September 22, 2007

Preventing an air raid

For only the third time in Big 12 history, Oklahoma State will open its conference schedule at home.

Maybe that will help give the Cowboys - who play significantly better at home - a leg up over the Air Raid attack of Texas Tech that flies into Stillwater Saturday afternoon at 2:30. The Pokes (1-2) are needing to bounce back from a painful loss last weekend at Troy, where the Trojans thoroughly dominated from start to finish. For the third time this season, OSU will be on television nationally, this time on Fox Sports Net.

The Cowboys hope their national TV fortunes are different today against a Red Raider bunch that OSU has beaten the last two times they've come to Boone Pickens Stadium. If the Pokes hope to Tic-Tac-Toe Tech, they'll have to figure out a way to stop Graham Harrell, who is throwing up big numbers so far in 2007. If he keeps up his current pace, he'll have almost 4,000 yards passing and over 40 touchdowns at the end of the regular season.

If OSU wants to get back on the winning track, it'll mean de-railing the Harrell air show.

"Obviously if he has 51 points a game he looks pretty good," said head coach Mike Gundy of Harrell. "They do a nice job. I think that the system allows them to put guys in there and continue with what they've done every year. He's playing well. He is playing better than he was last year in my opinion. I don't evaluate him like they do and I don't try to. I just know he is playing well."

Gundy knows Harrell has played well this season, but he also knows his own offense has had some issues this season. The World's Most Dangerous Offense™ OSU hasn't put up the offensive stats so far this season that they did last year. Gundy attributes a lot of that to mistakes the team just shouldn't make. Especially while running the ball.

"I have issues with running backs that put the ball on the ground when there is not a lot of contact," Gundy said. The question that was asked about Kendall Hunter earlier, he had a good point. He took a big hit. That is going to happen in a game. Coach (Curtis) Luper and I in our meetings, we tell a running back that I don't care of Jack Tatum blows you up, you don't fumble the ball. The point being, he took a big hit. Keith Toston put the ball on the ground twice to start the game. He fed whatever you feed a hornets nest to start the game is what he did and he has been told that.

"Now am I down on Keith? I am down on him for fumbling but I'm not down on him and we put him back on the game. I am going to put him in this week because we need him. He is a young player. He is still young and he needs to learn to correct that mistake, but if that happens a whole lot more in not a contact situation then we will be forced to not play him until he proves to us in a spring football setting where there is a lot of collisions that it won't happen again."

Running the ball successfully will likely be key for the Cowboys. The ultimate way to stop a high-flying offense from hurting you is keeping them off the field. Do that, and OSU could have an early leg up in the Big 12 South race, as the rest of the conference begins playing each other next weekend.

"The goal is to win the South to get in a one-game playoff, because anything can happen in a championship game to move on for the rest of the year," Gundy said. "It's a very important game for us, but just like I said last week. They are all important. That's what we do. We get prepared each week to play a game. Every one of them is important."

And this week OSU has been preparing for a team which is very much like its last opponent. Texas Tech's defense is average like Troy's was and its offense thrives on the short passes which ate the Cowboys' defense alive last weekend.

"They're definitely similar," said Jeremy Nethon of Troy and Tech. "They're a fast-paced offense. It helps you prepare for a game like that. There are things that Texas Tech does differently, but in their own ways they both do it well."

If the Cowboys defeat the Red Raiders today, they'll have to do it shorthanded. The status of Dantrell Savage is uncertain and three-year starting center David Washington is out for the season after breaking his leg. That muddles up an already muddled situation on the offensive line.

"It's a big loss," tackle Russell Okung said. "David's been like a point of direct for me and taught me a lot. When I was a freshman and came out there I was a little bit lost at times. Having that point last year where he taught me all that gave me the knowledge I needed. Losing Dave is big, but we've got to move on from it and that's what were going to do."

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