The Cowboys also boast the Big 12s leading rusher (Tatum Bell) and leading receiver (Rashaun Woods). Frankly, Bell scares me more. Texas has been one of the few teams to contain Woods during his career while fast, strong north-south runners like Bell have been more effective against Texas middle than any deep-ball threat.
The joker in the deck is the OSU disappointment level following its woodshed spanking at Oklahoma. Some of the Cowboys are talking smack and using the usual rhetoric of not letting a bitter loss beat you twice. A significant part of this equation is figuring which team can respond the best following a blowout loss to the Sooners -- and thats why I am tipping my hat to Texas.
What is up with a Texas team that, year in and year out, finds itself only after an Oklahoma loss? Its amazing the number of players who say their approach to each game is to pretend they have just come off a loss, and to play with the desperate abandon of a cornered animal, (Can we, please, just pretend to lose to OU next year?) while Mack Brown has been telling them to relax, play loose and have fun. (So far, it seems, the only player innately capable of Browns method is QB Vince Young who thrives in high profile, pressure-cooker environments.)
This game went down to the wire last season in Austin and turned on CB Rod Babers' INT at the two-minute mark. Saturdays game is feeling like last years Kansas State or Nebraska games, in which a night-game, on the road, in the frozen hinterland (and I define anything north of Plano as the frozen hinterland) came down to the last play. Then again, a confident Longhorn team could make this one look like last weeks 31-7 Nebraska win. Then again, a determined Oklahoma State team could hit the ground running from the opening gun and turn this one into a laugher as well.
Bottom line is whether the D-line can get to the QB and contain the run. Nate Vasher, youre on your own against Woods.
Thats what makes this pick so hard and what makes college football so fun. In times like these, I am following the lead of former Longhorn great and Inside Texas columnist Pat Culpepper. He is the only one on our staff who has called it correctly all season.
WWCD? What Would Culpepper Do?
Were going with the Horns. Saturdays game shapes up as being one of those wild-and-wooly ones that is decided in the fourth quarter. Texas 34, Oklahoma State 27.
Pearle -- I feel way better about the Horns chances in Stillwater after having witnessed them play a great game against a good (but not great) Nebraska team last Saturday. Give the Horns this: despite their pathetic showing against the Sooners, they have, as they always do, bounced back as strong as we could have hoped for.
The Nebraska game was a beautiful thing to watch as Vince Young and Cedric Benson ate up yardage behind a charging OL and the crunching blocks of Will Matthews. Even the receiving corps is staking a claim as the best group of blocking receivers in the nation. Those guys have swallowed their pass-catching pride and are doing what it takes to win. They did a great job tying up the Huskers, especially on Youngs long TD scamper.
As for the defense, as I mentioned last week, the infusion of Aaron Harris, Mike Williams and Phillip Geiggar into the starting lineup has juiced this unit. With Kalen Thornton, Marcus Tubbs, Rod Wright, Nate Vasher and Derrick Johnson all playing fierce D last Saturday, almost putting up the goose egg on a potent Husker attack, those guys have shown marked improvement also.
But heres the problem; Texas victories over the two quality opponents on their schedule have come against basically one-dimensional offenses. The Ds task was relatively simple (in assignment, not in execution): stop the run. When the Horns know they can swarm to the ball, they have played really stout defense. Against balanced teams that can hit them equally hard by land and air, as did Arkansas and Oklahoma, they got torched. And OSU is lethal both passing and running with the Three Amigos or whatever they call them -- Josh Fields, Rashaun Woods and Tatum Bell -- putting up gaudy numbers.
I watched all of the Cowboys wins against A&M and Texas Tech and most of their loss to OU. The Pokes moved the ball almost at ease against A&M at Kyle Field and at home against the Raiders. They can be a devastating offense when they get both the run and pass going as they did in those games. If teams commit their safeties to try and help out against Woods & Co. through the air, Bell is freed up to slice them to pieces on the ground, and vice-versa.
In OSUs game against OU, well, Mike Stoops and Brent Venables just put a nasty defense on the field and the Sooners dominated the Cowboys up front. As good as the Texas defense has played since the OU rout, they are not as stingy as Oklahoma. Plus, as much as we have pointed out the limitations of Reed Boyd, his potential absence due to injury, and the prospect of true freshman Eric Foreman taking his place, makes me shudder. Foreman has the tools to be a great one, but he is inexperienced, which is not what you want on the field in the rowdy environment Texas will be playing in Saturday.
