Texas Football: 3 major concerns for UT vs. OK State in Big 12 title game

Quinn Ewers, Texas football. Mandatory Credit: Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports
Quinn Ewers, Texas football. Mandatory Credit: Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports /
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In the last stop of the revenge tour against the “hateful eight” in the Big 12, No. 7 Texas football will duke it out with the No. 18 Oklahoma State Cowboys in the Big 12 Championship Game at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, TX, on Dec. 2.

Texas and head coach Steve Sarkisian didn’t face longtime head coach Mike Gundy and Oklahoma State during the regular season due to the addition of the four new member schools in the Big 12 this year. But Oklahoma State is the only Big 12 team that beat the Longhorns last season that Texas hasn’t faced yet this fall.

Oklahoma State’s paths to victory are limited, but there are some vs. Texas football in the Big 12 title game

As has been the case in the last few weeks, the Longhorns have plenty of motivation heading into the Big 12 Championship Game against Oklahoma State. Not only will Texas want to avenge last year’s loss to the Pokes in Stillwater, but the Longhorns must also prove a point to the College Football Playoff selection committee to possibly get in the four-team field.

The selection committee somehow placed Texas below Oregon in this week’s rankings despite the Longhorns holding the edge in strength of schedule, strength of record, and overall resume.

Texas looks to have a significant matchup advantage against Oklahoma State on paper. But Gundy never makes it easy for Texas in the last decade or so. Here are three major concerns for the Longhorns in the Big 12 title game against Oklahoma State on Dec. 2.

Screen and short passing game with Brennan Presley

The 2023 Oklahoma State offense isn’t the high-flying air attack that the Pokes became known for in the late 2000s and early-to-mid 2010s under Gundy. And it’s not the difficult-to-defend and prepare for offense that Oklahoma State had in the last few years with the dual-threat Spencer Sanders at quarterback.

This year’s Oklahoma State offense relies on getting the ball to its two biggest playmakers to move the chains and generate big plays. The two big-time players Texas must worry about in the Big 12 title game from Oklahoma State are senior slot receiver Brennan Presley and star sophomore running back Ollie Gordon.

Presley is the versatile slot receiver who is slippery and elusive in space. He is the most targeted receiver for the Pokes.

Oklahoma State mostly targets Presley on quick throws in the screen and short passing games. He leads the Big 12 in targets on screen and short passes this season.

Presley is extremely elusive when he’s got blocks in front of him in space in the screen passing game. He’s slippery and difficult to get to the ground once he gets the ball with that much space to operate in the screen game, as Presley leads the Power Five in missed tackles forced on passes behind the line of scrimmage (20).

In the short passing game, Presley generates ample separation with his quickness and precise route-running ability.

It’s up to Texas to be prepared for the short targets around and in front of the line of scrimmage to Presley. Oklahoma State will give Presley his fair share of touches after he had a whopping 33 targets in the last two weeks.

Texas has performed relatively well defending the screen passing game in coverage in Big 12 play. Texas’s defense ranks second in the Big 12 in yards per coverage snap and passer rating against screen passes this season.

But a few teams found success in the second half of the regular season, exploiting Texas underneath in the passing game (i.e., Kansas State and Oklahoma). This will be something to watch to see if Texas can recognize and effectively defend the short stuff in the passing game for Presley and the Pokes this weekend.