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OSU's front five: unsung heroes

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Saturday’s game will determine what happens when an immovable object meets an unstoppable force.

The Longhorns and Cowboys matchup will feature two areas of strength in the trenches. Texas is second in the Big 12 is sacks, falling behind Texas Christian University by only two sacks, and playing one fewer game. Oklahoma State has allowed the fewest sacks of any Big 12 team.  

Defensive ends Jackson Jeffcoat and Cedric Reed lead the Texas pass rush with seven sacks each. Giving up a sack is detrimental to an offense’s drive and momentum. It’s offensive coordinator Mike Yurcich’s job to make sure OSU’s game plan is geared toward slowing down the UT pass rush.  

“Getting rid of the ball quickly is something we always want to stress to our quarterbacks,” Yurcich said. “Obviously recognizing the defensive fronts and practicing against some of their favorite blitzes will help us know what to look for.

“We want to make sure we’re going at an upbeat tempo and dictating the pace of the game.”

Despite allowing only eight sacks in nine games, the OSU offensive line hasn’t always been stable. A preseason injury to offensive tackle Devin Davis set the unit in a tailspin of position changes and alignment adjustments. The chemistry wasn’t there. 

“As an o-line a lot of people don’t realize it’s five guys working as one,” offensive tackle Parker Graham. “It’s not necessarily each individual person so if you have one kink in the amour then it’s not going to work out for you.”

Graham has made the biggest adjustment of all. He was the starting left tackle this past season, but the Davis injury forced some shifting that led to him being moved to guard. Graham’s 6-foot- 7-inch frame isn’t ideal for playing on the inside, but he is a quick learner and showed he is capable of playing guard in practice. 

“He’s long, he has tackle arms so as a d-tackle it’s hard to get around him so he makes us better all the time,” defensive tackle James Castleman said. “Especially how strong he is I think it works great for him.”

In their win over Iowa State, the Cowboys were finally able to find a combination up front that worked. The Cowboys rushed for 342 yards against the Cyclones and followed it up with strong performances against Texas Tech and Kansas. 

Daniel Koenig at left tackle, Brandon Webb at left guard, Jake Jenkins at center, Graham at left guard and Brandon Garrett playing right tackle paved the way for OSU to rush for 708 yards in the previos three games.  Yurcich credits Wickline with finding a unit that has success together. 

“I think Coach Wickline has done a great job and I think our guys being able to handle the flexibility to move around a little bit is a good thing to have,” Yurcich said. “When you can be that versatile up front and be able to move guys around, that’s pretty good.”

Desmond Roland’s emergence as the No.1 tailback has coincided with the offensive line finding a unit that works. Roland, who has scored eight touchdowns in the past three games, said this is his favorite combination up front. 

“They make changes on the o-line every day so this combination worked this game so I guess go forward with the same combination,” Roland said. “If they continue to block like this, we might as well leave it at that.”