By Kevin Flaherty, LonghornDigest.com
Three players to watch
David Ash, QB -- Ash led Texas to an 8-2 mark as a starter heading into the TCU game. But Ash, who suffered a rib injury against Iowa State, no-showed in a loss to the Horned Frogs, then didn't play at all in a loss to Kansas State. For all the flak Texas has taken for not having a great quarterback, heading into that TCU game, Ash had a quarterback rating of 161.68 and had passing statistics that generally compared favorably with top sophomore and redshirt freshman quarterbacks like Marcus Mariota of Oregon, Teddy Bridgewater of Louisville, and yes, eventual Heisman winner Johnny Manziel of Texas A&M. He's healthy and ready to go.
Carrington Byndom, CB -- Arguably the Big 12's top cover cornerback a year ago, Byndom had a bit of a frustrating start to the year before coming on a bit late. Now, he'll find himself matched up against Markus Wheaton, one of the country's best wide receivers. Byndom has the size, athleticism and cover skills to stick with Wheaton, and if he can do so, it would be a huge check in Texas's favor.
A healthy David Ash is a big advantage for Texas.
Kenny Vaccaro, S -- Few players across the country are asked to do as much as Vaccaro does. On one play, he might play an outside linebacker role, on another, he might be a deep safety, and on yet another, he'll line up over the slot in man coverage. That skill set has led most to tab Vaccaro as a first-round pick in April's NFL Draft, and he's the heart-and-soul of the Texas defense, along with its best leader. He'll again have to fill a variety of roles against a balanced Oregon State offense that puts up 33 points per game.
When David Ash is on. Ash had three games in which he struggled: Oklahoma, Kansas and the aforementioned TCU game when he played while injured. In the other eight, he was sublime, hitting on 162-of-219 passes (74.0 percent) for 2,178 yards (272.3 per game) and 17 touchdowns to just one interception.
Running the ball. Despite missing top back Malcolm Brown for five games (and Brown not playing other full contests), Texas was an outstanding running team in 2012, ranking 10th nationally in S&P+, an advanced metric measuring success rate of plays, while each of the top six non-quarterback runners averaged at least 4.6 yards per carry. Brown, true freshman Johnathan Gray and Joe Bergeron had a combined 1,564 yards rushing and 23 touchdowns. And when Texas gave the ball to speedsters Daje Johnson, D.J. Monroe and Marquise Goodwin around the edge, they averaged 7.9 yards per carry.
Tackles for loss. According to the NCAA, Texas ranks 18th nationally in tackles for loss with 70 solo tackles and 31 assisted tackles in the backfield. The good news is that Texas can use those plays to put opponents behind the chains. And when facing passing downs (second down with eight or more yards to go, or third or fourth down with five or more yards to go), Texas ranks 17th nationally in S&P+, per FootballOutsiders.com.
Important thing you may not know
Texas' primary strength aligns with Oregon State's weakness. Texas is 10th in rushing S&P+, and Oregon State's stingy defense ranks just 37th in rushing defense, per S&P+.
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And while Texas might be in a disadvantageous spot up the middle with center Dominic Espinosa (generously) listed at 6-foot-4, 295 pounds taking on massive Beaver nose tackle Castro Masaniai (6-foot-3, 354 pounds), the Beavers can be had by Texas' speed to the edge.
What Texas must do to win
The Longhorns can't allow themselves to be run on. Oregon State enters the contest averaging 3.8 yards per carry, though most teams have been able to find success running the ball against Texas this year.
If the Longhorns can put the Beavers into passing downs, they have the personnel to close out the Oregon State offense. Offensively, Texas has to use its speed to get to the edges and soften up the middle for guys like Gray, Brown and Bergeron.