STILLWATER, Okla. (AP) — Every time Oklahoma State seems to be scratching its way toward the top of the Big 12, along comes Texas with another way to bully the Cowboys around.
The stage is set again this year, as Oklahoma State (5-3, 3-1 Big 12) has persevered through a rocky start to find itself tied for first place in the South Division entering Saturday’s game against the BCS No. 15 Longhorns (7-2, 3-2).
Halfway through conference play, the Cowboys still control their own path to the Big 12 championship even though — as usual — that means getting past Texas and Oklahoma (7-1, 3-1).
“We’re pretty big on taking that big step. We want to take that big step,” Oklahoma State offensive tackle Russell Okung said. “That’s something we’ve been waiting for. We have it all in front of us right now. All we can do is just take it.”
Except that it’s been much more common of late for Texas to take those dreams and crush them than for Oklahoma State to make them a reality.
The last time the Cowboys got off to a 3-1 start in Big 12 play, in 2004, they came within a missed field goal of pushing the second-ranked Sooners to overtime and were still riding high the following week with a 35-7 first-half lead on the No. 6 Longhorns. Texas scored 49 unanswered points to run away with that game.
It was a similar story the year before when Oklahoma State, again after a 3-1 start and a loss to the Sooners, led 16-14 at halftime before giving up 41 unanswered points in a 55-16 loss to Texas. It happened again in 2005, when Oklahoma State led by 19 before Vince Young rallied the Longhorns with an 80-yard touchdown scramble as part of 38 unanswered points.
Those strong starts, combined with an upset win over Nebraska a week earlier, led to the belief that last year was finally the time for Oklahoma State to get over the Longhorns hurdle. Instead, the Cowboys’ high-powered offense was held out of the end zone in a 36-10 blowout in Austin — the ninth straight win in the series for Texas.
“There was a lot of controversy over that game because everybody was saying we’re supposed to upset them, and things didn’t happen that way,” Okung said. “But we moved on from it. We’re looking to go into this game different.”
After losing their first two conference games this season, the Longhorns routed Iowa State but then appeared vulnerable in wins against Baylor and Nebraska. Coach Mack Brown said that perception will be “a plus” for the Longhorns because “everybody will be talking about how great Oklahoma State is this week and how we’re going to get beat.”
“This team has been so resilient. They’ve had everything happen to them, people have been more negative over seven wins than I have ever heard before and there have been so many injuries. They haven’t gotten any credit for anything, so this is getting to be a tough team,” Brown said. “They like each other and it kind of pulls the walls closer together.
“Nobody is going to give them any credit and that’s OK. We just hope they keep winning.”
It would help if Texas running back Jamaal Charles can put together anything remotely close to his career-best 290-yard performance last week against Nebraska. The Longhorns had neglected the run until late, and Charles responded with 216 yards rushing and three touchdowns in the fourth quarter.
He’ll be facing an Oklahoma State defense that has given up 122.8 yards rushing per game and has been the worst in the Big 12 against the pass. The Cowboys have made up for it with the nation’s fifth-best rushing offense.
“Any time you play the University of Texas, it’s a big game,” said Oklahoma State quarterback Zac Robinson, who’ll be facing Texas for the first time. “They’re playing well right now. They’re not in the national title hunt like they have been in previous years, but they’re still a very good football team.”
Not that Oklahoma State needed a reminder, but even in a subpar showing against the fading Cornhuskers, Texas showed once again that no opponent’s second-half lead is safe.
“We’ve been in situations where we should have won the game, could have won the game in recent years,” Robinson said. “It’ll definitely be big having them here at home. Everybody’s going to be ready to go, and we’re looking forward to the opportunity.”
BIG 12 FOOTBALL, No. 15 Texas Longhorns (7-2, 3-2) at Oklahoma State Cowboys (5-3, 3-1), 2:30 p.m. (ABC) — Boone Pickens Stadium