The run-up to this week’s road dustup against No. 6 Oklahoma State has been far from typical for the enigmatic Texas Longhorns.
Yes, the Longhorns come off a course-straightening win last week against Baylor that should have built some momentum and enthusiasm after two straight losses. But things have instead gone a little south: two highly regarded recruits from the 2022 class, including heralded quarterback Quinn Ewers, have decommitted from the Longhorns over the past four days – making UT's game against the powerful and experienced Cowboys a crucial one for the perception of the program as well as for its run to get back in the Big 12 Conference race.
Lose to the Cowboys (or, even worse, get blown out), and the volume of the rumors surrounding the Texas coach Tom Herman and the Longhorns will get amped up even more. Win — Texas could put things together and do so — and the doubters will head back to the shadows.
Conversely, Oklahoma State, the lone undefeated team in the topsy-turvy, Covid 19-influenced Big 12, can cement its place as one of the nation’s top squads with a win Saturday afternoon over the Longhorns at T. Boone Pickens Stadium in Stillwater, Oklahoma.
The Longhorns (3-2 overall, 2-2 in Big 12 play) find themselves fighting to stay in the hunt for the Big 12 championship and head north after a 26-17 home win Oct. 24 over Baylor.
Texas, which was ranked as high as eighth in the Associated Press poll before losses at home to TCU and in Dallas to Oklahoma, can make a statement with a win against Oklahoma State.
“I think we’re headed towards our 'A game,' and hopefully we can show up and deliver that in Stillwater, because we’re going to need it,” Texas coach Tom Herman said Monday. “We’ve got it in us — I know we do. We’ve been building towards it, for sure.
“We are for certain a work in progress, but we made a lot a lot of strides in that bye week leading up to Baylor. I expect us to continue on our trajectory north for improvement and development and, hopefully, give Oklahoma State our best shot.”
This is the 35th time the two teams have played, with the Longhorns holding a 25-9 all-time edge, and the 12th time they will square off in Stillwater. Oklahoma State has won four of the past five meetings and seven of its last 10 games with the Longhorns, but Texas defeated the Cowboys 36-30 last year in Austin.
Texas hasn’t won in Stillwater since 2014.
“We have a lot of things to clean up,” Texas quarterback Sam Ehlinger said. “There always seems to be a period of time where we're not playing our best football. We haven't played a complete game yet."
The Cowboys (4-0 overall, 3-0 in Big 12 play) head into Saturday’s dustup on the heels of a 24-21 home win over No. 21 Iowa State that kept them atop the Big 12 pack along with Kansas State. The game was Oklahoma State’s first since Oct. 3 after its Oct. 17 contest with Baylor was postponed when the Bears reported a Covid outbreak within the team.
The win marked the first 4-0 start for the Cowboys since 2015.
“We are playing good football but we need to play better,” Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy said Monday. “We still have a few more mistakes in games than I would want. We have to minimize those mistakes, whether it is turnovers, penalty yards, or momentum swings.”
Gundy said the Cowboys must remain focused in practice and be themselves, but admitted this game, and playing against the Longhorns, does mean a little more.
“Our players enjoy that game,” Gundy said. “It's just a game, but because of location and the history of their organization, it becomes a little bit bigger to the people in the state of Oklahoma.”
Oklahoma State’s defense has held its opponents to 12 points per game so far this season, fourth-best among teams that have played at more than three games. Texas’ offense has averaged 45 points per outing, so something has to give.
“Oklahoma State is really good,” Ehlinger said. “They are really good. They load the box and they play man coverage. They're going to try to take away the run, so we've got to win our one-on-one matchups.”
“If our defense will stay humble and keep practicing good ... they’re really practicing good,” Gundy said. “I’m trying to get them to ignore the outside sources telling them how good they are. They’re gaining some confidence. Every day they get a little more confident.”