A win over the No. 18 Oklahoma State Cowboys and longtime head coach Mike Gundy this weekend would deliver Texas football its first Big 12 Championship in over a decade. Head coach Steve Sarkisian and No. 7 Texas also need a win in the Big 12 title game on Dec. 2 in Arlington to keep their College Football Playoff hopes alive.
Texas also needs help in some of the other Power Five conference championship games, namely with Louisville beating Florida State in the ACC title game, to ensure it has a spot in the Playoff.
Before Texas can think too much about the postseason, though, it must get past a coach and a program that has been a real thorn in its side in the last decade or so. Gundy and the Pokes have beaten the Longhorns in six of the last eight meetings and each of the last two.
Ollie Gordon is a known threat Oklahoma State boasts vs. Texas football for the Big 12 Championship Game
Texas has the talent, depth, and athleticism advantage at most position groups compared to Oklahoma State in this game. But Oklahoma State will be prepared to throw many different looks and wrinkles in their gameplan at Texas this weekend.
Oklahoma State also has some playmakers of their own that could give Texas issues on Dec. 2. Here are three problematic Oklahoma State players for the Longhorns in the Big 12 Championship Game.
Nickolas Martin, LB
One of the strengths of the Oklahoma State defense in their first year under defensive coordinator Bryan Nardo is the linebacker corps. Sark recognized the strength of the Oklahoma State linebackers during his Monday press conference on Nov. 27.
"“I think the one area that jumps out to me is their linebacking corps. I think it’s probably the best one we’ve faced all year. They’ve got three very, very good linebackers who impact the game. They rush the quarterback extremely well. They tackle really well. They force turnovers really well. They fly around the field. Those three guys — Oliver, Benson, Martin — they’re big-time players.”"
Sark praised all three starting Oklahoma State linebackers in his press conference, including redshirt sophomore mike Nickolas Martin, redshirt senior sam Xavier Benson, and junior will Collin Oliver.
Martin is the leader of this group regarding production and his ability to set the tone for this Cowboy defense. He leads the Big 12 in combined tackles (120), ranks second in solo tackles (69), and is second in tackles for loss (16).
Martin is incredibly effective at getting after opposing quarterbacks and stopping the run for Oklahoma State. He’s quick and instinctive rushing the passer, so Oklahoma State likes to shoot him out of a cannon in delayed blitzes and inside pressures to get home on the quarterback.
The duo of Martin and Oliver has proven to be extremely effective for the Pokes in the pass rush this fall. Oliver is the second-highest-graded pass rusher among all Big 12 defenders this season. He also leads all Big 12 leaders in sacks (7).
Martin, meanwhile, ranks second in sacks and quarterback pressures (behind Oliver in both stat categories) among Big 12 linebackers.
The difference between how Oklahoma State likes to use Martin and Oliver to get after opposing quarterbacks pertains mostly to the gaps they shoot. Martin is a rangy, straight-line speed guy. He can shoot out of a cannon rushing the passer on delayed inside blitzes.
Oliver is a former converted edge rusher that has good bend and a quick first step coming from the outside.
I’d expect Oklahoma State to send Martin and Oliver on some delayed blitzes to try and disrupt redshirt sophomore Texas quarterback Quinn Ewers in the pocket.
In run defense, Martin is definitely the strength of Oklahoma State’s defense. He leads the Big 12 in run stops (43) and tackles against the run (67). The same ranginess and speed that allows him to effectively get after opposing quarterbacks in the pass rush also helps him bring down the ball carrier in run defense.
Martin is easily the most productive linebacker Texas has faced in the Big 12 this fall. He’s also among the most rangy and versatile playmakers at linebacker they’ve faced.