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Big 12 Championship Matchup to Watch: OSU’s Run Offense vs. Texas’ Run Defense

Texas has the fourth-best run defense in the country, but OSU has Ollie.



[Devin Wilber/PFB]

It’s no secret, Oklahoma State will run the football against Texas at the Big 12 Championship game Saturday. Or at least try.

“I think at this point, I would guess their coaches know we’re gonna do what we do, and I’m gonna say that for the most part, they’re gonna do what they do,” Mike Gundy said at Monday’s news conference. “We’re in Week 13 and there’s not a lot of changes that are gonna take place over a two-day preparation. There won’t be for us. I don’t think there’s any secret to it.”

The Cowboys have to succeed on the ground to find success everywhere else, whether it’s on a normal Saturday or for a conference title. And whether it’s against the worst rushing defense in the Big 12 or the best. OSU gets both ends of that in back-to-back weeks. Texas has the best run defense in the conference, while last week’s opponent, BYU, had one of the worst entering its last game against OSU.

The Cougars were giving up 177.3 rushing yards a game before Saturday. The Cowboys still struggled running out of the gate, though, and trailed 24-6 at halftime, failing to even reach the end zone. But when OSU’s run game got going, that 18-point deficit started to fade and the Pokes prevailed 40-34 in two overtimes. Every touchdown the Cowboys scored were rushing scores from Ollie Gordon, who also ran for 166 yards.

“Ollie Gordon is a heck of a player, and they have done a great job offensively of leaning into him,” Texas coach Steve Sarkisian said. “He really signifies who their team is. …

“And they’ve got a variety of run schemes with him. They do a heck of a job out of the pistol formation where they can get to all their runs, and a lot of them look the same. Your defensive line, your linebackers have to do a great job of fitting those things. Then you’ve gotta tackle. Generally with a guy like him, one guy is not enough, so our ability to populate the ball Saturday and making sure we’re fitting these runs right is gonna be really critical.”

Gundy has the benefit of Gordon — a finalist for the Doak Walker Award, given to the best running back in the country. But Sarkisian has a not-so-secret weapon, as well. Actually, a few of them.

Texas’ front, led by T’Vondre Sweat and Byron Murphy, has catapulted the Longhorns as one of the best run defenses in the country. Texas is giving up 85 rushing yards a game, which is fourth-best in college football. For comparison, OSU is averaging 167.4 rushing yards a game.

The Longhorns held their opponents under 100 rushing yards for five straight games before Texas Tech tallied 110 last week. OSU lost both games it rushed for less than 100 yards in against South Alabama and UCF.

Sweat and Murphy’s statures are even more intimidating than the stats. Sweat, an Outland Trophy finalist, stands at 6-foot-4 and 362 pounds. Murphy is 6-foot-1, 308 pounds. Those frames are raising more eyebrows than usual with Texas’ impending move to the SEC, which is known for its monstrous defensive fronts throughout.

“Texas has always had that,” Gundy said. “We’ve played them for years. They’ve got ends that are 30 pounds heavier than most people’s ends and they got inside guys that are 20 pounds heavier than most people’s inside guys.”

So with that experience, how do you control that front and give Gordon space to run? Because if you do find a way to run the ball, it could result in a conference title considering OU is the only team to take down Texas this season and ran for a season-high 201 yards against the Longhorns.

“Well you can double-team them some,” Gundy said. “You can let the widest guy go and double-team them and let that guy try to run and make a tackle.

“And we can do what we’ve done the last 15 years, which is block them. See, you gotta block a three technique, not necessarily a three technique that has that uniform on, but you can block them.”

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