If Tylan Wallace wore burnt orange instead of America’s brightest one, he’d be celebrated far and wide by the Texas fandom.
The star wide receiver from Fort Worth loved Superman when he was growing up, so he put it on his Twitter handle. He certainly looked the part last season while he was shredding Texas and Oklahoma. In those two games alone, he totaled 20 catches for 442 yards and four touchdowns.
Last year’s Biletnikoff Award finalist will don his orange cape again Saturday night at Royal-Memorial Stadium.
The 12th-ranked Longhorns (2-1, 0-0 Big 12) spent last year’s game chasing Wallace all over Stillwater. They’ll be sending out much of the same crew that couldn’t stop him last year, too.
“He’s probably the most complete receiver in the country,” UT defensive coordinator Todd Orlando said this week. In three games, Wallace leads the country with 390 receiving yards and is tied for first with six touchdowns. The junior is the only FBS player with three plays totaling 60 yards or more.
Oklahoma State (3-0, 0-0) has the nation’s top receiver. The Cowboys also have the nation’s leading rusher in Chuba Hubbard (521 yards, seven touchdowns).
Before facing Texas, OSU mascot Pistol Pete must stockpile ammo. Coach Mike Gundy is 7-2 against Texas since 2010 and has won five straight in Austin.
“He’s obviously done a really good job of two things,” Texas coach Tom Herman said. So far, he’s 0-2 against Gundy. “One is evaluating talent in recruiting and recognizing some diamonds in the rough. And then he develops the heck out of his guys. They’ve had a lot of skilled athletes go on to get drafted.”
How many Cowboys did the Longhorns try to recruit? “You talking about offering (scholarships)?” Gundy asked OSU reporters. The coach held up his fingers in a donut: Zero.
Now, before anyone blames Herman for not recruiting Wallace out of Fort Worth South Hills, remember that 2017 was a coaching transition year at Texas. If anything, it was a huge miss for TCU.
Forget any comparisons to anyone else. “I think he’s kind of in his own category,” UT safety Brandon Jones said. “I would say comparable in size to (Oklahoma’s) CeeDee Lamb. But like I said, no flaws in his game. He runs very crisp routes, he has really good hands and he can go up and get the ball.”
Last season, Wallace was having a solid year through the first seven games. Then came his breakout against Texas. Herman suspended starting senior cornerbacks Davante Davis and Kris Boyd for one quarter for a violation of team rules. So Texas started Kobe Boyce and Anthony Cook, two freshmen at the time.
Wallace caught a 40-yard touchdown pass in the first two minutes and then went wild. His 222 receiving yards was the eighth most in OSU history.
Even putting Boyd back into the game didn’t matter. Boyd, now with the NFL’s Minnesota Vikings, mistimed his jump in the middle of the field, and Wallace caught a ball for a 36-yard score.
Offensive coaches know who’s in the game on defense. When they see freshmen instead of seniors, they’re going after the inexperienced players. Boyce, Cook, Jalen Green and D’Shawn Jamison have to know that OSU quarterback Spencer Sanders will be gunning for them again Saturday.
“Those kids know. They watch that tape,” Orlando said. “We’ve watched that tape a lot, and they know what happened out there. They’ll understand what they have to do.”
Every Big 12 school has excellent receivers. In the coming weeks, Texas’ young corners will see West Virginia’s Sam Jones, OU’s Lamb and Charleston Rambo, Iowa State’s La’Michael Pettway and Baylor’s Denzel Mims, just to name a few.
In college, defensive coordinators can limit good receivers. Teams can shade safeties over to one side of the field and eliminate that option for the quarterback. Even Gundy himself admitted this week, “Defense determines where we go with the ball. We can’t make that choice.”
So what should Texas do? Slide Jones or Caden Sterns toward Wallace’s side of the field to help with double coverage? Commit extra secondary personnel to the cause? In that case, Texas gives up leverage up front, opening the door for Hubbard.
Hubbard ripped off a 75-yard touchdown run on OSU’s first play last week against Tulsa. He’s averaging 7.9 yards per carry. Granted, that has come against lower-level competition — Oregon State, McNeese State and Tulsa.
Texas has the third-best run defense in the Big 12; the Horns are allowing 87.3 yards per game, which ranks 24th nationally. Orlando’s problem has been the secondary. After three games, Texas has the worst pass defense in the Big 12 and is 125th nationally.
“It’s a really cool system,” Orlando said of Oklahoma State’s offense. “And I think they don’t get enough credit for how well they run the ball and how good they are up front.”
With Hubbard, “If you miss a one-on-one tackle with him, he really makes you pay,” Orlando said.
If you load the front seven with linebackers and defensive linemen, “You go on the outside, one-on-one with Wallace, I mean it’s not even a 50-50 ball,” he said. “It’s like 90-10 him. If you put it in the ballpark, he comes down with it.”
Texas has firepower, too. Quarterback Sam Ehlinger has 11 touchdown passes this season with no interceptions. Duvernay, Brennan Eagles and Jake Smith all have three touchdowns each. Receiver Collin Johnson sat out last week’s game against Rice to rest a sore hamstring but should be full go against OSU.
Running back Keaontay Ingram got some of his mojo back against Rice. Roschon Johnson continues to improve, and Daniel Young got the benefit of a full week of practice. Texas should have a full compliment of running backs.
Texas officials announced early in the week that the game is sold out. ESPN’s No. 1 broadcasting crew of Chris Fowler and Kirk Herbstreit will be in the building. A slew of UT recruits will be making official visits, and the Horns would love a conference win going into an off week.
It all boils down to stopping Wallace, or at least slowing him down. And containing Hubbard.
“You can’t sell your soul to stop one, because they’re so proficient in the other,” Herman said. “You’ve just got to be sound.”
Contact Brian Davis at 512-445-3957. Email firstname.lastname@example.org.