The Longhorns head north for a Halloween matchup against 6th ranked Oklahoma State on Saturday in Stillwater. Texas, in desperate need of a win to remain in contention for a spot in the Big 12 title game, will face their toughest challenge of the season in Mike Gundy’s Cowboys. With a solid defense and a potent offense that has weapons to hit you from a variety of angles, Oklahoma State may have their best on-field product in a number of years.
1. HornSports: The offensive line for Oklahoma State got off to a rough start to open the season against Tulsa but appears to have made a lot of improvements over the last several games with the emergence of walk-on LT Jake Springfield. What has changed for the unit and how do they match up against a veteran Texas defensive line?
Pistols Firing Blog: OSU lost two starters up front in Week 1 which turned what looked like an exciting group coming in into “a game of musical chairs” as Mike Gundy put it. In the weeks since, OSU’s staff has narrowed the playbook a bit and the less-experienced linemen have made strides. Springfield, who was put on scholarship this offseason, is probably chief among them. OSU also boasts one of the premiere tackles returning in the Big 12 in Teven Jenkins and a former All-Big 12 honoree in West Virginia grad transfer Josh Sills. Long story short, over the last month OSU’s O-line has looked much more like the one we expected we might see coming into 2020, but it’s still early. As far as the matchup this weekend, Texas always has athletes up front so that will present probably the biggest challenge this line has faced so far, in that regard. Spencer Sanders’ return makes things easier on them with his running ability.
2.HornSports: Mike Yurcich spent five years as the offensive coordinator in Stillwater and Mike Gundy knows him well. Texas is tied for 6th nationally in scoring offense with 45 points per game and average 482 yards of offense per game. The Texas offense vs. a Top-20 ranked Cowboy defense will be fun to watch. What impresses you most about 3rd year DC Jim Knowles’ unit?
Pistols Firing Blog: First, I’ll go off on my Mikey Y. tangent.
Mike Yurcich (like every DI offensive coordinator in history) was a polarizing character for OSU fans. Gundy plucked him from a DII school that we all had to Google, but once he got his legs under him he engineered some pretty impressive offenses. It’s unclear exactly how much autonomy Gundy’s OCs are given, especially early on, so I don’t even know how much people really had to gripe about Yurcich at first anyway. So I’m not surprised at all that he’s had success.
On to Knowles. The most impressive thing for me about him is his ability to adjust to a completely different style in the Big 12 while still sticking to his core philosophies. He likes to blitz, show multiple fronts and rely on his playmakers to make plays — even if that means leaving his cover men on an island. There were some growing pains but, to this point in Year 3, things seem to be coming together. His system is predicated on having versatile DE/LBs who can move around and keep offenses guessing. He’s been fortunate to have a couple in Jordan Brailford and now Trace Ford, and he’s got some dynamic playmakers in the secondary.
3.HornSports: Mike Gundy lost offensive coordinator Sean Gleeson in the offseason to Rutgers and decided to fill the void internally by promoting WR coach Kasey Dunn. Has Dunn made any noticeable tweaks to the offense and how much free reign is Gundy giving him?
Pistols Firing Blog: Dunn was Gundy’s longest-tenured assistant and one of his best recruiters before reports surfaced that he would take an OC job elsewhere during the offseason. Then Gleeson was off to Rutgers and OSU offered Dunn the role in Stillwater. One could connect whatever dots they choose. Dunn’s definitely added some of his own wrinkles to the offense so far and has the tenure and earned the trust that few first-year coordinators can boast from Gundy.
4.HornSports: Spencer Sanders suffered an ankle injury in the season opener against Tulsa and made his return against the Cyclones last week. He’s a guy that can throw but can also beat you with his legs. Is the ankle 100% and can we expect to see Sanders on the move on Saturday?
Pistols Firing Blog: He appears to be 100% at this point, he certainly looked it during his return against Iowa State last week. There was talk that Sanders could have returned a month ago before the Cowboys’ COVID-extended bye but with how well true frosh Shane Illingworth was playing (and the fact that it was Kansas) there was no reason to rush him back.
Yes, you can expect to see Sanders on the run.
5.HornSports: Is Chuba Hubbard the component this OSU offense is built around this season?
Pistols Firing Blog: Chuba is as dynamic as they come and he’s a big part of what makes OSU tick on offense. He’s had a little more help so far this year with Sanders’ presented run threat now returning and backup tailback LD Brown coming on, but make no mistake, Chuba is the engine that makes this thing run.
6.HornSports: The Big 12 Conference is playing its 25th season this year. Oklahoma State has one just one Big 12 Championship in that time but appears to be in the driver’s-seat this year. What are your thoughts on the Cowboy’s chances to earn Big 12 title number two based on the strengths and challenges of this year’s team?
Pistols Firing Blog: It’s a bit too early for me to start predicting a title run for OSU, but the Cowboys seem to at least have what they need for a big year. The offense should continue to improve as the year goes on, if it can stay healthy. Much of the O-line and, to that point, Sanders are both still gaining experience. OSU has the offensive skill talent to compete with anyone, but the defense is the key for me. If that unit continues on its current trajectory, OSU should have every opportunity for a run to Arlington for the Big 12 title game.
7.HornSports: The Longhorns have struggled this season, having to come from behind to win in Lubbock in OT and losing to TCU at home and losing in 4OT to rival Oklahoma. How formidable of an opponent is Texas going to be in Stillwater on Saturday and how big is this game for Oklahoma State?
Pistols Firing Blog: It’s a huge game and Texas will present a big challenge for OSU. Throw out the records. These games are always tough. The Cowboys have won four the last five in the series but the average margin of victory either way has been less than a touchdown. This game is huge because it’s Texas and OSU also carries a heavy number of Texas players on its roster, so it seems to be one the players circle on the calendar. This game is also huge for OSU just because of the added pressure to remain undefeated and in that driver’s seat.
8.HornSports: What’s your prediction for the outcome of Saturday’s game?
Pistols Firing Blog: I’m predicting another slugfest, something like 35-31. I’ll take the Cowboys. I think OSU’s offense is just getting its legs under it with Sanders back out there and the defense makes the stops needed to pull out a tight one.
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