Big 12's No. 2 Spot On The Line In Stillwater

Texas wears a bull's eye every time it walks into an opponent&#146;s stadium, but especially this Saturday at Lewis Field in Stillwater. The only Big 12 scalp that third year Oklahoma State head coach <B>Les Miles </B>has yet to claim belongs to Texas. Oklahoma, Nebraska and Kansas State have all fallen on Miles&#146; watch, and the Horns represent the final notch in his efforts to establish OSU as a consistently reputable program.

Heading into the season, I actually thought the trip to Stillwater was the biggest landmine on Texas’ schedule. Who woulda thunk in August that Arkansas would bully the Horns, or that the OU game would have been over by halftime?

At the same time, who anticipated QB Vince Young developing so quickly (head coach Mack Brown said coaches are "shocked" by his progress while the only word C Jason Glynn could find to describe the guy standing behind his fanny every week is "phenomenal") or that Texas would manhandle Nebraska in such a way that 31-7 fails to convey the start-to-finish dominance.

"The team that played last Saturday needs to show up in Stillwater," Brown said. "They’ve only lost two ballgames and they lost them on the road. They’ve played great at home."

Indeed, the Pokes have won 10 straight in Stillwater. And with very winnable games against Kansas and Baylor remaining on the schedule, a victory over Texas would give Oklahoma State its first 10-win season in school history. Their reward could be a trip to either the Cotton Bowl or Holiday Bowl.

The Cowboys are smarting after the Sooners took them to the woodshed last weekend, but are determined to right the ship. Texas is surging with confidence following its best performance of the year, and a Fiesta Bowl berth is suddenly in the picture.

"It’s a pretty big challenge," RB Cedric Benson said. "They’re big, tough guys. They’re going to come out and play hard because they’re at home. They’re going to come out ready to win and we’ve got to match their intensity."


Texas holds a 15-2 edge in the all-time series and has won the last five meetings. The Horns have won by an average score of 35-19 during that streak but the last one was too close for comfort. Thanks to CB Rod Babersfourth-quarter heroics, Texas held on in Austin for a 17-15 win.

Texas won 45-17 the last time the two hooked-up in Stillwater in Benson’s collegiate debut as a starter.

"I remember it like it was yesterday," Benson said. "I remember when I fumbled. I came to the sideline and they didn’t lose faith in me. They put me back in."

Benson’s fumble was part of the reason Texas trailed 10-0 in the opening frame before reeling off 31 points before the break.

Texas’ last loss in Stillwater, 42-16, came during John Mackovic’s 1997 swan song. The Horns have won 10 of the past 11 meetings.


The Cowboy two-step is choreographed by the Big 12’s leading rusher (Tatum Bell, 133.7 ypg, NCAA No. 2) and the league’s leading receiver (WR Rashaun Woods, 104.2 ypg, NCAA No. 4).

Much has been made of the looming showdown between Woods and SE Roy Williams, but recent comments have focused on Woods’ superior stats. Brown pointed out that Woods has just seven more receptions than Williams on the season.

For the record, Williams has 671 yards on 45 grabs (74.6 ypg) while Woods has 52 receptions for 938 yards and 11 touchdowns. Even with an average game Saturday, Woods would become by halftime just the eighth player in NCAA history to reach 4,000 career receiving yards. He holds every Oklahoma State receiving record and has five 100-yard performances this season. Woods had a career best 232 yards against SMU where he caught an NCAA record seven touchdown passes (a stat-padding performance against an overmatched team).

"The more you watch them the more impressive they are," Brown said. "When you run the ball that well, it puts you in man-to-man situations sometimes and one-on-one situations with Rashaun Woods. He’s as good as anybody in the country."

Drawing lockdown assignment this week against Woods is calm, cool, collect senior CB Nathan Vasher. Vasher lusts for this kind of matchup, and needs to come up big like Babers did last season. In addition to coming up with the game-winning INT and foiling an OSU two-point conversion attempt, Babers held Woods to a season-low 63 yards.

