I caught up with Jack Keyes, a contributor over at our Texas sister site, Burnt Orange Nation, to talk about today’s matchup. We had a great talk, and I learned a lot about the Longhorns. I think you will too.
On tap is a lot of Sam Ehlinger talk, the Texas defense, and who will stop this high-powered Oklahoma State offense.
Our conversation is below:
1) Just talking big picture, what is the pulse around the fanbase about where the Longhorns are at right now?
1. The pulse around the Longhorn fan base is pretty intriguing right now. On one hand, Tom Herman was supposed to have already inherited a team capable of at least eight wins, which was the mark most Texas fans wanted to reach in the beginning of the year. On the other hand, Texas has been competitive in every game this season, and the embarrassment against Maryland is the only time Texas has performed below expectations. We have yet another "rebuilding" team, but there's a sense around Austin that at least this is what a rebuilding team should look like -- a gritty bunch that is working to overcome some key injuries and weaknesses and is improving every week.
2) What does this team do differently that last year's Charlie Strong-led team didn't?
The best change for the better is that Texas is finally an above average defensive team, which has made the 'Horns more enjoyable to watch. Texas is only No. 65 in the nation in total defense, but the 'Horns also have nine interceptions on the year and have been less prone to giving up "the big play". For comparison, Texas was No. 94 in the nation in total defense in 2016. Tom Herman has certainly not fixed every problem that plagued the Charlie Strong era yet. Texas is still bad at kicking field goals.
3) Just how important is Sam Ehlinger to the Texas offense? What would they look like without him?
Ehlinger is key to the Texas offense not necessarily because he is significantly more talented than other QB Shane Buechele, but because his strengths mask Texas' weaknesses. Ehlinger is tough to bring down and elusive, which makes Texas' depleted offensive line look a little bit less like swiss cheese. He also has a ton of heart, which rubs off on the players around him.
4) Besides Ehlinger, which players should Oklahoma State fans be on the lookout for on both sides of the ball?
Collin Johnson is the most gifted wide receiver on the team, but he is surprisingly not listed as a starter on this week's depth chart. On defense, DeShon Elliott is tied for first in the nation with five picks, including two against Sam Darnold. The linebacker position is a clear strength for the 'Horns, so look for Malik Jefferson to be an impact player.
5) I think this matchup could come down to the Oklahoma State Receivers vs. Texas Secondary. How do you see that taking shape?
I agree with this assessment. Texas has faced two Heisman candidate QBs this season in Sam Darnold and Baker Mayfield, so the secondary is used to going against elite competition. The Texas DBs can't have any miscommunication or break down plays this week. Struggling players like Kris Boyd will need to have solid games so that Mason Rudolph doesn't systematically pick them apart. Limit Rudolph to small chunks, and put yourself in a position to come up with third down stops.
6) What do you think Texas will have success with on offense on Saturday? Conversely, where do you think they struggle?
I expect more of the same from the Texas offense. That means that I think the run game will fail to be established, but Ehlinger and receiving corps will come up with some key timely plays.
7) Give me one key to the game for Texas. What do they have to do to beat OSU on Saturday?
You brought it up earlier, but how well the Texas secondary can contain Rudolph and the Ok. State wideouts will be huge. I also think a key to the game will be Texas getting on the board early. Texas has gotten into the habit of falling behind early, only to sustain a second half come back that may or may not be enough. I'll be feeling pretty good if Texas has the lead after the first quarter.
8) Prediction time. How do you see this one going?
I'm not feeling super confident about this one, but I do think the Longhorns will at least stay in it. Texas 24, Oklahoma State 34.