"In the short-term history of this program, our attitude changed when we were down 35-7 against Oklahoma State," Texas coach Mack Brown said. "Since then, we've been really good in pressure situations. Before then, I don't know."
Almost lost in the afterglow of that surreal November 6 evening is the fact that Texas has trailed in each of the past five ballgames against the Cowboys. A trip down memory lane recalls that Texas nearly tripped-up against the Pokes every year since 2001:
2005 - Young's 80-yard run on Texas' first series of the second half ignites a furious rally. The Horns dig out of a 19-point hole and dodge a bullet in Stillwater, 47-28.
2004 - Down 35-7, the biggest comeback in school history results not only in a 56-35 Texas win but also changes the complexion of the program.
2003 - Trailing 16-14 at the break, Texas rides of the perfect storm of Benson's 180 rushing yards and Roy Williams' 162 receiving yards en route to a 55-16 shellacking.
2002 - CB Rod Babers saves the day -- twice. His fourth-quarter stop on OSU's two-point conversion attempt, followed by his first INT of the season, preserves a 17-15 nailbiter.
2001 - Suffering from a post-OU hangover, the Horns trail 10-0 at the end of the first quarter. In his first collegiate start, Benson helps rally Texas to a 45-17 road win.
And who can forget Kris Stockton's FG on the final play against OSU in 1998? After the Pokes called three straight timeouts in the steady drizzle, Stockton's FG ricocheted off the left upright to give Texas a wild 37-34 win during Brown's first season in Austin. The point is that the times when Texas cruised from opening kickoff to the final whistle in this series have become the exception rather than the norm.
And now this...
"This is a better (Oklahoma State) team than they've had in a long time," Brown said, "and they'll have confidence coming in because of the way they dominated the second half against Nebraska."
Recent history aside, Saturday's match-up pits what most consider the league's top two QBs. Either OSU's Bobby Reid or Texas' Colt McCoy will named First-Team All-Big 12 in one month. McCoy is a lock for Big 12 'Offensive Freshman of the Year' but Reid is a poor man's Vince Young (and with two remaining year's of eligibility). Reid ranks third nationally in passing efficiency while McCoy is right behind at No. 7.
"Bobby is a great college player and he's got 'pro' written all over him," Brown said.
Meanwhile, Oklahoma State is still not out of the Woods. Senior WR D'Juan Woods is a two-time second-team All-Big 12 selection and ranks third on OSU's career lists for receiving yards (2,460) and receptions (142). Converted QB Donovan Woods made the switch to FS last season and is his team's second-leading tackler with 42 stops.
Brown insists Oklahoma State has his team's "full attention." And after the past five seasons, it ain't coach-speak.
Oklahoma State may be the only team (other than Oklahoma) this season that tries to run on Texas for four quarters. Both Ohio State and Nebraska abandoned the run after halftime. (Well, OK, Buckeye coach Jim Tressel took his foot off the gas by keeping the ball on the ground in the fourth quarter). But Saturday's tilt shapes up as a classic strength-on-strength match-up as Okie State's ground game is rated No. 4 nationally (211.2 ypg) while Texas' run defense is staking its claim as the best in program history by limiting foes to 41.2 ypg (NCAA No. 2).
It all starts with Reid, the only dual-threat QB not named Troy Smith that the Horns will face during the regular season. The 6-3, 230-pounder should see about seven or eight designed runs Saturday, not to mention his ability to scramble out of a collapsing pocket.
"Reid on the perimeter is always a challenge and it's every secondary coach's worst nightmare," Co-Defensive Coordinator Duane Akina said. "You can have it all covered and, 80 yards later, it's a touchdown."
DE Brian Orakpo faced Reid's Houston North Shore team in the third round of the Texas 5A high school playoffs in 2004. He believes practicing against Vince Young the past few seasons will prepare the Horns for a signal-caller of Reid's caliber.
"Reid is the type of player who makes plays by himself," said Orakpo. "We've got to try to contain him and not let him get loose for some of those 20-yard runs."
Reid's longest run this season has been a 56-yarder and averages just under 39 rushing ypg in OSU's share-the-wealth ground game. Sophomore RB Mike Hamilton, who ran for a career-best 194 yards against Texas last year, leads the team with 505 rushing yards on 86 totes (63.1 ypg). Junior RB Dantrell Savage is starting to put up big numbers after being slowed by an injury earlier in the season. Savage had just 166 yards during the first six games of the year but has run for 251 yards on 30 carries (8.4 ypc) the past two outings.
But it's Reid who brings balance to the force, as the Cowboys virtually match their per-game rushing average with 219.8 passing yards per outing. The go-to guy is WR Adarius Bowman, a semi-finalist for the Biletnikoff Award. The junior is No. 3 nationally, and tops in the Big 12, with 109.6 receiving ypg. His 13-catch, 300-yard, four-TD performance against Kansas was the 11th best receiving day in NCAA history.
Add it up, and OSU enters the game rated No. 11 in total offense. The Pokes are lighting up the scoreboard to the tune of 37.9 ppg, on pace to become the second-highest scoring team in school history. (In 1988, OSU averaged 47.5 ppg behind RB Barry Sanders, WR Hart Lee Dykes and former QB/current head coach Mike Gundy).
Simply put, the Cowboys do not have a defense comparable to their offense. OSU is ranked No. 77 in total defense, yielding 355.4 ypg (152.9 yards on the ground, 202.5 through the air). The Pokes returned just five starters from last year's mediocre unit. There is a void at linebacker and the secondary lacks depth. (The Pokes will start a freshman at OLB and at SS). In fact, SS Andre Sexton leads his team with 51 tackles
Entrusted with turning the worm is Okie State's second-year defensive coordinator. He is none other than former Longhorn DB Vance Bedford who capped his career by being named MVP of the 2002 Senior Bowl. He came to OSU after six seasons coaching as the Chicago Bears' secondary coach.
"He'll give you the pro looks on defense," Brown said, "and he'll try, like the other people we've played, to confuse Colt."
Specifically, OSU is one of the most blitz-happy teams in the Big 12. The Horns can expect to fend off Cowboy blitzes approximately 40 percent of the time Saturday, including various zone blitzes and zone coverages.
The one positive is that the Cowboys have three seniors on their defensive front, part of the reason why the unit is No. 2 nationally with 8.5 TFL per game and No. 3 nationally with 3.75 sacks per game. DEs Victor DeGrate and Nathan Peterson are ranked among the nation's Top 15 in QB sacks.
Every now and then, a question surfaces about NG Xavier Lawson-Kennedy, one of the most highly-touted national defensive recruits in 2002. Chronic knee problems and a ballooning weight have pretty much relegated X L-K to a backup role. The 6-2, 325-pound senior, with just six tackles this season, is listed behind senior Larry Brown.