Simply put: Texas wants to run the ball. The Longhorns took a pretty big blow in that area when Johnathan Gray was lost for the season with an Achilles injury. But Texas is still plenty capable, led by the two-headed power attack of Brown and Bergeron. Also, expect to see Daje Johnson pick up the occasional carry to help make up for Gray's absence. On the other side, this is exactly the kind of game Oklahoma State likes to play, in that the Cowboys will be able to keep all three of their stellar linebackers on the field at once. When Texas decides to run, it will be a physical, pad-popping game, likely with linebacker Caleb Lavey at the center of it all.
Case McCoy, Texas quarterback, versus the Oklahoma State safeties
It's hard to say that West Virginia discovered a chink in Texas's armor, given that the Longhorns scored 40 points in regulation. But anyone watching the game could see how the Mountaineers created trouble for the Longhorns by going Cover Zero and loading up the box, typically sending one more guy than Texas could block. The Longhorns found some nice plays against that setup late, including a touchdown pass to Mike Davis, but if McCoy can't throw well enough to keep the safeties out of the box, he could have a long day. Daytawion Lowe is Oklahoma State's second-leading tackler, and even if Shamiel Gary can't go — he didn't play against Kansas last week — Lyndell Johnson is plenty capable of providing a physical presence.
Texas receivers versus the Oklahoma State cornerbacks
And that's where this matchup comes in. For all its talent, the Cowboys rank just 45th in Passing Defense S&P+, and the Cowboy cornerbacks, while good, aren't of the level that, say, TCU's were. Texas's receivers have done an outstanding job of settling in and taking advantage of matchups, with every Longhorn wideout of the top four having at least one 80-plus-yard day this season. Interestingly enough, Davis actually beat two of Oklahoma State's top three corners for game-swinging catches a year ago, topping Justin Gilbert to help beat the Cowboys in Stillwater and catching a deep ball on nickel back Tyler Patmon to help win the Kansas game. A deep ball or two would really help, as it would if Shipley could provide the calming influence over the middle that he did a week ago. If Marcus Johnson or Kendall Sanders could break open for a big play or two, Texas could really put pressure on the Oklahoma State secondary.
Texas cornerbacks versus the Oklahoma State receivers
Josh Stewart is one of the Big 12's most dynamic playmakers, but he might not play on Saturday. If he doesn't, Texas has the personnel to match up extremely well with the Cowboys on the outside. And that's important, because like I said about the Cowboys above, the Longhorns will want to load up the box and dare Oklahoma State quarterback Clint Chelf to beat them over the top, especially with defensive tackle Chris Whaley out. If Texas's cornerbacks can handle their islands, then Cowboy running backs like Desmond Roland probably won't find room to run. That also puts more guys in the box to try and stop the inevitable quarterback run game that the Longhorns will see on Saturday.
What happens when an unstoppable force meets an immovable object? We're about to find out. Koenig and Garrett have been key components of an offensive line that has allowed a Big 12-best eight sacks in nine games. That's called keeping your quarterback's jersey clean. But on the other side, Jeffcoat and Reed have easily been the Big 12's best end duo, with the two players each ranking in the league's top five in tackles for loss with 12.0 for Jeffcoat and 11.5 for Reed. They're both tied for second in the Big 12 in sacks with seven sacks apiece as well. Both are playing at an All-Big 12 level and are forcing turnovers, with Reed leading the league in fumbles forced and Jeffcoat leading the Big 12 in fumbles recovered. But can they get to Chelf? That could be a major factor, especially given that they'll need to perform their run-fit responsibilities, rather than just flying upfield.
X-Factor: Non-Offensive Plays
I thought about just listing special teams here, as Oklahoma State is capable of scoring with any return unit at any time. But the Cowboys are also the Big 12's best team in taking the ball away, and they've been able to create field position and scores off of those as well. Just look at last week's game against Kansas. The Cowboys were largely shut down through three quarters, yet still led 28-3 heading into the fourth thanks to a Gilbert kick return for a touchdown and an interception return that left the Cowboys just 34 yards from a touchdown. Texas can't afford to give away points in a similar manner. At the same time, Oklahoma State's lone loss this season came when the Cowboys gave four turnovers to West Virginia.
There isn't much separating these two teams, both of which have relied largely on their defenses and running games, with game managers plugged into the quarterback spot. And both have some key injuries — Gray really would have helped the Longhorns (as would quarterback David Ash, obviously), while Stewart's absence would be a tough blow for an offense that has lacked for big-time players. The one advantage that I see is that the Texas receiving corps would appear to be better than the Oklahoma State corners, and that could lead to a big play or two that could allow the Longhorns to squeeze out a close one.
Texas — 31
Oklahoma State — 24