No. 6 Texas, garnering its highest ranking in the Associated Press poll since 2010, carries a six-game winning streak into Saturday night’s dustup with enigmatic Oklahoma State at Boone Pickens Stadium in Stillwater.
But the Longhorns have several question marks as they venture into the second half of the 2018 season.
No. 1 is the health and availability of starting quarterback Sam Ehlinger.
Ehlinger suffered a sprained throwing shoulder in the opening drive of Texas’ 23-17 win over Baylor on Oct. 13 and after the team’s open week, is continuing rehab of the injury in hopes of playing on Saturday.
“There’s a protocol that we want to make sure that we adhere to as aggressively as possible,” Texas coach Tom Herman said about Ehlinger’s injury and rehab. “We probably won’t know Ehlinger’s game status until Thursday. But if he’s healthy and he’s himself, then certainly he’ll start.”
Herman has to take every report Ehlinger provides on his own condition with a grain of salt because his sophomore quarterback will do just about anything to be back on the field.
“We talked awhile about him being very honest with us in terms of his pain because there’s an element to his game that’s different than a lot of quarterbacks,” Herman explained. “Ultimately it’s going to be does it hurt him too much to be effective and in order to not get it to hurt is he changing the way that he throws to the detriment of the offense.”
Texas (6-1, 4-0 in Big 12 play) has moved to the top of the conference standings but Herman said that means nothing to him and his team as it relates to their daily preparation.
“It is completely and utterly inconsequential where we’re ranked through seven games of the season,” he said.
The Longhorns and Cowboys meet for the 33rd time on Saturday. Texas owns an all-time record of 24-8 against Oklahoma State, but the Cowboys have won three straight in the series, including last season’s 13-10 overtime victory in Austin. Texas owns an all-time record of 8-2 in Stillwater against the Cowboys.
Oklahoma State (4-3, 1-3 in Big 12 play) returns home after a dominating 31-12 win at Kansas State on Oct. 13.
The Cowboys excel in three areas defensively: sacks, tackles for loss and red zone defense.
Oklahoma State leads the nation with 4.29 sacks per game and ranks ninth in FBS with 8.6 tackles for loss per contest. When opponents have reached the red zone, they have only scored at a rate of 73.9 percent, a mark that leads the Big 12.
Finding success through the air will be critical for Oklahoma State against a Texas defense that has picked off eight passes and allowed only nine TD passes. Priority one for the Cowboys offensive line is to protect quarterback Taylor Cornelius.
Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy was pleased with the line’s pass blocking at Kansas State.
“There’s been other games when we didn’t protect well at all,” Gundy said. “We have to be careful about trying to get away from what we do and who we are, and just try to get better at it and minimize those packages.
“You’ve got to be balanced on offense. We have to protect (Cornelius). They’re gonna make their plays. We need to be able to make ours.”
Gundy said missed assignments have plagued his team over the first half of the season.
“There’s different ways to handle that,” he said. “You condense the packages somewhat. Some of it is related to youth and inexperience. Reducing those numbers gives us the best chance to have success.”
–Field Level Media