"You can tell they've been playing in the backyard for a long time," Co-Defensive Coordinator Greg Robinson said.
Much has been said of the showdown between Texas RB Cedric Benson (162.1 ypg, NCAA No.2) and OSU RB Vernand Morency (155.8 ypg, NCAA No. 5). Still, Cowboys coaches no doubt recalled from their 2002 win over OU that the Sooner secondary was susceptible to mobile QBs who could occasionally go up top and hit the deep ball. For the first all season, Morency did not pass the century mark (93 yards on 17 carries). After a rough start, Donovan Woods completed eight passes for a career-high 207 yards and almost engineered the upset when his fourth-quarter toss to Prentiss Elliot was just inches out of the true freshman's grasp. A field goal attempt with 11 seconds to play was inches to the left, allowing the Sooners to escape overtime at overflowing Boone Pickens Stadium and possibly their sixth loss in the Bedlam Series of the past ten years.
Saturday's game at DKR matches the Big 12's top two rushing offenses and its two lowest-rated passing offenses. The Horns are averaging 304.8 ypg rushing (NCAA No. 2) while the Pokes aren't far off the pace with 254.5 ypg (No. 6). Similarly, OSU has the ball for an average 32:12 per game while Texas' average Time of Possession has been 32:02 this season.
"Both teams are running the football and playing physical," Benson said. "Not everybody runs the football like these guys do, or like us."
Then again, not everybody throws the ball like these guys do. Or like Texas. With a pair of ground-bound teams, this is a 6 p.m. game that could be over by 9 o'clock. Except that it stands to reason that the two running games may neutralize each other and that the difference, offensively, will come down to whether a young Cowboy quarterback or a Texas quarterback named Young makes the most plays with his arm.
"I think both teams will make some plays in the passing game," head coach Mack Brown said. "Woods is throwing the ball much better and Vince can throw it as well as anybody in the country when he gets going. I think we'll see some plays in the passing game because there's been so much emphasis put on the running game."
BY THE NUMBERS
The Cowboys are ranked No. 19 in both polls, actually moving up a notch this week as a result of their near-miss against the Sooners.
The Cowboys last trip to Austin in 2002 was another near miss as CB Rod Babers stopped a two-point conversion intended for Woods as the Horns held on, 17-15. It also took a Babers INT at the Texas 48 with less than three minutes remaining to seal the deal. Likewise, the 1998 game was decided on the final drive when Texas' Kris Stockton broke a 34-all tie with his game-winning FG that ricocheted off the left upright, in a soaking drizzle and after three consecutive OSU timeouts, during Brown's first season in Austin.
Texas rolled in Stillwater last season, 55-16, as the Horns posted 502 yards on the Cowboys' own pasture and Brown improved his mark in the series to 6-0.
The Longhorns hold a 16-2 edge in the all-time series. The last loss, of course, was during John Mackovic's 1997 farewell tour when no Big 12 goal post was safe if the Horns played at an opponent's field. OSU's one-and-only win in Austin was a 13-8 decision in 1944. Texas is 7-1 against OSU since the formation of the Big 12.
QB Donovan Woods is 56-of-111 for 1,043 yards, including 10 TDs and three INT. During the past five games, however, his numbers are 45-of-84 for 851 yards. He is averaging 170.2 ypg in Big 12 action.
"He's poised for a young player," Robinson said. "You can see the older brother's influence. You can see this is a family that's been playing football for a while. He looks comfortable. He knows what he's doing. He's making audibles and changing the cadence. I can see a guy that's growing and developing as a quarterback."
His go-to receiver, of course, is big bro D'Juan who had a career day against OU with 128 yards on three grabs. He averages 22.2 yards per reception.
Rashaun was a "go get the ball guy" who ran crisp routes, Robinson said, but "this one is a little smoother, I think, and maybe he gets down the field a little better. He's not as physical as the other."
When Donovan isn't playing catch with his brother, he's hooking up with senior TE Billy Bajema (6-5, 265) who is his team's second leading receiver with 220 yards on 13 catches. Still, OSU's overall passing game (141.4, No. 108) barely eclipses Texas' (138.1 ypg, No.110).
Brown, however, sees Saturday's game as a litmus test to gauge the progress of Texas' run defense.
"Everybody's bragging about our run defense because we're averaging minus-14 yards over the last two weeks," Brown told me. "Well, Texas Tech is not a running team even though out there a few years ago they outrushed us when we lost to them 42-38. And Colorado got behind in the game and they had to leave the running game. But our defense is playing much better against the run than they were when we went into the OU game. I think this is a measuring stick to see how far we've come because this bunch runs it as well as anybody in the country."
A significant part of OSU's rushing success this season is not only due to Morency but its big and experienced offensive line (averaging 6-3 and 300 pounds). Senior RG Sam Mayes has logged 35 career starts. Mayes was a preseason All-America selection by several publications. Meanwhile, senior C Chris Akin boasts the longest streak of consecutive starts with 27.
OSU leads the Big 12 in red zone offense, scoring 94.1 percent of the time inside its opponent's 20-yard line.
The Cowboys base out of the 4-2-5, but those who are convinced OSU will drop five back in the early part of Saturday's game should also know that I have a bridge for sale in Brooklyn. Case-in-point: Texas will not face a worse pass defense all year than it did last week in Colorado but Young made the Buffalo secondary look like it was filled with Thorpe Award candidates. The Horns put the ball in the air just three times in the second half against D-I football's No. 100 pass defense. Young obviously no longer has this indescribable safety valve named Roy Williams as he did last year against OSU when he was 9-of-13 for 195 yards.
"We have to make enough plays in the passing game to take the pressure off of the running game," offensive Coordinator Greg Davis said. "We are real good at running the ball and that's where our strength is right now. We want to continue to get better in the passing game but we can't get away from what our strength is."
Here's hoping SE Limas Sweed will continue to emerge. The 6-5, RS-freshman could have a breakout game against OSU's deep, talented but undersized secondary. Both LCB Darrent Williams and SS Vernon Grant give up six inches to Sweed while WS Jamie Thompson (the skyscraper among his fellow DBs at 6-0) leads his team with 59 tackles (45 solo). He has an INT and a team-best three forced fumbles (WLB Derrick Johnson, by comparison, now has eight. That's a new UT single-season record, folks). FS Jon Holland is OSU's second leading tackler with 51 stops.
Williams, a first-team All-Big 12 selection in 2003, has been slowed this season (missing two games) due to an arm injury but leads the Big 12 in punt returns (27.7 ypg, NCAA No. 2). He has returned five career INT for TDs, both a Big 12 and an NCAA record (Note: Texas SS Michael Huff has four INT returns for TDs).
The Cowboys replaced both DEs this season but LB Paul Duren is a returning starter with 49 tackles (third best on team) and shares the team-lead with Grant with two INT.
"I see them as a team that's really strong on the inside with their gap guys and with good speed in their secondary," Davis said.
The Cowboy defense leads the league in fumble recoveries (13). That, along with seven INT, ties OSU with Texas A&M atop the D-I charts in Turnover Margin (1.75 per game). Texas is plus-8 in the turnover margin, NCAA No. 11.
The Amazing Disappearing Man in the Cowboy defense: sophomore Xavier Lawson-Kennedy. The stud defensive signee of 2003 has moved from backup NG to backup DT and is credited with four tackles on the season.