Wanting to find out whether the Longhorn wide receivers' performance against Ole Miss is a fluke? You don't have to wait very long. Oklahoma State is outstanding at cornerback, with Brown as one of the league's best cover men and a returning All-Big 12 player. Gilbert is one of the league's fastest players and should be stride-for-stride with any receiver downfield. Who wins those one-on-one matchups when Texas decides to go deep? The Longhorns probably would have beaten Ole Miss anyway, but hitting on four deep balls essentially swept the Rebels into a rout. This one should be closer, so a few deep throws could help swing the game.
Possibly the best game of Brown's career came against the Cowboys last year, as the Longhorns overpowered the Cowboys with the running game. With the Cowboys looking better at defensive tackle, either Brown or Bergeron could get a few touches in the passing game to try and clear up the muck a little bit. But make no mistake: Texas has to be able to control the ball to keep the defense from getting run down from overwork. To do so, Brown and Bergeron, and potentially even true freshman Johnathan Gray, will need to get the tough yards and hold onto the football.
Texas defensive tackles versus the Oklahoma State interior offensive line
This one might not have been as big a matchup before the untimely absence of Brandon Moore to illness. The tried and true method for beating a spread offense is to simply be better up front. And with the balance that the Cowboys covet on that side of the ball, that means Texas needs to stuff the run. The Longhorns won't be able to stack the box, meaning that a big part of that responsibility will lie with the defensive tackles. Can Texas succeed here without arguably its top run-stuffer in Moore?
Vaccaro has been hell on young quarterbacks so far this season, baiting Wyoming's Brett Smith into throwing an interception, forcing another interception and knocking Bo Wallace from the game (he did return) with a massive hit on a Wallace scramble. Walsh is both young and likes to use his legs, meaning he's sure to come up against the ill-tempered Vaccaro, who has always been an explosive hitter, but who has also turned into more of a cerebral player. Can Vaccaro force Walsh into an error, or at least scare him into not running?
Randle gets the headlines, but Smith was the one who devastated the Longhorns last year, making Texas pay for not staying gap-sound. With Jordan Hicks out, the Longhorns don't have a very experienced group on the field, and that's a scary thought against an offense that can turn any mistake into six points. Still, Steve Edmond showed some leadership last week, and Demarco Cobbs is tailor-built to play against spread offenses with his speed and ability to play in space. The question will be: who will be the third linebacker, when Texas trots three out there? And can Edmond and Cobbs elevate their play?
X-Factor: Big Plays
Simply put: this was what decided last year's game. Texas's defense actually played pretty well, only to give up two long touchdown runs and a 100-yard kickoff return, while the biggest Longhorn play — a pick six — was wiped off the scoreboard because Brandon Weeden stepped out-of-bounds before throwing. Those are all huge plays. Momentum and game-changing plays. Whoever makes more of them stands a great chance to win this game.
This was a closer game than many remember last year, with Texas having multiple chances to make things a one-score game early in the fourth quarter. And I think Texas is better this year, while Oklahoma State seems to be worse. The key will be the Texas defense. The Longhorns don't have to pitch a shutout, but if they play like they did in the first half against Ole Miss, this becomes an extremely winnable game. Play like they did in the second half, and the Longhorns could see this one slip away, just like last year. Here's guessing that with two weeks to prepare (and two weeks to hear about how much they struggled) the Texas defense shows up strong, and the Longhorn offense does enough to win.
TEXAS — 34
Oklahoma State — 24