Texas coach Tom Herman sizes up Oklahoma State and realizes he has quite a Cowboy conundrum.
Try to stop national rushing leader Chuba Hubbard or focus on national touchdown receptions co-leader Tylan Wallace. Neither option leaves a shaky Longhorns defense in an enviable position.
"It's a scene from `Armageddon,' scariest environment imaginable," Herman said. "You can't sell your soul, I guess, to stop one."
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Texas will do anything it can to end a four-game losing streak in a Big 12 rivalry that has become a yoke on the Longhorns' league title hopes. Texas hasn't won the Big 12 since 2009, and the Cowboys have won seven of the last nine meetings. That includes five consecutive wins in Austin, a streak unmatched by any other rival in the history of Texas football.
Hubbard carried the ball only nine times against Texas last year, but Wallace shredded the Longhorns secondary with 222 yards and two touchdowns.
"I know he's a preseason All-American for a reason," Herman said. "They don't give those distinctions to guys that are bums."
For Texas, the start of the Big 12 schedule is a chance to wipe away the losing streak and a tough home loss to LSU. After starting the season in the top 10, Texas (2-1) needs to march through the Big 12 if it still hopes for a shot at the College Football Playoff.
For unranked and undefeated Oklahoma State (3-0), beat Texas again Saturday night and the Cowboys immediately become a Big 12 title threat.
"In order to win the Big 12, you have to knock off whoever has been winning the Big 12," Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy said. "In most times, Oklahoma has been there and early on, Texas was there. They faded for a few years but they're playing much better."
Gundy pointed to Longhorns quarterback Sam Ehlinger , who gives Texas a combination of skill and swagger it hasn't had since Colt McCoy. Ehlinger has 11 touchdown passes and no interceptions this season.
Ehlinger dismissed the losing streak.
"We understand how good this team can be," Ehlinger said. "The past few years don't have any reflection on what this team is going to do."
Oklahoma has 18 Texans on its two-deep roster, including nine starters. For them, beating Texas is personal.
"I was always a huge Texas fan and then I came here," said senior center Johnny Wilson, who is from Midland. "I want to prove that we can beat them."
Oklahoma State redshirt freshman quarterback Spencer Sanders already has two road wins, but he hasn't faced a Big 12 title favorite in front of a nighttime sellout crowd pumped to break the long losing skid. Sanders is a Texas native, so he'll have to keep emotions in check and let the playmakers around him do their thing, especially if Texas gets an early lead. Given Gundy's track record developing quarterbacks, Sanders may be ready for anything.
Texas safeties Brandon Jones and Caden Sterns must be solid in reading the run-pass options for coverage help on Wallace and run support on Hubbard. That is especially critical with emerging star linebacker Joseph Ossai nursing a sore shoulder. Texas is also still without injured safety B.J. Foster.
Texas protects the ball as well as any team in the country. Ehlinger is one of only three major college quarterbacks with more than 100 pass attempts and no interceptions. Texas has lost only one fumble. Keeping the mistakes in check will keep Texas from giving up cheap points.
Ehlinger is a 235-pound bruiser who is Texas' second leading rusher and is particularly effective in short yardage. Sanders brings a speed element to the Cowboys offense. He ran for 109 yards on 13 carries in his debut against Oregon State.
Texas kicker Cameron Dicker booted a 57-yard field goal against Rice, the longest for Texas since 1985. That range gives Texas a legitimate scoring option as soon as it crosses midfield. Cowboys kicker Matt Ammendola has two made two 53-yarders in his career and has made 30 of his last 36 attempts.