Commentary

It's spooky how much UT-OSU means

Updated: October 30, 2009, 3:11 PM ET
By Richard Durrett | ESPNDallas.com

Oklahoma State and Texas won't be concerned with ghosts, goblins or even what kind of goodies they might find if they went trick-or-treating. There is too much on the line considering the impact Saturday night's matchup will have on the Big 12 South title.

The 7 p.m. tilt -- could there be a full moon? -- is No. 3 Texas' stiffest remaining test on the regular-season schedule. The No. 14 Cowboys are the only ranked team remaining on the Longhorns' ledger.

If Texas wins out, it likely will play for a national title. For Oklahoma State, whose only blemish was a nonconference loss to No. 18 Houston, this is a chance to make a statement at home in front of a national ABC audience and slip into the top spot in the Big 12 South.

So let's take a look at five things to watch in this Halloween treat:

1. QB Colt McCoy versus QB Zac Robinson

McCoy comes into the game with more name recognition, having nearly won the Heisman Trophy last season. Thanks to a solid performance (26-of-31, 269 yards, 3 TDs) last week in Missouri, he's back in the Heisman mix. McCoy has become a leader. And while he didn't put up gaudy numbers against Oklahoma, he played despite an injured thumb and led UT on key second-half drives while letting his defense do the rest.

[+] EnlargeZac Robinson
AP Photo/David J. PhillipZac Robinson was 23-for-27 for 250 yards and three TDs against Baylor last week. "I don't think he gets the credit he deserves," UT coach Mack Brown said.

Robinson, a senior, doesn't get the attention of McCoy, but he's been the big constant in an offense that has had to win games without starting running back Kendall Hunter and wide receiver Dez Bryant.

Robinson has thrown for at least 227 yards in five games this season and is coming off a 23-for-27 performance at Baylor. He had 250 passing yards and three touchdowns in that game.

"Zac's won a whole lot of football games, and he takes care of the football," Texas coach Mack Brown said this week. "He runs the ball really well. You can tell by the fact that they've only given up four sacks this year that he is a very good quarterback. I don't think he gets the credit he deserves."

2. OSU's running game versus UT's defense

To help Robinson become an even bigger threat through the air, the Cowboys must find a way to run the football. That's no easy task against Texas, which is No. 1 in the country in rush defense (41.29 ypg).

Oklahoma State should get some help if Hunter returns. The coaching staff won't decide that until pregame warmups, but he has practiced this week and could be ready to go. Hunter, who had 161 yards rushing against Texas last season, has played just six quarters in 2009.

Despite Hunter's limited play, the Cowboys remain in the top 30 of the nation in rushing offense at 185.57 yards per game. Senior Keith Toston has 612 yards this season, including 109 and a TD versus Baylor last week.

How well OSU's offensive line can do against an aggressive and talented defensive front will have a huge say in whether the Cowboys can do anything on the ground.

3. Special teams

This should be fun to watch. Both teams possess the ability to impact the outcome with their special teams units.

[+] EnlargeShipley
Brian Bahr/Getty ImagesTexas' Jordan Shipley has two punt returns this season and also is a threat returning kicks.

Texas is dangerous on punt and kickoff returns. Jordan Shipley is ninth in the nation in punt returns and has run two back for touchdowns. D.J. Monroe is No. 2 in the country in kickoff returns and has two TDs. He's averaging just over 31 yards per return. And when Shipley and Monroe are back for kickoffs, something Texas first tried against Colorado, it makes it difficult on teams to decide which player to kick it to.

Oklahoma State counters with one of the top punters in the nation. Quinn Sharp, a candidate for the Ray Guy Award, averages 45.33 yards to rank seventh nationally. He also leads the nation with 24 touchbacks. Of course, the key is to make sure Texas doesn't get much of a chance to set up returns. Look for Sharp to focus on kicking the ball high for his coverage or directionally to make it an even greater challenge for the Longhorns.

The Cowboys also have senior Perrish Cox, who is the Big 12's career leader in kickoff return yardage and has four touchdowns since arriving in Stillwater.

Texas will be aggressive in going after punts. The Longhorns have blocked three this season, returning two for touchdowns. Texas has blocked 45 kicks since 2002, second only to Fresno State.

4. OSU's defense versus Texas' pass offense

On paper, this doesn't look like a great matchup for the Cowboys. Texas is averaging 274 passing yards, while the Cowboys are allowing 253 yards through the air -- 106th in the nation.

Somehow, the Cowboys have to find a way to close that gap. That starts with pressuring McCoy. That may mean some different blitz looks. The Oklahoma State secondary must be ready for Texas' talented group of wide receivers.

OSU must try to put Texas into long-yardage situations on second and third downs. The Cowboys have done well on third down defensively, holding opponents to just a 32.65 percent success rate.

This looks like an area where Texas could have an advantage. It will be interesting to see how the Cowboys counter it.

5. Ghosts of games past

Oklahoma State has won only twice -- the last in 1997 -- in 23 meetings with the Longhorns, and Mack Brown has never lost to OSU (11-0). But don't get fooled into thinking Texas hasn't had any trouble in this series.

  • 2008: The Cowboys twice rallied from 14-point deficits last season, only to fall 28-24.
  • 2007: Texas trailed 35-14 entering the fourth quarter only to score 24 points for an impressive 38-35 victory.
  • 2005: In UT's national championship season, the Longhorns had to rally from a 28-12 halftime deficit en route to a 47-28 victory.
  • 2002: The Longhorns needed to stop a two-point conversion late in the game to preserve a 17-15 win.
  • So the Cowboys have a history of playing Texas close and losing late.

    Will 2009 be different?

    Richard Durrett covers colleges for ESPNDallas.com. E-mail richard.durrett@espn3.com.

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