Oklahoma St.-Texas Preview
Mounting injuries pose a major threat to Texas' position atop the Big 12.
Surging Oklahoma State is another big concern.
The 12th-ranked Cowboys look to capitalize on the injury-riddled No. 23 Longhorns on Saturday as they enter a crucial season-ending stretch that will likely decide the conference championship.
Texas (7-2, 6-0) leads the conference by one-half game over No. 4 Baylor and is one ahead of Oklahoma State (8-1, 5-1). The Longhorns visit the Bears in the season finale Dec. 7 after hosting Texas Tech on Nov. 28.
They'll need to do more than overcome the schedule, however, with injuries continuing to create obstacles.
Texas beat West Virginia 47-40 in overtime last Saturday and was dealt a pair of major blows when it lost running back Johnathan Gray (torn Achilles tendon) and defensive tackle Chris Whaley (left knee) for the season.
"We've gone through this on both sides of the ball with David and Jordan Hicks," junior center Dominic Espinosa said. "Those were two guys that were big leaders in the beginning of the season, and now something similar is happening with Chris Whaley and Johnathan Gray.
"So now we're ready to step up and fill their shoes in leadership roles."
Oklahoma State has other ideas as it tries to march toward a second Big 12 title in three years.
Like Texas, the Cowboys' schedule offers them a chance to dictate that path. After visiting Austin, Oklahoma State hosts Baylor on Nov. 23 and 22nd-ranked Oklahoma on Dec. 7.
"We got these last three games and we control our own fate," senior guard Brandon Webb said. "If we win out, we do what we want to do and we'll leave it up to the BCS poll after that, but right now, we're going for the Big 12 championship and so are these next three teams in front of us, so we just got to prepare."
The Cowboys enter that stretch on a five-game winning streak after beating Kansas 42-6 last weekend.
"You're at a point in the season where you need to win one to get to the next one if you want to stay in that race," coach Mike Gundy said. "If we wouldn't have played well and beat Kansas, it wouldn't have been a big game. But you have to continue to move forward and this will be a new challenge for us.
"(Texas) is a very talented football team, we're playing on the road, so we've got our work cut out for us."
OSU has dropped 23 of 27 all-time meetings with Texas and 14 of 17 at Austin. However, the Cowboys have won the last two visits, including 38-26 on Oct. 15, 2011.
They're averaging 236.0 yards on the ground in their last three games, and Texas is eighth in the Big 12 with an average of 185.1 rushing yards allowed.
Clint Chelf seems to have settled in under center for Oklahoma State, tossing six touchdown passes while running for 190 yards and two scores in the past three games after replacing an ineffective J.W. Walsh. The senior set season highs in completions (19), attempts (37), yards (265) and TDs (3) against the Jayhawks.
Running back Desmond Roland has scored 10 of his team-leading 12 touchdowns over the past four weeks, including a 19-yard TD catch from Chelf last Saturday. He's rushed for 140 yards in two games after gaining a career-high 219 with four scores in a 58-27 win at Iowa State on Oct. 26.
The Cowboys' rush defense has also struggled lately, yielding 150.0 yards per game during the winning streak after surrendering a season-high 202 last weekend.
They'll need to show some dramatic improvement against Malcolm Brown, who will likely get the bulk of the carries with Gray out. The junior has rushed for 379 yards and seven touchdowns in the last four games, and he had 135 and two touchdowns on 19 attempts in the last home meeting with Oklahoma State.
Texas' Case McCoy is coming off his best performance of the season, connecting on 27 of 49 passes for 283 yards and three TDs with one interception. He had three touchdown passes and five picks over the previous three games.