumble through five games and are third nationally in turnover margin at plus-two per game. They've scored 52 points over their last three games off turnovers, winning the battle in those games 14-3. And the Longhorns had experienced an excellent season in terms of turnover margin … up until last week's Oklahoma game. Simply put: if Oklahoma State is plus-two in turnovers Saturday, as they average, the Cowboys will win the game. If Texas can get up a turnover or three, things could get really interesting.
If you've been reading our premium board, you'll know that I was less confident about this matchup than the Oklahoma game. Texas' youth on the exterior isn't equipped to deal with a passing game of this quality just yet, and while last year's game got out of hand largely because of Longhorn mistakes, this one could get out-of-hand simply because it's a rough matchup. Expect Texas to try and run the ball, as that could be the Longhorns' chance to keep the Cowboy offense off the field. And while Texas should have some experience doing it, it won't be enough to overcome the Cowboys.
Oklahoma State 35