Espinosa has his strengths as a center. He's awfully quick, and excels at making angle blocks to players on either side of him. But he's (generously) listed at 6-4 295, and he has typically struggled against big nose tackles playing him head-up. That's precisely what he'll get from Masaniai, who is every bit of his listed 354 pounds. If you help Espinosa too much, that only frees up Oregon State's other talented defensive linemen, or their linebackers, to run to the ball. But don't help at all, and Texas could spend much of the game trying to find its way between the tackles.
Texas quarterback David Ash versus the Oregon State linebackers
When Ash is on, he can be a handful to deal with. And this is one of those games where the Texas quarterback might have to make a play or two with his legs. With the extended break, expect to see Texas give Ash some easy-to-complete looks early and gradually expand what he's asked to do. The Longhorns may need to hit on a couple deep balls as well, and if Ash can make those throws, the Longhorns have an excellent shot to keep up offensively.
Simply put: most teams that have run the ball against Oregon State haven't accomplished that feat by lining up and bulling up the middle. And in Johnson, Monroe and Goodwin, Texas has the speed to get the edge and spread things out. That's going to be important in this game. Even if Texas doesn't get that trio the ball 10-plus times, expect to see Texas play off the threat of their speed to try and soften things up on the interior.
For much of the season, Davis stood out as one of the Big 12's most feared deep threats, with the receiver hauling in game-changing deep passes against Oklahoma State, Kansas and Texas Tech. Saturday, he'll find himself matched up against Poyer, who many have as a first-round NFL Draft pick. Poyer has the size and athleticism to keep up, and his ball skills are a primary reason why he picked off seven throws this season. Can Davis shake loose for a big play or two?
Texas linebackers versus the Oregon State running backs
The Beavers have a talented trio of running backs, all of whom are sophomores or younger. And they'd love to help open up play action for new starter Cody Vaz. But even beyond that, Texas has been gashed by most of the running attacks the Longhorns have faced this year. Manny Diaz's scheme is linebacker driven, so it will be interesting to see whether there's more put on the linebackers' plates after the extended break. If Texas can find a way to slow down, or shut down, Oregon State's runners, Texas has the pass defense to cause the Beavers real issues.
As much as Texas wants to talk about needing to start off next year on the right foot, the Longhorns are 8-4 in a middle-tier bowl game and are playing an opponent whose ability far exceeds the hype that team gets. This is a dangerous game not to take seriously, and it's one where there are a lot of signs pointing to a potential let-down.
At first, when looking at this game, I hated the matchup. As I said above, Oregon State is a dangerous team, a really, really good football squad, but the Beavers aren't necessarily a name school, or the kind of school that inspires your program to buckle up for a bowl game. Add in the Beavers' nasty and physical disposition, and this had all the makings of a bad matchup for the Longhorns. But I think there will be some excitement offensively with Major Applewhite taking over, and when looking at the actual matchups, I think Texas has some strengths to exploit here. This should be a close game, but in the end, I think the Longhorns pull it out.
TEXAS — 31
Oregon State — 24