Week in and week out, there is little room for error for defenses in the Big 12.
The conference has been a hotbed for gunslinging quarterbacks and innovative offensive coordinators for years. One week you can face one of the most dynamic players in college football, a quarterback who can slip out of tackles just as easily as he can throw the ball downfield. The next week you can face one of the finest pocket passers and NFL prospects in the country.
Such is the case for the Longhorns (3–3, 2–1 Big 12) at the moment. Texas is going from facing Oklahoma senior quarterback Baker Mayfield to Oklahoma State senior quarterback Mason Rudolph in the span of a week.
“If you ask me, I wish we can have that every week — have the best of the best quarterbacks playing against us,” junior cornerback Holton Hill said. “Because even if we’re not as good as them, they can push us to want to be just as good as them.”
Through six games, Rudolph leads the nation in passing yards per game, averaging 394.7 yards through the air. Rudolph is also tied for third in the country in passing touchdowns with 19 and ranks third in passing efficiency.
“I know (Rudolph) is very poised in the pocket, and he’s very good,” junior linebacker Malik Jefferson said. “He’ll stay in there if need be and take a shot. But after a couple shots, I think eventually he’ll get tired of it. It’s gonna be very important to stop the run first so we can get to that point where we can start rushing and getting after him.”
Rudolph also has plenty of weapons at his disposal, including big-play wide receivers in seniors James Washington and Marcell Ateman and junior Jalen McCleskey. Washington, who ranks second in the nation in receiving yards with 882, is considered one of the most dangerous wideouts in the country.
“I think the biggest difference is knowing how far (Rudolph) can launch the ball,” sophomore safety Brandon Jones said. “Our biggest thing is just not letting them get over our head. They have some really fast receivers that can make really good plays in the open field.”
During Tuesday’s media availability, multiple players were asked if they feel that Saturday’s home contest against No. 10 Oklahoma State is potentially season-changing. Whether anyone wants to admit it or not, Saturday does mark a pivotal point in the schedule for the Longhorns.
A win over a top-10 team to move to 4–3 and 3–1 in the Big 12 could put an entirely different outlook on the rest of the season for the Longhorns. But a loss would mean two straight losses for Texas, pinning the Longhorns at 3–4 and 2–2 in the conference.
And with five games remaining on the schedule after Saturday’s matchup with Oklahoma State, the pressure to make a bowl game in head coach Tom Herman’s first season would be amplified if the Longhorns sat at 3–4.
“My challenge to our coaches this week was we got to get our guys playing smarter,” Herman said in his Monday press conference. “If that means we got to simplify some things on both sides of the ball, we will. We’ve got to reduce the amount of self-inflicted wounds. There’s never been a perfect game played, but we got to get a lot closer to it than where we’re at right now.”