Continuing our weekly series checking in with the beat writer who covers Oklahoma State’s upcoming opponent.
Randy Riggs covers Texas for the Austin American-Statesman. You can read his work here or follow him on Twitter at @ranriggs.
1. What a crazy season for Texas. What’s been the biggest key to the Longhorns’ turnaround? What’s the pulse of the fan base right now, with the new athletic director Steve Patterson being hired and Mack Brown’s ultimate future still up in the air?
The key is easy. It’s two words: Greg Robinson. After the Texas defense allowed 550 rushing yards at BYU on Sept. 7, if you would have suggested the Longhorns would rank second in Big 12 play in total defense, rushing defense and scoring defense, people would look at you like you had two heads. But Manny Diaz’s replacement at coordinator has simplified things, reduced the stunting and got those guys believing in themselves again. The fan base doesn’t know what to think. After the consecutive blowout losses to BYU and Ole Miss, many wanted Mack fired as of last August. There’s still a vocal segment that wants him gone regardless of what happens, but it’s hard to tell if they’re the majority or minority. If new AD Steve Patterson has an opinion, he’s keeping it to himself for now.
2. Case McCoy has done a solid job filling in for David Ash this season. Where has he most developed? Is the offensive scheme any different with him behind center?
He’s connected on enough deep balls to keep defenses playing relatively honest. But consistency isn’t his strong suit and his passes are often an adventure, one way or another. He is fearless, though, and has a confidence that the other players love. They’ve totally bought in to him. The scheme is different because he’s not the runner Ash was and so their option game now is non-existent. The scheme also is more reliant on the running game precisely because McCoy’s passing isn’t reliable although he does have some big moments.
3. Which season-ending injury is bigger: Johnathan Gray or Chris Whaley? Is Malcolm Brown ready to handle the bulk of the carries? Who steps in at defensive tackle?
That’s a tough one. The team’s leading rusher or its biggest defensive playmaker? I guess I’d say Whaley’s is bigger because of the depth factor at defensive tackle. Desmond Jackson came in for him at WVU and had a monster game with 2 sacks, 2.5 tackles for losses, a forced fumble and 8 tackles. But he’s more a wide-body plugger who doesn’t have Whaley’s quickness and athleticism. UT also will need to get something from redshirt freshman Hassan Ridgeway, who has all the ability in the world but is still struggling to adjust to the speed and physicality of the game. They can’t afford anything to happen to other starting DT Malcom Brown, the best of the bunch. Or Malcolm (notice the difference in spelling?) Brown, for that matter. Running back Brown doesn’t have Gray’s explosiveness, but he’s capable of handling more carries. Joe Bergeron can help, too, providing he doesn’t fumble, which got him in the doghouse earlier this season.
4. Where do you see Texas having its biggest advantage over OSU? Where do you see the Cowboys having their biggest advantage over the Longhorns?
Well, ordinarily I would say UT has the homefield advantage but that hasn’t exactly been the case the last two times OSU has been here. Both teams are playing with great confidence. Statistically they’re similar in a lot of stats from Big 12 games. It might come down to special teams. The Longhorns have the league’s most accurate placekicker in Anthony Fera (12 of 13), while OSU is struggling. But the Cowboys’ have a lethal weapon on kick returns in Justin Gilbert, while the Longhorns’ kick coverage unit has been way too vulnerable.
5. How do you ultimately see this game shaking out?
As of now, I really don’t know. One side says Texas will win a cardiac special because the homefield advantage has to kick in sometime, doesn’t it? But the other side looks at the Longhorns’ injury situation – no Ash, Gray, Whaley, linebacker Jordan Hicks, offensive tackle Josh Cochran and DB Sheroid Evans – and says it’s got to catch up to them sometime, doesn’t it? So I won’t be surprised either way. How’s that for dancing around a prediction?