A special thanks to Wescott at Burnt Orange Nation for taking the time to give us an insiders look at the Texas Longhorns.
1) Is Shane Buechele the real deal?
Having had the false start with Jerrod Heard last year after his record-setting performance against Cal, I'm not sure if I want to fully buy into Shane Buechele being the answer three games into his college career, but... I do feel comfortable saying that his touch is the real deal and his command of the offense and poise during big moments look to be the real deal, too. He still needs to get stronger and prove that he can stay healthy for a full season after getting knocked around by the Golden Bears in Berkeley. He still needs to prove that he can sustain his early level of play through the Big 12 schedule.
Even with all that hedging, though, almost all of the early returns point to Buechele being the real deal.
2) What does the 18-Wheeler package bring to the table for Texas?
The running package for Tyrone Swoopes can put 1.6 tons of Longhorns in the game in goal-line situation to establish a physical running presence and even numbers against the defense. If opposing defenses aren't worn out, all that mass coming at them can wear them out and Swoopes is much more difficult to tackle now as his vision, patience, and ability to run hard behind his pads have improved since the 'Horns installed that package for the game against the Cowboys last season.
Probably the most important thing is that it gives Texas the chance to score touchdowns consistently in the red zone -- it was Swoopes who scored both of the touchdowns in the two overtimes against Notre Dame to start the season.
3) How do you beat Texas? Additionally, how does Texas beat you?
In the Charlie Strong era, one of the best ways to beat Texas is to get them on the road. Beyond that, the 'Horns have only won once under Strong when the opponent scores first and also struggle to overcome halftime deficits. The fourth thing is to win the turnover battle, as Cal did 2-0 two weeks ago.
4) What are the Longhorns strengths? Conversely, what are their biggest weaknesses, in your opinion?
The offense is now collectively a strength, with Oklahoma State defensive coordinator Glenn Spencer justifiably calling Sterlin Gilbert's veer-and-shoot attack the most physical Texas offense since at least 2008. The punting from Michael Dickson is also a strength, as he has one of the best legs in the country.
Right now the biggest weaknesses are on the defensive side of the ball, where the starters along the defensive line aren't making enough plays to get pressure on opposing quarterbacks and the defensive backs are struggling to consistently understand and execute their assignments and make open-field tackles. In gaining only one turnover through three games, the takeaways haven't been there because players haven't been in position to make plays and none of the three fumbles by Cal were recovered (at least in a timely manner).
Kickoff coverage and kickoff return are two other areas where the Longhorns have struggled so far this season, continuing long-term trends in both of those special teams phases.
5) Texas took a major step back against Cal. Cal is a lot like Big 12 teams in terms of offense. Does that concern you going forward?
Yeah, it's definitely concerning, especially because the young cornerbacks who showed flashes of so much promise last season haven't shown the consistent strides this season that the team needs. Davante Davis was a preseason All-Big 12 pick and played poorly against Notre Dame, Holton Hill was held out of the UTEP game for unknown disciplinary reasons, and neither one played well against Cal. Kris Boyd has been a walking penalty on defense and special teams.
The hope moving forward is that the fixes are as easy as head coach Charlie Strong believes and that better on-field communication and perhaps some small scheme tweaks will result in fewer broken assignments.
6) The two-quarterback system was out-of-sorts against Cal. Is that a lack of trust in Buechele or a testament to how Cal played them?
I think the fact that Buechele had to leave the game for a while with a rib injury influenced those decisions because the coaches didn't feel comfortable letting him run the football at some point.
To your larger point, though, Gilbert was able to find the flow of the game against Notre Dame, but against the constant substitutions impacted the tempo more than anything else. Texas is at its best when the offense is working out a high speed to tire defenses. In Berkeley, slowing down in the second half may have been Strong's call as he attempted to give his beleaguered defense a rest. If that's the case, he probably needs to stop with that moving forward because slowing down doesn't help the offense and may have even caused several drive-killing penalties because offensive linemen were forced to remain in their stances for so long.
7) What would you consider to be the most important element to Texas truly returning?
Consistency. Texas has to show up every week and avoid the letdowns that have characterized the Strong era all too frequently. There's some thought that the team got a little caught up in the hype heading into the Cal game, so this is a group that is still learning how to deal with success and adversity.
The consistency also extends to the defensive side of the ball, where the execution just hasn't always been there through the first three games.
8) Oklahoma State is trying to figure out ways to run the ball. How does the Longhorn defensive line compare to the rest of the Big 12?
Texas certainly has as much talent as anyone in the conference and there is some experience there, which is rather unusual on such a young team. At times, the production is there, but it's actually some of the younger players who have the most upside -- Fox ends Breckyn Hager and Malcolm Roach are the back ups at that position, but have combined for four of the team's 11 sacks. Look for them to play more against Oklahoma State, along with defensive end Jordan Elliott, a defensive tackle who flashed against Notre Dame playing end in Strong's three-man fronts.
So there's still some room for growth, but I think the bye week will produce some improvement there, partly because some of the young players are now more ready to contribute more extensively.
9) How do you see the game playing out? Score Prediction?
I think Texas rebounds in this game and is able to finally force some turnovers and make some stops of an Oklahoma State running game that is still not all the way back. It's another shootout, though, as the Cowboys make some plays in the passing game, but can't stop the Longhorns from doing the same. I'm calling this one Texas 45, Oklahoma State 42.