Last week, the Sooners held Woods to just 25 yards on four catches, but that usually just opens the door for Bell (122 yards on 22 carries against OU). Bell has 1,203 yards and 15 TDs on 190 carries. He has registered four straight 100-yard rushing games this season and has had two 200-plus yard games in 2003. He is eighth nationally in scoring (10 ppg) while Benson is NCAA No. 6 (10.5 ppg).

"Any time someone’s rushing for as many yards as Tatum Bell is, you cannot allow them to keep running at you like they are," Brown said. "They’ve run it on everybody. It’s a real concern for us."

Texas will definitely face a more north-south running attack this Saturday than it did against Nebraska’s ground game. As such, the OSU game shapes up as a tougher test for a Texas team that, despite wins over Nebraska and Kansas State, still wants to show it can out-physical the opposition.

For Texas, it begins with getting pressure on the quarterback (a trouble spot for the down linemen for more than two seasons now). Despite last Saturday’s thrashing in Norman, QB Josh Fieldsresume still boasts consecutive wins over the Sooners. He averages 130.7 ypg (127-of-231 passing, including 16 TD and 9 INT).

"There’s no way Nathan can cover Rashaun one-on-one unless you stop their running game and get pressure on the quarterback," Brown said. "It’s unfair for those defensive backs if the front seven is not playing well. I think that’s the key to the ballgame."

Fields has thrown for 1,668 yards through nine games this season and is just the second quarterback in OSU history to pass for more than 5,000 career yards.

"Their quarterback and Tatum Bell have been running really, really well," Vasher said, "and Rashaun is gonna do his thing. It’s going to take the whole defensive unit’s effort to try to stop what they do."


Does Rashaun Woods put on a show Saturday for the home folks, or does Roy Williams finally have that breakout game this season? If recent history is an indicator, the leading receiver on the field Saturday will be…

…backup SE Sloan Thomas. The senior has quietly had career days the past two seasons against the Cowboys. In 2002, of course, Roy was still nursing a hamstring injury as Thomas responded with a game-high 130 yards on seven grabs. He also had a team-high 82-yards and two TDs on six catches in 2001.


DB Vernon Grant leads the Oklahoma State defense with 64 total tackles while LB Paul Duren is second on the tackle chart with 62. But the guy you have to scheme around is senior DE Greg Richmond. With Texas’ newfound identity with the zone read, the play of the defensive end is absolutely critical to whether QB Vince Young or Benson has room to roam.

Richmond leads the Big 12, and is third nationally, with 10.5 sacks for minus-72 yards. He is Oklahoma State’s third-leading tackler, but more than one-third of his total tackles have resulted in losses. He has been credited with 59 total tackles and has 17 tackles behind the line of scrimmage for minus-85 yards.

"Offensively, we like what we’re doing because we’re really balanced," Brown said. "We’ve got to continue to do that this weekend because they’re very athletic defensively."

Senior CB Darrent Williams is the team interception leader (No. 2 Big 12 Conference, No. 7 NCAA) after picking up his sixth INT of the season against Oklahoma and returning it for an 11-yard touchdown. It was his fifth career touchdown return, a Big 12 record. He also leads the team with 16 pass breakups. .


We don’t usually mention special teams unless they are, well, special -- and Oklahoma State’s unit truly is. Williams leads the Big 12, and is second nationally, in punt returns with 13 returns for 233 yards and two touchdowns. He is averaging 17.92 yards per return.

"They’ve got a really good special teams unit," Vasher said. "I think they’ve been the best in the Big 12 the past couple of years."

Punter Cole Farden is third in the league after nine games with his average of 43.7 yards on 40 punts. Kicker Luke Phillips is second on the team in scoring with 67 points, and has hit nine of 10 field goals, including a long of 50. He is 40 of 41 on extra point tries.

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