No. 7 Oklahoma State (7-0, 3-0)
Sat., Oct. 25 2:30 p.m. CT
Darrell K Royal Texas Memorial Stadium
86, 73, 87, 71, 70, 49 and 58.
Those are the current national ranks in total rushing yards for each of the Longhorns' first seven opponents, in order, this season. Only Oklahoma (49th) is even in the top fifty. The next closest, Missouri (58th), is known much more for its passing.
The ranking of the Texas Longhorns' opponent this weekend? No. 5.
Oklahoma State rides into Austin averaging 283.14 yards per game on the ground, with its No. 5 rushing attack led by the No. 5 overall rusher in the country in Kendall Hunter (955 yards, 9 TDs).
Priority one is clear for Mack Brown and Co.
"You're going to have to stop the run before you can play," said the Texas head coach. "They're not going to throw it unless you stop the run. So this is the first game we've played that the running game is huge."
Texas boasts the nation's No. 2 rush defense (48.14) and has coincidentally scored just as many points per game (48.14). But this is the first true running team the Longhorns have faced this season, meaning the match-up between the Texas front seven and the OSU runners could be the most important of the game.
Saturday is when we will find out if the Texas run D is all it's chalked up to be.
OKLAHOMA STATE OFFENSE
The Longhorn offense has been potent in 2008, but it won't matter if Colt McCoy never gets on the field.
Oklahoma State has the kind of rushing attack that can control the tempo of a ball game and it starts with Zac Robinson. The junior quarterback has 249 yards and five rushing touchdowns on 73 carries, making use of an effective triple option. The option has given Texas fits in the past and it will be up to Will Muschamp to make sure the Horns don't get burned.
Most of the hand-offs and pitches will go to Hunter, but he's also got a pair of capable back-ups who will spell him in Keith Toston (487 yards, 7 TDs) and Beau Johnson (276 yards, 2 TDs). Hunter, Toston and Johnson are all averaging over six yards a carry, with Toston putting up 7.5 per rush.
All of this works to set up the deep ball. When the defense comes forward, that's when Robinson let's fly to his primary target, receiver Dez Bryant. The speedy Bryant, who is on a lot of Heisman watch lists, has 45 catches for 809 yards and 11 touchdowns this season. The next closest Oklahoma State wide receiver has only seven catches.
The offense is clear: Run, run and run some more before hitting Bryant for the big play. But the Cowboy O also has another wrinkle with the return of tight end Brandon Pettigrew. The 6-6, 260-pound senior missed three games this season with a high ankle sprain, but is back and can be an outlet for Robinson.
Though not as much of a pure pass-catching tight end as Oklahoma's Jermaine Gresham or Missouri's Chase Coffman, Pettigrew is perhaps the most complete tight end in the conference and is effective in helping the run game.
Helping the run game even more is an offensive line that was underrated heading into the season and has now emerged as one of the Big 12's best. The unit is a road-grading group and has only given up five sacks this season (No. 4 in the nation).
OKLAHOMA STATE DEFENSE
Over the last four meetings between these teams, Texas has outscored Oklahoma State 117-14 in the second half. This OSU defense remembers those games well, especially last season, when Texas reeled off 24 fourth quarter points for the comeback win in Stillwater.
They'll do what they can to contain Texas for all four quarters, but they'll have to do a much better job at getting to the quarterback this game than they have all season. The Cowboys are ranked 101st in the nation in sacks with only eight total on the year and no OSU defender has more than two (S Ricky Price and DL Jeremiah Price each have a pair). Watch for sophomore defensive end Ugo Chinasa, as he will likely be the Cowboys' biggest threat coming off the edge.
The linebacking unit has performed well this year, led by junior Orie Lemon, who is second on the team in tackles with 45. OSU has held opponents to 116.71 yards per game on the ground (35th, nationally), but the Cowboys are also 96th in the nation in tackles for loss with only 4.71 per game. Combined with the lack of sacks, you've got a team that must step up when it comes to penetration into the backfield to be successful against the Longhorns' efficient offense.
The team's leading tackler is safety Andre Sexton, who has 57 on the season. He leads a secondary that is ranked 77th in the country in passing yardage given up (219.14), but the defensive backs have been effective in generating turnovers. The Cowboys have pulled down eight picks this season, including a key one from Sexton against Missouri that the junior returned 39 yards.
Be sure to keep an eye on Jacob Lacey, as the senior cornerback has big-play potential. He should be easy for Texas fans to remember, given his three interceptions against the Horns last season.
Lacey helped Oklahoma State start strong against Texas in 2007, taking McCoy's first pass of the game back for a touchdown. This time, he and the Cowboys will be looking to finish strong as well.