Arizona will face one of the most prolific offenses in the country that features a wide receiver that is among the best in the business. Justin Blackmon is quarterback Brandon Weeden's favorite target and for good reason. The explosive junior finished the 2010 campaign with 111 receptions, 1782 yards and an astounding 20 touchdowns.
Blackmon picked up in week one where he left off at the end of 2010, as he caught eight catches for 144 yards.
The man that delivers the ball to Blackmon is not too shabby himself. Weeden threw for 4,277 yards in 2010 to go along with 34 touchdowns while only throwing 13 interceptions. The senior had a shaky debut in week one, completing 24 out of 39 passes for 388 yards and three touchdowns, but was picked off three times by a relatively weak Louisiana-Lafayette defense.
The Weeden-to-Blackmon connection is one of the best in the nation. It was deadly in the Alamo Bowl and Arizona most definitely remembers that. If the Wildcats want any shot at defeating OSU, they must figure out a way to contain this combination.
Blackmon isn't the only target Weeden has that Arizona must pay attention to. Like UA, Oklahoma State utilizes a large number of weapons on offense in the passing game. The Cowboys second leading receiver in game one was junior wideout Tracy Moore, who caught seven passes for 112 yards and a touchdown. Moore only caught 17 passes in 2010, so collecting seven in the first game of the season spells trouble for OSU's opponents.
The second leading receiver from last season returns for his final year at Oklahoma State. Josh Cooper only caught one ball for 15 yards against the Ragin' Cajuns, but that one reception went for a touchdown and you can be assured that OSU will utilize its senior receiver more as the season progresses.
The Cowboys' spread offense involves numerous weapons so expect players like Michael Harrison, Isaiah Anderson, Charlie Moore, Justin Horton and possibly several others to see the field at receiver.
It's not just the passing game that Oklahoma State can beat its opponents with. The Cowboys have Joseph Randle, who replaces Kendall Hunter as the number one running back. As a freshman, Randle totaled 453 yards on the ground and scored two touchdowns. He showed signs of being a reliable weapon as the primary running back in the opener, gaining 129 yards on the ground and scoring two touchdowns.
OSU will utilize Randle in the passing game as well. He was his team's leading receiver among running backs a season ago, catching 37 passes for 427 yards and a score.
UA will be tested in the trenches with this group. Oklahoma State features an offensive line that starts three seniors and two juniors. The unit is also battle tested and will be a tough matchup for the Arizona defensive line. All five players are returning starters from a season ago and there are two players on preseason awards watch lists. Guard Lane Taylor made the Outland Trophy watch list while right tackle Levy Adcock made both the Outland and Lombardi Trophy watch lists.
The Arizona defense has its hands full across the board and faces arguably its toughest test all season long. This is a unit that finished with 61 points in its season opener and returns the majority of its weapons from a squad that put up 36 points in the Alamo Bowl on what was considered a pretty good defensive squad. The Wildcats will have to bring their A-game in every facet of the defense. If they can't, it will be a long night for the defensive side of the ball.
Five Keys –
1. Stop the run – The Cowboys are going to get yards through the air and there isn't much Arizona can do to prevent that. If the Wildcats can figure out how to stop the run though, they could seriously limit the OSU offense.
2. Contain Justin Blackmon – This is much easier said than done. Even if UA contains Blackmon, chances are the other receivers will pick up most of the slack. But if the Wildcats secondary can hold their own against Blackmon, it could throw the Cowboys' offensive attack off.
3. Find a way to get pressure on Weeden – The OSU quarterback is a very smart quarterback that knows his receivers and his the offensive system like the back of his hand. Getting out of his comfort zone is a necessity.
4. Avoid big plays – Oklahoma State's offense is explosive and can score from any place on the field. Arizona must avoid getting burned to have a shot in this one.
5. Force turnovers – The Cowboys committed three turnovers – all interceptions thrown by Weeden – against Louisiana-Lafayette. If the Wildcats can figure out a way to force a few turnovers themselves, they increase their chances of winning significantly.