Bill Frisbie, Lead Writer -- Oklahoma State enters Saturday's game against Texas tied with OU atop the Big 12 standings, each with a 3-1 mark. Okie State would be undefeated in league play had it not blown a 17-point halftime lead against Texas A&M after starting QB QB Zac Robinson left the game with a mild concussion.
The Cowboys boast the Big 12's leading rusher in Dantrell Savage (124.3 ypg) and the league's top rushing offense (274.1 ypg). Their offensive line has allowed the fewest sacks (one) in league play. WR Darius Bowman is big target and generally considered the league's top wideout. So, just how good are these upstarts from Stillwater?
Head coach Mike Gundy has, for the first time in program history, signed consecutive Top 25 classes. Few of Gundy's predecessors have made the kind of inroads he made into the Lone Star state since the former Cowboy QB accepted his "New York Yankees" job in 2005. The Pokes boast the league's leading rusher and arguably its top WR. They destroyed Nebraska on the road and are coming off a win against Kansas State. Give OSU a FG at Texas A&M and they're undefeated in league play. In short, the Cowboys are the second-best team Texas will face all season.
The Horns, meanwhile, may be the quirkiest, most unpredictable, most Jeykll-Hyde team on anyone's slate this year.
"They are hard to figure out," Longhorn coach Mack Brown said of his team this week. "I can't figure them out...We can lose the next three or we win the next three just as easily."
The thing that bodes well for Texas is that the league-leading Cowboys have Texas' attention. The second half against TCU, plus four quarters of focused football against OU and Iowa State, shows what this team is capable of. Rhetoric about respecting an outmatched opponent was lip service against the likes of Arkansas State, Central Florida, Baylor and, to some extent, Nebraska. The Horns know OSU is on the upswing. They are also cognizant of the near-misses against Oklahoma State in the recent past.
"Oklahoma State has jumped all over us just about every game," Mack Brown said. "It's gotten our kids' attention."
Despite the wild swings between opening gun and final snap, Texas coach Mack Brown has never lost to Oklahoma State. Oklahoma State's strength (rushing offense) plays to Texas' strength (run defense). But Texas pits its deepest arsenal of WRs in school history against OSU's glaring deficiency -- a pass defense ranked 116 nationally. Look for Texas to try to go deep early with Jordan Shipley or Billy Pittman (remember him?). If QB Colt McCoy is still upright by game's end and if RB Jamaal Charles continues his downhill trajectory, Texas wins a gunfight at the OK (State) corral. Texas 34, Oklahoma State 30.
Ross Lucksinger, InsideTexas.com Editor -- Almost every statistical match-up says the Longhorns will win. Almost every individual match-up says the Longhorns will win.
But they won't.
They won't because the game is going to take place in one of the most oppressive environments in the Big 12. The stands are almost on top of the players and the Okie State fans will be out in force. Yes, Texas has come back each time they've been down to the Cowboys and, yes, this team has played very well on the road under Mack Brown, but this is also the most inconsistent team he's fielded. That spells disaster for a Longhorn team that's heading into the jaws of a late-season road game against a conference opponent with a powerful offense.
Powerful offense will also be a theme for this game. Colt McCoy will get his yards against the nation's 116th-ranked pass defense, but OSU quarterback Zac Robinson is likely brimming with anticipation of letting his big, big receivers go up and get it against the Longhorns' shorter secondary. The Longhorn DBs have done a good job at fighting off dramatically taller receivers, but they haven't done it against Adarius Bowman. The closest is Oklahoma's Malcolm Kelly and he had his way with the Horns. Expect more of the same Saturday.
The beginning of this game, however, will play out just as it has before. The Cowboys will surge to an early, sizable lead and then the Texas offense will, right on cue, start racking up the points...but there's a problem. It's a major aspect of both of Texas' miracle comebacks against OSU that seems to be overlooked: defense. It wasn't just that Texas started scoring points in the second halves, it was also that Oklahoma State stopped.
Nebraska still managed to get a late touchdown against Texas by attacking down the field and over the middle. The Cornhuskers might have had a comeback of their own, but they just ran out of time.
This Saturday, the Oklahoma State offense won't stop scoring and there won't be enough ticks on the clock for the Horns to pull off the comeback. Oklahoma State 31, Texas 29.
Mike Blackwell, Inside Texas Magazine Editor -- Mack Brown was poor-mouthing the other day, lamenting the fact that Oklahoma State is a good football team, that his Longhorns will probably not be able to put pressure on the passer this week, that Stillwater is a tough place to play, that Texas has been lucky to win some of those wild recent games against the Cowboys.
All of which means just one thing: Texas will win comfortably.
Brown's teams have historically been good in these types of games. The Longhorns have played well on the road in the Big 12 – in fact, they've been excellent on the road in the Big 12. That long-term history – coupled with the short-term history of 2007 – are the reasons I think Texas should win somewhat comfortably in Stillwater.
The Cowboys are impressive offensively, particularly in the run game. OSU runs the ball extremely well, but the Longhorns are usually effective at stopping the run, so you can expect some neutralizing to take place. Personally, I would take Oklahoma's offense over Oklahoma State's offense, and the Sooners scored 28 points against Texas. In other words, I'm being charitable in giving the Cowboys 28 points in this game. In comparing those two teams – Oklahoma and Oklahoma State – I think the Sooners have the better quarterback, the better offensive line, the better wide receivers and a deeper stable of running backs. On the other side of the ball, Texas might score 28 points in the first half.
