No. 6 Texas prepares for run-in with hungry Oklahoma State

No. 6 Texas prepares for run-in with hungry Oklahoma State

For as long as there have been premature declarations claiming "Texas is back," the catchphrase could almost serve as a football slogan for the Big 12.

Nonetheless, since the Longhorns (6-1. 4-0 Big 12) are sole leaders in the conference and ranked No. 6, their highest spot in the polls since 2010, there seems to be some credence behind this year's resurgence.

An Saturday test at Oklahoma State (4-3, 1-3) will provide additional proof. The Cowboys were once a team the Longhorns dominated, winning 12 straight shortly after the inception of the Big 12. Oklahoma State, however, has won three straight in the series and will be itching to regain its relevance to end a surprising swoon since the beginning of conference play.

"Nobody has the type of attitude here where we are just going to accept losing and fall by the wayside because that is not the type of program Oklahoma State is and not the Cowboy culture," defensive tackle Enoch Smith said.

Blocking, tackling, passing and catching all factor into the sudden decline, however.

The Cowboys have been inconsistent in all phases and have not relied heavily on Justice Hill, a junior running back who led Big 12 rushers last season. Hill carried just 11 times for 41 yards in a demoralizing 31-12 loss against Kansas State, a team that was previously winless in conference play before the Oct. 13 matchup.

Since then, the Cowboys, like the Longhorns, had an off week to regroup. Coach Mike Gundy said drastic changes in personnel were unlikely, though quarterback Taylor Cornelius would be a potential candidate because of his spotty play. Meanwhile, players outlined ways to improve.

"We definitely need to motivate, but we need to challenge at the same time," said defensive end Jordan Brailford, a fifth-year senior who leads the Big 12 with eight sacks. "I know there's some plays that are going to show up; some guys probably didn't do their job. At this point in the season, we've just got to cut that out."

Doing so against Texas will be the stiffest challenge to date for Oklahoma State, which climbed to No. 15 early in the season after beating Boise State as part of a 3-0 nonconference run.

The Texas staff has monitored quarterback Sam Ehlinger to determine whether the sophomore can return after suffering a sprained shoulder in a 23-17 win over Baylor on Oct. 13.

"We talked about him being very honest with us in terms of his pain because there's an element to his game that's different than a lot of quarterbacks," Texas coach Tom Herman said. "If we're out there playing cautious and tentative and trying to protect things, I think that plays into the overall effectiveness of him and his game for us."

If Ehlinger cannot play, the starter will be Shane Buechele, who is in his third season. Based off that experience, Herman said, "there's nobody that doubts that we can win games with him and win big games with him."

Last season, the Cowboys intercepted Ehlinger in the end zone to win 13-10 in overtime on a Matt Ammendola field goal.

Texas' Lil'Jordan Humphrey and Collin Johnson rank third and fourth, respectively, among Big 12 receivers with 83 combined receptions. Collectively, the duo averages 182.5 yards per game. Freshman running back Keaontay Ingram is coming off a 110-yard rushing effort against Baylor.

The Longhorns are one of three teams (Notre Dame, LSU) to topple three ranked opponents, though that development, coupled with Texas' ascension in the polls, leaves little impression on its second-year coach.

"It is completely and utterly inconsequential where we're ranked through seven games of the season," Herman said. "The only thing that matters is what hardware have we taken home and where are we ranked at the end of the season."

The last time Texas finished ranked in the Top 10 was when it fell in the 2009 BCS National Championship game under Mack Brown and was rated second that postseason.

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