Grueling stretch will put Texas to the test

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Five games into their conference schedule, the Longhorns stand in what, a month ago, would have been an almost inconceivable position: They are 5-0 and first in the conference. Texas rebounded from a dreadful 1-2 start with both of the losses being in the double digits. But with a crucial stretch approaching that features three-straight games against ranked opponents, the Longhorns have a long way to go to claim a Big 12 title. 

Through its first batch of conference games, Texas went largely untested, winning all but one of its games by two scores. The team’s victories have been especially dominant lately, with the Longhorns winning their last three games by an average of 17 points. But only one team in that stretch was ranked, as Texas beat Oklahoma 36-20 in Dallas. With stiffer competition ahead, how will this team respond?

The first thing that jumps out about the teams Texas has yet to play is their offensive firepower. The Longhorns’ final three opponents — Oklahoma State, Texas Tech and Baylor — average 39.1, 40.5 and 63.9 points per game, respectively. This marks a huge contrast from what Texas has seen so far. The highest scoring Big 12 team it’s faced this year, Kansas State, averages just more than 32 points per game.

If they are to compete in those games, the Longhorns must find a way to hinder the opponents’ offensive success. It won’t be easy, but the Longhorns are capable of the feat. Of the five conference opponents it has faced, Texas held three of them to their lowest scoring outputs of the season. The Longhorns have yielded an average of 18.2 points per game in Big 12 play.

Because of their style of play, which emphasizes running the ball, controlling the clock and playing defense, the Longhorns are built to handle high-powered offenses. Led by the two-headed monster formed by sophomore running back Johnathan Gray and junior running back Malcolm Brown, Texas averages 203 rushing yards a game, which is the perfect way to maintain possession and keep the ball out of the hands of explosive offenses.  

As they enter this decisive stretch of make-or-break games, the pressure is mounting and the Longhorns will be tested like they haven’t been before. But thanks to a revitalized defense and a clock-controlling ground game, they appear equipped to make a serious run for the Big 12 crown.