In the final scheduled matchup with Texas Tech, the Longhorns delivered a Texas-sized beat down. With the 57-7 victory in Austin, Texas clinched a berth to the Big 12 Title game for the first time since 2018. It was a great showing in all three phases for the Longhorns and the final score showed that. It’s very fitting that Texas is playing in their final Big 12 Championship game as they won the first one in 1996. While it’s been disappointing for Texas fans that the ‘Horns have only won 3 Big 12 titles, ending their Big 12 tenure with a championship will help ease the pain caused previously. Let’s dive into what Texas needs to do in order to leave Arlington with their fourth and final Big 12 Championship.
Continued Stout Rush Defense
Texas has one of, if not the best run defenses in the country. Many thought Texas would struggle to stop Texas Tech RB Tahj Brooks last week but that wasn’t the case. Brooks had been one of the most productive backs in the nation the second half of the season. Brooks had a nice day of 95 yards on 19 carries, but it was his lowest rushing total in conference play. The Texas rush defense lead by DT T’Vondre Sweat and DT Byron Murphy have yet to find a RB they can’t contain. The biggest test to date will come Saturday with Oklahoma State running back Ollie Gordon.
Gordon is the likely winner of the Doak Walker Award which goes to the top RB in the nation. He is nearly single handedly responsible for turning Oklahoma State’s season around. Following an embarrassing loss at home to South Alabama, Mike Gundy decided that Gordon needed more touches in order to get the offense going. In the first three games of the season Gordon didn’t eclipse 9 carries in a game. It is hard to to fathom, but over the final nine games, Gordon amassed 1,471 rushing yards. With the exception of the 45-3 drumming UCF handed them, Gordon has yet to find a defense in the Big 12 that can contain him, much less stop him. He is averaging over 180 rush yards a game in the other eight Big 12 games. On side will have to give on Saturday and we will find out if it will be the Texas run defense or Ollie Gordon.
Red Zone Efficiency
Not to sound like a broken record but red zone efficiency will play a large part in who wins the Big 12 title. Texas scored 57 points against Texas Tech but it easily could have been over 70 points. In six red zone possessions Texas scored just two touchdowns. The other three ended in Bert Auburn field goals and one Quinn Ewers interception. 23 points in six red zone trips isn’t good enough and a similar performance this weekend will get them beat.
12 games into the season and red zone offense is a flaw in this team that likely won’t be fixed this season. That doesn’t mean Sark can’t continue to try different things inside the 20 yard line to try and improve it. Look for some new wrinkles this week that haven’t been shown yet. Getting JT Sanders involved in the red zone would be a good idea. He seems to be more of a decoy down there than anything, but he can be a formidable red zone weapon. For years under Mike Gundy Oklahoma State has fielded a defense that is “bend but don’t break” and forces turnovers. That is no different this year and look for the Pokes to be willing to give up intermediate plays as long as it prevents the big play and makes the Longhorns go 7 or 8 plays to score instead of 2 or 3 plays.
Establishing a Good Run Game
Before Jonathon Brooks tore his ACL three weeks ago against TCU Texas had one of the nation’s best rushing attacks. Brooks was a front runner for the Doak Walker award prior to injury. Since losing Brooks the running game hasn’t been absent but it hasn’t been what with Brooks provided. In the first game without him against Iowa State, Freshman CJ Baxter had 117 yards on 20 carries. That’s solid but a step down from Brooks. However against Texas Tech, Texas rushed for over 300 yards and averaged 7 yards a carry. Redshirt Freshman RB Jaydon Blue showcased his ability, with 121 yards on 10 carries including a 69 rushing TD last week. Blue flashed his speed running for over 22 mph on that run which is the fastest for a RB in the country this year.
Oklahoma State ranks 102nd in the country in rush defense and allows 172 rush yards per game on average. Even without a great running back in Brooks, this is a matchup Texas should be able to exploit on Saturday. Baxter left the game vs Texas Tech injured but Sark said after the game he could’ve returned had it been necessary. Texas will likely be facing a light box as much of the defense’s attention will be on containing Xavier Worthy and AD Mitchell. Playing in perfect conditions and on turf on Saturday will help players such as Jaydon Blue and Xavier Worthy who can really fly. Look for Worthy to get the ball on a reverse or a jet sweep like he has the last few games. This is the Longhorns’ last chance to impress the College Football Playoff committee and they will be looking to run the score up if given the opportunity. Running with success will only open up the passing game more to make explosive plays more likely.