Texas’ run defense is strong enough to make Oklahoma State’s offense one-dimensional
The matchup that everyone wants to see in the Big 12 Championship, and what could decide this game, is the Oklahoma State rushing attack vs. Texas’s run defense. Oklahoma State has found all this success in Big 12 play, winning eight of its last nine games by rushing the football well and generating big plays on the ground.
Texas brings the fifth-rated rushing defense (allowing just 85 yards per game on the ground) into the Big 12 title game against Oklahoma State’s ground game led by the nation’s leading rusher, standout sophomore running back Ollie Gordon.
Oklahoma State hasn’t faced a run defense the level of Texas’s, given what the Longhorns have along the defensive front. Led by the Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year and redshirt senior defensive lineman T’Vondre Sweat, Texas’s run defense is easily the best in the Big 12 this season.
Sweat isn’t the only defensive lineman sturdy up front in run defense for the Longhorns. Junior defensive lineman Byron Murphy II, senior Alfred Collins, and junior Vernon Broughton have all stood tall in the trenches in run defense this fall.
Texas also has good linebackers and edge rushers in run defense, highlighted by senior All-Big 12 First-Team linebacker Jaylan Ford.
Oklahoma State likes to run the ball off-tackle with Gordon to open up gaps and get him going downhill to reach the second level of the defense. Once Gordon gets going downhill, he’s a hard back to stop.
For a big 6-foot-1 and 215-pound back, Gordon is pretty fleet-of-foot. He’s capable of generating explosive plays whenever he touches the football. Most of Gordon’s rushing yards this season have come on explosive runs.
Over 50 percent of his rushing attempts have resulted in explosive plays.
Gordon will probably have a hard time generating many explosive run plays against this stout Texas defensive front, though. Texas ranks seventh in the FBS in explosive run plays allowed this season (33).
No one has been able to control the line of scrimmage and seal every gap against this Texas defensive front in Big 12 play. And while Oklahoma State has an above-average rushing attack in the Big 12, the run blocking isn’t as good as some might think.
Per College Football Data, Oklahoma State ranks 13th in the Big 12 in line yards this season. Oklahoma State just doesn’t have the group up front capable of moving Texas’s stellar defensive linemen, namely Murphy and Sweat, off the ball in run blocking.
Then, it will be up to Texas’s linebackers and edge rushers to seal the outside and get Gordon to the ground.
If Texas can jump on Gordon and the Oklahoma State ground game early in the first half, it will take Gundy’s offense off schedule and put the game on the arm of senior quarterback Alan Bowman.
A major key to victory for the Longhorns is holding Gordon around four or fewer yards per carry. If Texas can do that, it likely means they limited explosive runs from Gordon and kept the Oklahoma State defense on the field for long stretches of time.