The problem the Cowboys – three point underdogs – have in this game is on defense. This group gives up more than 300 yards per game passing, which means they'll blitz a ton Saturday, especially after watching the Nebraska film. But whereas Texas seemed surprised that the Huskers blitzed as often as they did Saturday, that won't be the case in Stillwater. Bet the house that Texas worked on passing against the blitz this week, so expect more of the same type of output the Longhorns had in the fourth period against Nebraska. The Longhorns will score almost at will against the Cowboys' defense.
Additionally, Jamaal Charles should be feeling pretty good about himself this week. Some of those Cowboys' blitzes this week – necessitated by a weak pass defense that needs to get to Colt McCoy quickly – might result in more long Charles runs.
Defensively, Texas will stop Oklahoma State enough to get a two-touchdown win.
I'm discounting any emotional, intangible-type issues in this game, because I've tried to predict how Texas will respond in that fashion all year, and it hasn't worked. I have no idea if or when Texas' heart will be sparked in this game. And if Oklahoma State is full of emotion and hungry and Texas' is flat, I reserve the right to change my mind. But for now, Texas 42, Oklahoma State 28.
Michael Pearle, Co-Publisher -- Against Nebraska, Texas looked utterly confused on offense for the first three quarters, and suddenly exploded in the fourth to narrowly beat a Nebraska team that its three previous Big 12 foes had scored on easily. While the Texas defense played pretty good football at times, it gave up multiple wide open looks down the middle of the field to the Huskers, who turned those botched coverages into three touchdowns, resulting in a cliffhanger against a team that, midway through its season, had been heading over a cliff in a bus.
But narrowly defeat the Huskers Texas did, thus taking a 7-2 record into Stillwater to face an Oklahoma State team that features a high-octane offense and a leaky pass defense. Still, the question persists: did Texas' fourth quarter outburst signal a team that suddenly has found an unstoppable run game and is hitting its stride as it hits the toughest part of its schedule, or is Texas a team that is playing with fire with mediocre performances week in and week out, and is about to get seriously burned by a good football team, the likes of which they have not faced since OU?
My gut is that the Horns' inability to find an offensive scheme that works for them consistently, their inability to give Colt McCoy enough time to hit his receivers downfield, and their inability to regularly gobble yards with a north-south running game, is going to finally catch up to them Saturday.
Mack Brown is 9-0 against Oklahoma State, and the huge comebacks Texas has managed against the Cowboys during that undefeated streak are well-documented. Even in the years that Texas was playing in back-to-back Rose Bowls with Vince Young at the helm, they had to turn in near-miracle performances in the second half to beat the Pokes. But the 2007 Texas Longhorns are not playing like the 2004 or 2005 Longhorns, or even the team led by McCoy that crushed OSU in Austin last season. Point is, OSU has had the athletes to hang right with Texas, and they certainly do this season. So I have to figure that Oklahoma State is starving for a win against the Horns, and they have the talent to get it. But as has also been well-documented, Texas is a great road team under Mack Brown, a team that thrives on playing in hostile environments. They will certainly fight for four quarters Saturday.
At the end of the day, I see Texas losing this one in a scoring free for all. Texas has just not shown that it is a good enough football team week in and week out to keep overcoming shaky performances. Saturday, it will face a team with all kinds of offensive weapons that will score on the Horns. Can McCoy stay on his feet long enough to get the ball downfield and give a suddenly hard-charging Jamaal Charles some help and keep Texas close? He will, but it won't be enough. Oklahoma State 31, Texas 30.
Clendon Ross, Co-Publisher – Through the early part of this week, I actually had a pretty good feeling about this Saturday's game in Stillwater. (This coming off the week leading up to Nebraska where I had a bad feeling that the seemingly down-and-out Huskers were going to give Texas a four quarter game, which turned out to be prescient.) Shunning conventional wisdom, I was, gasp, expecting this to be a relatively comfortable Longhorn win. That changed at approximately 6 p.m. on Thursday evening when Ross Lucksinger called to tell me that Sergio Kindle was out due to a shoulder stinger suffered vs. Nebraska.
Can the loss of a back-up-who-should-be-starting linebacker turn this game upside down? No, not completely. But the news of Kindle's absence got the wheels turning in my mind again about the shortcomings of this team. Robert Killebrew, the starter at strongside linebacker who was finally in danger of losing his starting job to Kindle before the sophomore's untimely injury, epitomizes what is wrong with this year's Longhorn team. I should say the Killebrew situation epitomizes this team's struggles (Killebrew himself is, from all I can see, playing hard and doing the best he can, as limited as that has proven to be.) First, it highlights the lack of performance accountability that it took till game 10 for the coaching staff to even consider benching a mostly non-performing (and at times downright detrimental) senior starter. And second, the starting linebacker play, including Killebrew, is a large part of the reason that an outstanding defensive line and an improving secondary are shouldered with the vast majority of the burden of actually stopping opposing offenses.
Shoot, maybe it was wishful thinking or unfounded optimism or maybe even contrarianism that had me believing in a resurgent Texas earlier this week. Whatever the cause, I'm not feeling it anymore after further evaluation.
This game will be another struggle to the finish, as almost the entire 2007 schedule has been. Two very flawed teams battling to make the most big plays and the fewest mistakes. I still think that will be Texas – I like the strength on weakness match-up of the UT passing offense vs. the OSU pass defense – but I will not be shocked if it's the other way around, with the Cowboys gouging the Horns' defense by taking advantage of Killebrew, Bobino and Derry, and perhaps turning in a game-changing special teams play or three (Kindle will be missed on coverage teams as well) a la Kansas State. Texas 38, Oklahoma State 37.
Average of IT Members Picks: Texas 33, Oklahoma State 28.