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Eyes on Texas: Horns’ ‘stone cutters’ up front happy to hammer away at the Sooners

Smack talk is one thing. Speaking to reporters with unmistakable confidence is another.

Texas left tackle Samuel Cosmi triggered Oklahoma fans on Tuesday with his comments about OU defensive linemen Ronnie Perkins and Neville Gallimore.

“I wouldn’t say they’re super special, but they’re good players, they’re solid players,” Cosmi said. “But not anything to worry about too much.”

Those looking to get drawn offside have already thrown a flag. “I don’t really pay attention to the trash talk,” Perkins told reporters in Norman about an hour later. “He can catch me at 11 a.m. in Dallas with the rest of the Texas football team.”

Meanwhile, Texas senior Zach Shackelford stuck to the talking points.

“They always have great defensive linemen,” Shackelford said. “They’re physical, they’re big, they’re strong, they’re fast.” OU has great linebackers, great safeties and defenders who can cover, he added, covering all bases. “I mean, every time we play OU, it’s going to be challenging.”

The quarterbacks get all the glory in the Texas-OU rivalry. The coaches make for dramatic storylines. But if we’re talking specifically about Saturday’s Red River Showdown, as if in its own silo, this thing will be decided by the offensive linemen.

Or, as UT offensive line coach Herb Hand likes to call them, the “stone cutters.”

“We’re just chipping away until we get that ball in the end zone,” Cosmi said.

Texas running back Roschon Johnson (2) celebrates a touchdown against Oklahoma State with left tackle Samuel Cosmi (52). [Stephen Spillman/For Statesman]

Go back and really study some of UT’s touchdown drives this season. Texas had scoring drives of 78, 86, 75 and 75 yards against LSU. The opening touchdown drive against Rice was 12 plays, 82 yards. The next scoring drive covered 90 yards. Just chipping away.

There was an 84-yard touchdown drive against Oklahoma State. Granted, Brennan Eagles had a 73-yard touchdown catch, but still, big plays have been in short supply in recent times. UT’s last two scoring drives in that game were 75 and 73 yards.

Eagles’ touchdown against the Cowboys was the longest offensive play of the season thus far. Texas has only four plays total that have gone 40 yards or more. This is an offense that grinds it out, hopefully wearing you down in the process.

UT’s offensive line is playing so well, Roschon Johnson, a quarterback-turned-running back, had 121 rushing yards against West Virginia. Kirk Johnson, who hadn’t had a single carry since 2015 because of injuries, had 15 yards on four attempts.

Cosmi isn’t cocky. He wasn’t dissing the Sooners. If you had been standing there Tuesday, you’d know that he is just supremely confident in his group at the moment.

“They have a really explosive offense and a really good team overall. I’m not going to take that away from them,” Cosmi said of OU. “But I don’t think they’ve played anybody like us. It’s going to be interesting going into the game to see how they respond to see what type of team they really are.”

Texas quarterback Sam Ehlinger (11) gets hit hard after delivering a pass downfield by Oklahoma defensive lineman Neville Gallimore (90) in last year’s game at the Cotton Bowl. Texas won, 48-45. [Rodolfo Gonzalez/For AMERICAN-STATESMAN]

On the other side, OU will likely be without its two starting tackles, creating a far bigger problem than anything Cosmi says. Left tackle Erik Swenson and right tackle Adrian Ealy are both “highly questionable” for this game, according to OU coach Lincoln Riley.

“We’ve been solid, considering we’ve started five different lineups in five games,” Riley said. “Like I said the other day, it’s not ideal, but we’ve been able to survive a little bit early with all those different lineups, and what it’s given us is more guys can play different positions.”

Typically, teams that are constantly shuffling their offensive line are living on borrowed time.

Oklahoma is papering over the constant turnover with explosive plays. The Sooners are the only team in the country to score at least 45 points in five games. Quarterback Jalen Hurts is averaging 404.4 yards of total offense per game.

“I think our guys have handled it solid, but we’ve got to continue to build there,” Riley said.

Last season, the Horns had amazing consistency with their starting five. Four of those starters logged more than 1,000 snaps each. Cosmi and Derek Kerstetter were two workhorses last season and they’re back. Shackelford has started 32 out of 45 career games at center. Graduate transfer Parker Braun was a first-team All-ACC pick at Georgia Tech.

Texas’ linemen saw multiple looks from Louisiana Tech and Rice, two teams that weren’t expected to vary things up as much as they did. The group wore down LSU. Once UT figured out what West Virginia was doing, the Horns put away the Mountaineers in the fourth quarter.

“We’re seeing that in college football more and more, you’re starting to see teams now play defense by confusion,” UT offensive coordinator Tim Beck said last week. “So what they do is they take some chances or play maybe even an unsound look.

“I heard a coach say one time, you got guys that are so worried about making plays, they’re not playing defense,” Beck added.

OU defensive coordinator Alex Grinch complimented the Texas run game, which starts up front. “What you see is an offensive line that regardless of personnel finds a way to create seams, create creases,” Grinch told reporters.

The Longhorns’ offensive line has come a long way from where it was in Tom Herman’s first season. In 2017, the group was held together with duct tape and baling wire. Solid recruiting, the hiring of Hand in 2018 and overall skill development has turned the entire group around.

If Texas quarterback Sam Ehlinger has time to throw against this OU secondary, the Horns will have success in the Cotton Bowl. At this point, it’s hard to imagine he won’t.

Texas nickel back B.J. Foster said his team has some “unfinished business” with OU. Cosmi concurred.

“I definitely think there is, especially after the Big 12 championship game (last season),” Cosmi said. “Who knows? Most likely, you’ll see both of us go again, against each other coming to that game, too. I think this is kind of a showcase to that.”

No offense intended, OU. But clearly some will be taken.

“We definitely have some unfinished business,” Cosmi said.

Contact Brian Davis at 512-445-3957. Email bdavis@statesman.com.

Source: HookemPlus.com