Dallas Colleges: Storm Woods
- Air it out: Coach Mike Riley picked Cody Vaz to be his starting quarterback for a reason -- because he felt Vaz could run the offense with more efficiency than Sean Mannion. And Oregon State’s offense is at its best when Markus Wheaton and Brandin Cooks are touching the ball, a lot. The running game has progressed to the point where there is just enough concern for defenses to sneak a safety down toward the line of scrimmage (and don’t think Storm Woods isn’t aching to show the Longhorns what they missed when they passed on him in recruiting). That should allow one of the most dynamic wide receiver duos in the country to do what it does best. If Wheaton and Cooks combine for 13-15 catches and 200 yards receiving, there’s a good chance Oregon State will end up on the winning side.
- Pressure: David Ash hasn’t been the most efficient quarterback this year. In fact, he’s been all over the board. Some games he has completed 80-plus percent of his throws. In others, he’s below 50 percent. And the Beavers want to make him as uncomfortable as possible in the pocket. With nine sacks and 17 tackles for loss, Scott Crichton was one of the best in the Pac-12 at creating havoc in the backfield. A good day for Crichton probably means a bad day for Ash. And while the Texas quarterback has done a better job taking care of the ball (one less interception than last year despite more passing attempts), he’s made most of his errors in crucial situations. Making life difficult for Ash will be the No. 1 priority on the list for Beavers defensive coordinator Mark Banker.
- Turnovers: It’s what most games usually come down to. With 30 takeaways this year, the Beavers are one of the best in the country at getting the ball back for the offense. They have 19 interceptions and 11 fumble recoveries. Texas isn’t nearly as prolific (18 total turnovers forced) but it is still on the plus side of the turnover margin. This one doesn’t figure to be as high-scoring as the other two Pac-12 versus Big 12 matchups (well, at least Baylor got the memo), so possessions and taking advantage of those possessions will be vital. Even though Oregon State won the turnover battle against, say, Stanford, it was OSU’s one turnover in that game that changed the landscape of the season (for a few teams). Giveaways kill momentum and they lose games.
1. Keep David Ash calm: The sophomore quarterback is going to feel a ton of pressure to perform given that this is basically an audition for next season’s starting position. Ash did not start the regular-season finale due to injury. So the situation is much like last season when he did not start against Baylor but did in the bowl against Cal. However, the stakes have been raised because a Texas loss means the Longhorns would finish with the exact same record from 2011, and that is not the progress many expected from this team.
Ash also is facing a very good pass defense that has proved it can bring pressure from defensive end Scott Crichton, and defensive back Jordan Poyer is second nationally with seven interceptions.
2. Plug the gaps: Oregon State wants to pass before it runs. But given that the Texas defense is so porous against the run game -- 199 rushing yards allowed per game -- the Beavers are likely to get Storm Woods involved early and often. Texas has simplified the defense to help out the linebackers but it needs to have a strong game from Peter Jinkens and Steve Edmond to have any chance of keeping the Beavers in check. Jinkens has proven to be a playmaker who has sideline-to-sideline speed. If his emotions do not get the better of him, he can be a factor. Edmond has trouble reading what is happening but lately has started to come around and is no longer a step slow.
3. Start fast, finish strong: It seems like a pretty simple concept but Texas does have a tendency to start slowly in big games -- Oklahoma comes to mind. Oregon State is the classic Aesop tortoise. The Beavers are plodders and usually are able to catch their opponents in the end. Oregon State won its first three games by less than a score and lost two of its games by a combined six points. So the Beavers are accustomed to playing in close games. And given that they have come back against teams such as Arizona and Arizona State, they are not apt to fold if Texas comes out with a quick onslaught of points. To counteract that, Texas must continue to pressure the Beavers on offense and extend its drives. There might be some hiccups with new playcaller Major Applewhite but Texas will have to overcome those to keep the Beavers at bay.
Who to watch: It took weeks for both teams to name their respective starting quarterbacks, Now that they have -- David Ash for Texas and Cody Vaz for Oregon State -- all eyes will be on the two to see if they can live up to the expectations. Ash was benched for the final game of the regular season after committing three turnovers against TCU. In the past three weeks he has had to not only climb back into the starter role but also get accustomed to a new quarterbacks coach in Major Applewhite. Applewhite took over the role following the departure of Bryan Harsin to Arkansas State.
As for Vaz, he has been stellar in four games as a starter and only lost that role after suffering an ankle injury in the Stanford game. Vaz has 11 touchdowns to one interception. But, if he struggles at all, Oregon State has a very capable backup in Sean Mannion.
What to watch: The running game production for both teams should be crucial. While Oregon State prefers to throw the ball, it cannot drop back 40 or 50 times because of the potential pressure of the Texas defensive line. So the Beavers' best move could be to attack up the middle where Texas is at its weakest. The Longhorns have allowed 199 rush yards per game and at one point during the season, in five consecutive weeks, Texas allowed five different rushers season highs. Oregon State running back Storm Woods is from just outside Austin -- Pflugerville -- and undoubtedly will have a chip on his shoulder as he was not recruited by the Longhorns.
Why to watch: Explosive plays and players. Texas, with a new playcaller in Applewhite, should be more committed to getting the ball to three of the fastest players in college football -- Daje Johnson, Marquise Goodwin and D.J. Monroe. Any time any of the three touches the ball it could result in a touchdown. Oregon State has one of the top receivers in the country in Markus Wheaton. The Beavers' all-time leading receiver could give the Texas secondary fits.
Prediction: Oregon State’s pass defense might be too much for Texas and Ash to overcome. The sophomore quarterback has struggled against strong pass defenses and the Beavers are No. 16 in pass efficiency defense. Of the teams Texas has played only Oklahoma is better, and the Sooners beat Texas by 42. Oregon State 33, Texas 28.
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