Tomorrow afternoon, the top-ranked Texas Longhorns host No. 7 Oklahoma State in a battle for the driver's seat in the Big 12 South.
The Horns have had some scares in recent years against the Cowboys - and against teams not nearly as good as the 2008 version. It's only human nature to think back on those close calls and what that could mean for this season's game, slated for a 2:30 p.m. kickoff on ABC.
"We don't like playing games that close," said Longhorn cornerback Ryan Palmer. "We want to go out there and just change all that, start out fast. That's the main thing - to do in this game, start off fast. The defense just needs to get three-and-outs to get the ball in Colt and (the offense's) hands and let them do work."
Head coach Mack Brown has always been pretty complimentary of the Pokes, but heading into this year's game, he's even more flattering: "This is by far the best Oklahoma State team we've seen since we've been here."
Last weekend, the Horns nuked Missouri 56-31. It was a big win for UT and helped crystallize the thought that the Longhorns are the best team in the country. And after beating then-No. 1 Oklahoma, besting another top team like the Tigers might be enough to start giving players a big head. But that doesn't appear to be the case.
"The guys were talking about Oklahoma State in the dressing room after the (Mizzou) game," Brown said. "I thought that was a great start to the new week, because you don't get to enjoy these wins for very long at this point in the season. You can enjoy them after the season is over, but not during the season."
The Horns have to make sure that's what happens. With the way the past few games against OSU have gone, UT has to come into this game with eyes wide open and be ready to go from the start, something which has been a problem after allowing big deficits early against the Pokes in 2004, '05 and '07.
"Oklahoma State always plays us tough every year," quarterback Colt McCoy said. "We definitely don't want to put ourselves in the situation we were in last year. That's something that is really hard to overcome and we were fortunate. We know they're a great football team, I've watched a lot. They're really aggressive. They come after you."
"I wipe the slate," defense end Brian Orakpo said. "It's a different team, a different attitude we have with ourselves. And we're at home. That's something we can say will help us. Our fans are going to be stirred up for this game and will really give us that home field advantage. You know (OSU is) going to be ready, though. We know that they're a fast-tempo offense and they really get after it."
The Horns saw a top offense in the Tigers last game, but they had little trouble shutting them down, taking a 35-3 lead into halftime. While Mizzou did wind up scoring on UT, it didn't really factor into the game. This weekend, UT faces a run-first spread offense ranked 5th in the nation (283 yards per game) in rushing offense. That locomotive of an unit will try to bust through a giant boulder of a rushing defense, ranking second nationally (48.1 ypg).
"We haven't seen that all season," Orakpo said of OSU's rushing attack. "It's going to be a challenge for us. We haven't seen that in a while."
He's right. In the seven games UT has played this season, the Horns haven't faced a rushing offense ranked higher than 49th nationally (Oklahoma). The numbers in this category from their other opponents are worse: Missouri (58th), Colorado (70th), Arkansas (71st), Texas-El Paso (73rd), Rice (87th) and Florida Atlantic (86th). This weekend will test that lofty rushing D ranking.
But there's another problem for the Texas defense
"The bad thing is they can pass as well," Orakpo said. "They are a dual threat team, they have a great running game and also can set up the play action passing game as well. We have to be prepared for that."
The Horns rank 111th against the pass.
"That's something you look forward to as a defense," linebacker Roddrick Muckelroy said. "A good balanced team that runs and throws the ball. For us it's a challenge and we're just going to have step up to the challenge. Starting tomorrow when practice starts, we'll start focusing on the little things. I know they're going to come out and I know they have a couple good receivers, and some good backs, so it's going to be a great challenge for us as a defense."
While a lot of attention is being focused on OSU's offense, the Longhorns aren't overlooking the Cowboys' improved defense. So far in 2008, the Pokes rank 47th in total defense, a little more than 50 spots higher than last season.
"Oklahoma State has a good defense from what I have seen," defensive tackle Roy Miller said. "They have a really, really good offense. Coach (Mac) McWhorter and Coach (Greg) Davis told the offensive line that they will blitz 42 percent, but we will probably get a little bit more because usually that is what has happened to us over the weeks. We always usually get a little bit more blitzes."
"They're really aggressive," McCoy said. "They're not scared to come after you, they're not scared to blitz people and play one-on-one on the edges. They trust their corner(backs). Their (defensive backs) have been there for a long time. They were all there last year. I think they have a lot of confidence coming into the game.
"They know they were up 35-14 in the fourth quarter last year. It's important for us to practice hard, to study these guys, get in the film room, because we know they're aggressive, we know they're going to come after us."
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