UT is a much stronger team right now than the one that lost to the Pigs and Sooners. With Vince Young the main man at QB and Chance Mock available to make a defense adjust to a different look, the offense appears to be gaining an identity. On defense, as noted, the guys are flying to the ball and are finally looking like theyre having fun hitting people. After the Nebraska domination, and their taking-case-of-business wins against Iowa State and Baylor, the Horns also figure to have gotten back some of the swagger that was left trashed on the floor of the Cotton Bowl one month ago. In addition, under Mack Brown, Texas has been an exceptional road team, winning at College Station, Lincoln, Manhattan, and Boulder in similar environments to that which theyll face Saturday. So I think Texas is definitely capable of sliding into Stillwater, slugging it out with the Cowboys, and sneaking out with a W.
That said, I fear that playing before what will be a noisy, partying home crowd, on a cold night on the Great Plains, against a multi-threat offense motivated to knock off the second-biggest bully in the Big 12 South, the Horns have their backs against a huge wall. So Im tossing the coin on this one, heads it's the Horns, tails it's the Cowboys. Ching! Aw man, it's come up -- tails. Oklahoma State 34, Texas 28.
Ross -- This month's schedule is brutal. On the Horns, of course, but also on those of us charged with picking the outcome of the games. Last week, despite some misgivings, all of IT's crew went with Texas over Nebraska in Austin. This week, consensus is not to be found. In a way, I guess I represent the tie-breaking vote, at least among Bill, Michael and myself. Not because I have superior insight than my cohorts, but simply because my pick, as always, comes last in this rundown.
Let me tell you this: I have vacillated a bit this week about the contest in Stillwater. My first instinct was to pick Oklahoma State, despite the Cowboys' drubbing at the hands of the Sooners and despite the Horns' domination of the Huskers, a team that beat Oklahoma State earlier in the season. From the minute I saw the '03 schedule, I believed this would be the second-toughest game on the Texas schedule, and I still believe that. Okie State is a balanced football team, and that's the type of team that is capable of giving Carl Reese's defense fits (see Arkansas and OU). Outside of Austin and perhaps Norman, there may not be a better QB/RB/WR trio than Josh Fields, Tatum Bell and Rashaun Woods. Add in the fact that, for the Cowboys, this game now sets up as a chance at redemption and a probable 10-win season (and maybe even a BCS berth), at night to boot, and the potential for a third loss for the Horns to me looks awfully great.
But I've also been swayed in the other direction, largely because of the revitalized play of the Longhorns on both sides of the ball, particularly against Nebraska. Honestly, though, I don't want to go overboard, basing my decision solely on that performance, as solid as it was. I know Texas still has areas that can be exploited. I'm also still concerned about Vince Young's abilities in the passing game. (Who woulda thunk it that a team with Roy Williams, B.J. Johnson, Sloan Thomas, Bo Scaife and David Thomas would be in danger of becoming too one-dimensional...with its running game.) Somewhere along the line, perhaps Saturday evening in Stillwater, an opposing defense is going to force Young to consistently -- let me reemphasize the word consistently -- make plays through the air rather than with his feet, and I'm not certain that he's capable of that yet. Matter of fact, I'm concerned about Young's INTs. So far this season, he has five picks in just 83 attempts. That's one in every 16 tries, which is dangerous with a capital D, especially given the fact that he is often asked to make those easily picked-off-and-taken-to-the-house passes in Greg Davis' horizontal passing game.
Do I think it'll happen vs. Okie State? Well, I guess that's the crux of the dilemma I face in picking this game and the reason for my waffling. Because, probably bucking conventional wisdom, I think this one will be won and lost by the Texas offense, and more specifically, Vince Young. (No pressure, Vince, no pressure.) The kid is great, but green. How will he handle getting his first start in a hostile environment? Will an early deficit adversely affect him? Will one mistake cascade into many?
Dang it, after 500 words of trying to work it out in my head as I wrote, I still just don't know. Sooooo, I'm going with my first instinct. Texas and Oklahoma State are about equal this season (in UT's case, that's falling back a bit from the last two years; in OSU's case, that's stepping up a notch), and with the game in Stillwater, I'm going to go with the Cowboys, in an Arkansas-like contest. Oklahoma State 34, Texas 24.