INSIDE SLANTAs if Oklahoma State didn't already prove its fortitude by winning without star receiver Justin Blackmon last week at Kansas State, its coach offered an unflattering assessment.
Mike Gundy contends this year's team as not as talented as the Cowboys were a year ago. That squad had one fewer win entering Week 9.
Oklahoma State stands 7-1 this season and 3-1 in the Big 12 entering a Saturday game against South Division leader Baylor.
There is a method to Gundy's madness, and frankly, he could be correct in his assessment. The Oklahoma State defense last season was much more experienced. The same was true of the offensive line. However, two key performers weren't functioning. Wide receiver Dez Bryant drew an NCAA suspension that cut short his last season at Oklahoma State, while running back Kendall Hunter was dealing with an ankle injury that slowed him most of the season.
This season, with new quarterback Brandon Weeden playing behind an inexperienced line that's kept him safely secured in the pocket, the Cowboys are shredding opponents. Having Hunter healthy again is another huge plus. Together, the quarterback and running back made up for Blackmon's absence at Kansas State, as the Cowboys still managed 511 yards of total offense in a 24-14 victory.
"We had every opportunity to go up there and not play well and then come back home and blame it on Justin and certain other guys that didn't take care of their business," Gundy said. "But some guys kind of rallied and said, 'This is not what we stand for.'"
The Cowboys must play better. They committed 10 penalties and two turnovers, which almost proved decisive in the close game. Their own interception return for a touchdown by Johnny Thomas, as well as four punts pinned inside the 10-yard line by Quinn Sharp, provided the defensive edge Oklahoma State needed without Blackmon to break big gains.
Any strides made defensively are huge considering Baylor ranks in the top 10 nationally in total offense and features one of the most electric players in the Big 12 in quarterback Robert Griffin.
NOTES, QUOTES--Among those who traveled with WR Justin Blackmon to Arlington, Texas, for an Oct. 25 game played by the Dallas Cowboys was WR Tracy Moore. Blackmon was cited for a misdemeanor DUI offense after getting pulled over while driving 92 mph at 3:45 a.m. Blackmon drew a one-game suspension. For his role in the incident, Moore was restricted to special teams in the Oct. 30 win at Kansas State.
--Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy was announced as one of seven finalists for the Bobby Dodd Coach of the Year Award. Gundy, who has the Cowboys sitting 7-1 and ranked No. 19, is the only coach to steer the Cowboys to five consecutive bowl games.
--The most successful three-year spans in Oklahoma State history each consisted of 26 victories. They happened from 1983-85 and 1986-88. With another win, the Cowboys would reach that mark for the past three seasons.
SERIES HISTORY: Oklahoma State leads 16-12 (last meeting, 2009, Oklahoma State, 34-7).
SCOUTING THE OFFENSE: Playing without Blackmon, the Cowboys still showed their usual explosiveness at Kansas State, though much of the production came in the middle of the field. The Oklahoma State offense managed just two touchdowns and a field goal, though QB Brandon Weeden was sharp and the running game was again effective with RB Kendall Hunter staying fresh because of the production offered by freshman RB Joseph Randle. A shootout is possible against Baylor, so the Cowboys need all their threats. The return of Blackmon and Moore will help.
SCOUTING THE DEFENSE: Though young, the Oklahoma State defense is aggressive to the ball, makes good reads and can also get sticky in coverage. That was the case when it limited Kansas State to fewer than 300 yards, with a 3.9-yard average per play. LB Orie Lemon has provided consistent leadership, though the defense is beginning to feature other standouts. Among them is freshman LB Shaun Lewis. Avoiding mistakes is still critical. During one five-play sequence at Kansas State, the Cowboys were flagged for roughing the passer, a personal foul and for having 12 men on the field.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "We've got guys that all they do is eat, drink, think, bleed and everything (about) football. When I first got here, it wasn't like that. And I think that's half the battle." -- Oklahoma State QB Brandon Weeden, to the Tulsa World.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNELTHIS WEEK'S GAME: Baylor at Oklahoma State, Nov. 6 -- Since the inception of the Big 12, the series has been lopsided with the Cowboys winning all but one of the 14 meetings, including all eight in Stillwater. This is a different Baylor team, however, that will try to win at Oklahoma State for the first time since 1939. The Bears are bowl-eligible for the first time since 1994 and actually lead the South Division with a 4-1 mark. An Oct. 30 win at Texas was their first in Austin since 1991.
KEYS TO THE GAME: Containing Baylor QB Robert Griffin is problematic because he can also escape the pocket for big yardage. However, Griffin has become much more adept as a passer. His 20 touchdown throws this season average 41.7 yards. RB Jay Finley is also a huge threat, coming off three straight 100-yard rushing performances. It could be the Cowboys will engage in a shootout despite a breakthrough performance by their defense in the Oct. 30 win at Kansas State. Oklahoma State is capable of matching Baylor's production behind QB Brandon Weeden, who has rarely been bothered by pressure. RB Kendall Hunter is the Big 12's top rusher, and WR Justin Blackmon is the Big 12's top receiver, plus the Bears have not yet proven they are consistent on defense.
PLAYERS TO WATCH:WR Bo Bowling -- With the Oklahoma State receiving corps missing three top targets because of injuries and suspensions, the senior proved capable by establishing career bests for receptions (eight) and yards (92) at Kansas State.
RB Kendall Hunter -- The 100-yard performance at Kansas State was the 18th for Hunter in his career, one more than Heisman Trophy winner Barry Sanders managed for the Cowboys. Hunter ranks third nationally with a 146.7-yard average per game.
P Quinn Sharp -- His capability to kick directionally makes Sharp even more impressive. He pinned Kansas State inside its own 10-yard line four times. Still, his 47-yard season average ranks fifth nationally.
ROSTER REPORT:--WR Hubert Anyiam remains questionable for the Baylor game after missing the last three games with a sprained ankle.
--CB Justin Gilbert, who also handles returns for the Cowboys, missed the Kansas State game with a sore ankle but is expected to be available against Baylor.
--WR Justin Blackmon will play against Baylor after serving a one-game suspension following his arrest for a misdemeanor DUI citation. WR Tracy Moore will also be back on offense. Moore was a passenger in the incident involving Blackmon and, for that, he was allowed to play on only special teams against Kansas State.