Texas running back Malcolm Brown.
The Texas Longhorns and Oklahoma State Cowboys will meet this coming Saturday in a matchup of two heavyweight Big 12 programs. The Cowboys are currently searching for their first quality win of the season, while undefeated Texas is beginning a stretch of four straight games against ranked opponents (according to USA Today Poll). Needless to say, there will be a hard fought matchup in Stillwater on Saturday night.
Both of these squads are talented enough to win the Big 12.
While Oklahoma State's shoddy defense will likely preclude them from competing with the nation's truly elite squads, they have not scored less than 38 points in a game so far this season. The Cowboys' explosive offense will afford them an opportunity to win every game they play.
Conversely, Texas' two-pronged rushing attack of Malcolm Brown and Joe Bergeron has wreaked havoc on defenses thus far through 2012.
That said, as both these squads enter conference play, each team has a lot to prove if they want to contend for a Big 12 Championship. The Cowboys' starting quarterback, Wes Lunt, underwent knee surgery two weeks ago and his playing status is in doubt, while the Longhorns still have questions on their offensive line.
Let's take a look at five players that will have a key impact on Saturday night's matchup, and what those players will need to accomplish to power their squads to victory.
Injured Oklahoma State quarterback Wes Lunt.
It's still uncertain who will line up under center for Oklahoma State on Saturday night. Although true freshman Wes Lunt has started every game this season, he injured his knee against Louisiana-Lafayette and is doubtful, but not ruled out of this weekend's matchup.
Assuming Lunt sits this one out, redshirt freshman J.W. Walsh would fill in at quarterback. Walsh is a dual-threat quarterback that lacks the decision-making ability to be an effective pocket passer. While he has the ability to make plays with his legs outside the pocket, he sometimes attempts to do too much with the ball and makes costly mistakes.
If Walsh is called upon to start on Saturday, it will be the first start of his career. Drawing Texas as your first career start is a daunting proposition, and it could prove to be extremely detrimental to the Cowboys offensive game plan. While Lunt has completed almost 67 percent of his passes this year, he has not faced a pass rush like the one Texas will throw at him.
For the Cowboys to keep up their offensive production against the Longhorns, it's imperative that Walsh makes quick, accurate reads on Texas' defense and has time to throw the ball down field.
He has the talent to be effective on Saturday, but he has never played on a stage this big. It should be interesting to see how Walsh responds to the challenge.
Texas running back Malcolm Brown.
Texas' formidable two-pronged rushing attack will most likely take a hit due to injury this weekend. Although Joe Bergeron has been productive thus far through 2012, his status is in doubt for Saturday's matchup. Luckily for the Longhorns, Malcolm Brown should be able to carry Texas' rushing attack single-handedly.
Brown is averaging 6.4 yards per carry this season. To compliment that statistic, he will be going up against a rush defense that has allowed an average of 116.3 yards per game on the ground. Running the ball will clearly be a major aspect of how Texas plans on moving the ball, and Malcolm Brown will be relied heavily upon to provide serious production in that regard.
With that, running the ball will allow Texas to slow the game down, and keep Oklahoma State's offense off the field for longer periods of time. Running the ball effectively will allow Texas to prevent the Cowboys from turning this game into a shootout in which the most top-heavy offense emerges victorious.
Malcolm Brown has a lot of weight on his shoulders heading into this matchup, but it looks as if he should be productive.
Cowboys MLB Caleb Lavey.
It's no secret that Oklahoma State has one of the worst defenses in the Big 12, historically speaking.
The team is centered around its explosive offensive production, and hopes to have a serviceable defense that doesn't lose the game by itself. However, Texas is a national powerhouse. They are not going to lose to a one-dimensional football team, so it's important that the Cowboys defense comes to play on Saturday night.
At the heart of the defense for the Cowboys will be junior middle linebacker Caleb Lavey. Although Lavey lacks the athleticism to stay with receivers in the middle of the field, he must be able to hold down Texas' vaunted rushing attack. Oklahoma State has been dismal against the run this year, and improvement is needed if they want to beat one of the nation's best.
Lavey must be a key player in stopping the Longhorns rushing attack on first and second down. If the Cowboys can get Texas into 3rd-and-5 or longer situations with consistency, this defense might just hold up and give the team a chance to win.
Caleb Lavey will play right in the heart of Oklahoma State's defense, and he will be relied upon to play a huge role against Texas.
Longhorns offensive line protects quarterback David Ash.
Texas' offensive line has improved so far this season, but Oklahoma State has been able to generate pressure from their defensive ends this season. For the Longhorns to be successful, the offensive line must hold up against the likes of Calvin Barnett, Cooper Bassett, and Ryan Robinson. If those three get pressure for the duration of the game, Oklahoma State will have a chance to pull the upset on their home turf.
Texas' offensive guards Mason Walters and Trey Hopkins must continue to block well in the run game, as well as protect quarterback David Ash. As long as Oklahoma State's defense does not have a coming out party on Saturday night, the Longhorns should be in prime position to win this game.
In past seasons, Texas has had noted difficulties on the offensive line. Although they are not yet among the elite o-lines in the nation yet, the Longhorns have improved significantly in that department so far this season.
It's essential they keep up the good work on Saturday.
Oklahoma State running back Joseph Randle.
If Oklahoma State is going to start a redshirt freshman QB against the Texas Longhorns on Saturday, they will need to have a rushing attack to take some pressure of the young quarterback's shoulders. Joseph Randle will be the Cowboys biggest threat out of the backfield, so look for him to get some touches early on in this contest.
So far this season, Randle is averaging 6.7 yards per carry and has scored four touchdowns in three games. Although the Cowboys run a wide-open spread offense, the rushing attack has opened up at times this season.
With that, Texas lacks physicality with their front seven. Defensive tackles Chris Whaley and Desmond Jackson have been inconsistent so far this season, so it stands to reason that the Cowboys will attack the middle of Texas' defensive line early.
If Randle can get going early on in this game, it will make life a whole lot easier for JW Walsh as the contest progresses. The Cowboys are not going to be the 12th best team in the nation solely on the offensive efforts of a redshirt freshman quarterback.
There is going to have to be some consistent production on the ground, and Joseph Randle should be able to come through if the offensive line is effective.