It’s no secret that Oklahoma State has needed help to win a few games this season. It happened again last week in the Cowboys’ victory over BYU, when the Cougars coughed up two fumbles, the last of which sealed the outcome in double overtime, and made an illegal block to nullify an onside kick recovery.
To digest the Big 12 Championship Game matchup between OSU and Texas is to realize the Cowboys are going to need A LOT of help to win in Arlington Saturday.
So let’s see…
Texas has 15 turnovers this season. That ranks 45th in FBS, about middle of the pack.
Quinn Ewers threw one interception over his first five games this season. He has thrown four over his last five games. That’s mildly encouraging.
Texas averages 50 penalty yards per game. That ranks 58th in FBS, also mid-level.
They did draw nine flags in their lone loss of the year to Oklahoma, but it’s not like they have dirty habits. It would be out of character for them to foul up Saturday’s game.
It feels like OSU must win this one straight up, and that starts with the game’s most important position.
One player: Alan Bowman
Here was Mike Gundy’s review of his starting quarterback against BYU: “He could have played better. There’s some throws he made that I wish we had back. The conditions we were in, with the weather and the wetness of the ball and being behind by multiple scores, are difficult for a quarterback. That worked against him a little bit.
“But he started to play well and distribute the ball over the last eight minutes of the game, which helped us find a way to win.”
If Gundy starts his post-Big 12 Championship Game analysis of Bowman with “He could have played better,” OSU is in a world of hurt.
Bowman must overcome a season-long glitch by setting his feet in the pocket and delivering consistently accurate passes. That won’t be easy against the Big 12’s best pass rush, and given his own jittery history.
Bowman seemed to have settled in during OSU’s back-to-back wins over Kansas State and Kansas Oct. 6 and 14, but he has had just one interception-free game since. That was Bedlam, when he outplayed Dillon Gabriel.
He must outplay Ewers Saturday. Ironically, he can borrow from Gabriel for inspiration.
Ewers threw for more yards Oct. 7 in the Cotton Bowl (346 to Gabriel’s 285) but he also threw two interceptions on a day Gabriel threw none. On a day Gabriel led his offense on a 75-yard game-winning touchdown drive in the final 1:17.
Bowman drove OSU 97 yards to the go-ahead touchdown in Bedlam’s fourth quarter, going 4-for-4 for 43 yards along the way.
He drove OSU 78 yards to the clinching fourth-quarter touchdown at Houston, going 3-for-4 for 46 yards along the way.
He drove OSU 80 yards to the go-ahead touchdown late in regulation against BYU, going 5-for-6 for 54 yards along the way.
Bowman has had big moments along with regrettable ones since mid-October.
Everything he does Saturday must be big, and must help his team and not hurt it, for the Cowboys to pull the upset.
One problem: Texas’ advantages extend to special teams
The Longhorns have the better offense and defense Saturday. Their run defense is particularly strong, rendering Ollie Gordon less of a factor than usual and adding weight on Bowman’s shoulders.
You’d like to think OSU could make up some ground on special teams, maybe spring Brennan Presley for a return or two, pin Texas down on a punt or two or have Alex Hale outkick Bert Auburn.
Yeah about that…
Hale has been very dependable this season at 26-of-32 on field goals. He’s just a smidge less dependable than Auburn, who is 28-of-33.
Presley has returned a kickoff 100 yards for a Bedlam touchdown, but that was in 2021. Texas’ Keilan Robinson returned the second-half kickoff 95 yards for a touchdown against Texas Tech last Friday night.
And while there isn’t much difference between the two punters in this game, Gundy has noticed something about Texas’ return units: “They’re plus-300 (yards) in punt returning. Plus 300. Number one (in FBS). That’s an amazing stat.”
That’s mostly due to Xavier Worthy, whose 358 yards returning punts leads the nation by 49.
Worthy, named a first-team All-Big 12 receiver Wednesday, is already a problem for OSU’s secondary. It appears the Cowboys’ kick coverage units will have their hands full with him, too.
One preposterous prediction: Kitan Crawford cuts into the Cowboys
There were 26 Longhorns on the All-Big 12 honor roll Wednesday, including Defensive Player of the Year T’Vondre Sweat, Defensive Lineman of the Year Byron Murphy and Co-Defensive Freshman of the Year Anthony Hill.
Somewhere down the list, in the honorable mention section, was a defensive back with four career starts in four years – Kitan Crawford. He got there because he is Texas’ best special teams player. OU fans might recall he blocked a Sooners punt with his left arm in the first quarter Oct. 7.
All of that Longhorn firepower – Sweat … Murphy … Hill … Worthy … Ewers … tight end Ja’Tavion Sanders … wideout AD Mitchell … linebacker Jaylan Ford – and it’s Crawford who makes the earliest difference in Saturday’s game by knifing through OSU’s protection and blocking Hudson Kaak’s punt (with his right arm) after the Cowboys’ opening possession.
Texas takes over deep in OSU territory. Ewers hits Mitchell for a touchdown. And Cowboy fans start contemplating whether it’s the Pop-Tarts Bowl against Notre Dame or the Texas Bowl against A&M.
One pick: Hook ’Em 41, Ride ’Em 19