Texas Football: 5 Keys to the Game vs. Oklahoma State

Eric Steitz@esteitz16Analyst IIISeptember 21, 2012

Texas Football: 5 Keys to the Game vs. Oklahoma State

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    The Texas Longhorns’ quest to get back to the Big 12 Championship runs through Stillwater and the Oklahoma State Cowboys. The Longhorns will need to do the following things well in order to start 1-0 in the conference. 

    Both teams are ranked in the AP poll, with Texas rated 10th and Oklahoma State 25th. Texas (3-0) has outscored opponents 148-48, including a 66-point showing against Ole Miss. 

    Oklahoma State started the year off with a bang, hanging 84 points on Savannah State. In Week 2, the Cowboys dropped a 59-38 game to the up-start Arizona Wildcats. OSU recovered with a 31-point win over Louisiana-Lafayette and is looking to get back into the top 25. 

    The Longhorns have the eighth-rated offense in the country, putting up 49.3 points per game. OSU boasts the nation’s highest-scoring offense at 62.3 PPG. 

    This game should be the most difficult contest for both teams so far this season. With five Big 12 teams in the top 25, surviving the conference schedule is as tough as ever. 

    Here are the five keys to the Texas game against Oklahoma State next weekend.

Control the Clock

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    The three-headed monster that is the Texas backfield will shoulder a huge load in the conference opener. Sophomore RBs Malcolm Brown and Joe Bergeron have 37 carries for over 200 yards each. Freshman Johnathan Gray has 21 carries and 89 yards in three games. 

    Texas has the sixth-best rushing offense in the country at 308.3 yards per game. That rushing attack should get a lot of work trying to keep the ball away from the nation’s best scoring offense. 

    In the Longhorns’ 66-31 win over Ole Miss, they controlled the ball for over 37 minutes. Texas should have a similar goal against OSU. 

    OSU counters with a big-play offense led by freshman QB Wes Lunt. Lunt dislocated his kneecap against Louisiana-Monroe. His status is unknown against Texas. Backup QB, freshman J.W. Walsh, didn’t miss a beat, throwing for 347 yards and rushing for 73 yards and a touchdown. 

    Controlling the clock will be a big factor in this game that features two potent offenses. Texas needs to come up with efficient and time-consuming drives against the Cowboys.

David Ash’s Redemption

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    As a freshman, Ash struggled against Oklahoma State. He had a passer rating of 74.2 by going 22-of-40 with two interceptions. Fortunately for the Longhorns, Ash is performing at an impressive level so far this season. 

    Last week against Ole Miss, the sophomore threw for 326 yards and four touchdowns, posting a 259.1 passer rating. He completed nearly 83 percent of his passes and is improving each week. 

    He will need to have a solid day against Oklahoma State—not an impossible task. Louisiana-Lafayette QB Blaine Gautier went 16-of-31 for 236 yards and a score. Arizona’s Matt Scott went 28-of-41 for 320 yards and two touchdowns in the Week 2 upset.

    Ash is proving he was the right choice to be the starting QB in Austin. Completing nearly 77 percent of his passes for over 700 yards in three games is a good start. Ash will need to have similar success against Oklahoma State to help Texas climb into the top 10.

Can the Longhorn Defense Get on Track?

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    The Texas defense gave up 31 points to Ole Miss and nearly 400 yards of offense. That performance didn't sit well with the coaching staff (via the Dallas Morning News).

    “I think now it’s on our resume that we’ll give up big plays for touchdowns. No good defense can give up big plays for touchdowns,” defensive coordinator Manny Diaz said.

    “I know we’re headed in the right direction,” Coach Mack Brown said. “I know we can do better than what we’ve done on defense.”

    Texas is giving up 328.33 yards per game on defense, 32nd in the country. The week off might help refocus the best defense in the Big 12, according to David Ubben of ESPN.com.

    Oklahoma State brings the nation’s top-gaining offense into the contest, posting 686.67 yards per game. That should put a sense of urgency into the Longhorns defense.

    ''We had a lot of good plays, but a lot of that gets canceled out,'' Texas senior safety Kenny Vaccaro said (via Yahoo! Sports). ''The good teams put a foot on your throat.''

    The Cowboys just might be one of those teams. The Longhorns lost to No. 6 Oklahoma State 38-26 last season. The Longhorns have lost their last two games against the Cowboys.

    The schedule doesn’t get any easier for the Texas defense in the coming weeks, either. They need to iron out wrinkles against Oklahoma State before hosting No. 8 West Virginia and No. 6 Oklahoma.

Oklahoma State’s QBs Against the Texas Secondary

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    Oklahoma State starting QB Wes Lunt suffered a dislocated kneecap early in Louisiana-Lafayette. If anyone knew his backup, J.W. Walsh, would be just as good, it wasn’t the Cowboys’ coaching staff.

    Coach Mike Gundy asked offensive coordinator Todd Monken what they could run with Walsh at QB. His response (via the Dallas Morning News), “Well, I don’t know. He took about 10 snaps all week. I don’t know what to tell you.”

    The result was far better than Oklahoma State expected. Walsh threw for 347 yards and four touchdowns, completing 70 percent of his passes in just the second game of his career.

    Texas won’t know who is going to be in command of the Cowboys' offense. Whoever it is will be a solid weapon for Oklahoma State. The Longhorns give up 180 yards per game through the air. Oklahoma State averages 378.3 YPG, fourth in the country.

    The Texas secondary will have its hands full. Lunt’s, or Walsh’s, offense has connected with 15 different receivers.

The First Step to the Big 12 Championship

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    Texas hasn’t lost a Big 12 opener since 2007 against Kansas State. That streak gets put on the line next weekend at OSU.

    The atmosphere in Stillwater will be electric, especially as Oklahoma State tries to make their way back into the top 25. Texas was picked to finish third in the conference by the coaches. The Cowboys were just 24 points behind them, picked fourth.

    Expectations are high for both teams and losses will come with a hefty price. The Big 12 boasts five teams in the top 25, with Oklahoma and West Virginia at the top of the conference.

    In order to get to contend for the Big 12 Championship, these two teams can’t afford a loss. In a conference with this much talent, teams can’t afford to lose this early in the season.

    Texas has the pressure of playing Oklahoma State the week before travelling to the two highest-rated teams in the conference, OU and WVU.

    The Longhorns can’t afford to overlook OSU if they want to be in contention for the Big 12 Championship.