Being put on the defensive did not work out well for the Texas defense.
The ground game and notably use of the quarterback as a ball carrier absolutely befuddled the Longhorns, especially its defensive ends Jackson Jeffcoat and Cedric Reed, in losses to BYU and Ole Miss. But a major turnaround under new coordinator Greg Robinson in Big 12 play has coincided with more disruptive plays off the edge from that duo, with Jeffcoat and Reed allowed to get back into a more aggressive mindset.
Jeffcoat has 11 tackles for loss, seven sacks, one forced fumble and two fumble recoveries in six conference games, while Reed has 9.5 tackles for loss, six sacks, four forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries in the same span.
Now, Texas is dealing with two potential issues that could send the defense back on its heels: the loss of defensive tackle Chris Whaley to a season-ending knee injury, and the emergence of Oklahoma State's rushing offense heading into Saturday's game, where the winner will maintain control of its destiny in the conference championship race.
Running back Desmond Roland has eight touchdowns in three games as the starter, while quarterback Clint Chelf showed his mobility by rushing for 67 yards and two touchdowns in a breakout win at Texas Tech.
"His legs against Texas Tech were very evident when he took it and outran everybody. It really surprised all of us how fast he is, and now he's gotten his confidence and they believe in that. He'll be difficult to stop," Texas head coach Mack Brown said.
The Cowboys know that keeping Jeffcoat and Reed on their heels will be important in allowing an inconsistent passing offense to get established.
"When we run the ball, it makes passing that much easier, so if we can do that, I think we'll continue to be pretty successful," offensive lineman Brandon Webb said.
Jeffcoat, the son of Dallas Cowboys stalwart defensive lineman Jim Jeffcoat, has been regarded almost exclusively as an impact pass rusher, reflected in his 21.5 sacks in 36 career games at Texas. Even at 6-foot-5 and 250 pounds, Jeffcoat will have to be willing to get involved against the run this week. Only then can he unleash his arsenal of moves to get to Chelf.
Otherwise, it will be an unwelcome regression for Jeffcoat, Reed and the rest of the Texas defense.