Opener Is All About OSU, Not Savannah State

STILLWATER - It's game week and the Oklahoma State Cowboys are practicing on Sunday evening. They went through a mock game on Saturday, the annual opportunity for a dress rehearsal that is scripted to include all kinds of scenarios. The new Cowboys went through their first warm-ups just like they will on game night. They also put on game uniforms for the opener, a very closely guarded secret.

Now it's time to snap into the game week routine that they will use for 12 of the next 14 weeks.

The opener brings Savannah State to town. After watching video of the Tigers, I can tell you that they are likely going to be just as advertised -- an FCS team that is trying to build itself back from tough circumstances and the bottom of that level.

On offense. they struggle with blocking for the run and in protecting quarterback Antonio Bostick. A lot of times they have to max protect and only run two receiver routes.

Defensively, they are a four-man front team that seems to prefer cover three and cover four on the back end of the defense. They did not give up a massive number of big plays last season, but opponents seemed to methodically drive on them. Southeastern Louisiana of the Southland Conference beat them 63-6 last season.

This game is so much more about Oklahoma State. It is about developing freshman starting quarterback Wes Lunt as much as possible from start one to week two when he will be on the road in Tucson playing against Arizona of the Pac-12.

"I think he has to do what he's capable of," answered head coach Mike Gundy last Thursday when asked about Lunt as a leader. "He's not a very outgoing teammate. He seems to be very level-headed and low-key. He has to develop leadership through respect. I know he's done as well as he can up to this point.

"Everything we've asked him to do, he's done a nice job. I think the players are starting to rally around him, but he's still got some work ahead of him. As he progresses throughout his career he'll get better each day."

"I have been doing this for 24 or 25 years and you just don't look at him like that," said co-defensive coordinator Glenn Spencer when asked about having a freshman starting quarterback. "The guy that is out there with our number one offense could be a senior. To us, he's just a guy that is throwing the football and running a fast-paced offense.

"We'd better be on our game. We haven't seen him push the panic button one time, and we come at him with everything we have. He loves it. He's running the show. He is showing he is composed, and we can't rattle the kid. I am looking forward to seeing him do his thing in the fall."

His teammates are looking forward to Lunt breaking in with a real game against Savannah State.

"I think it's a great thing because you never really see freshmen in general go out and start, especially as a quarterback in a huge leadership role," said sixth-year offensive guard Jonathan Rush. "To see a true freshman come in and do that really says something about his character. He's always mellow and composed. It shows a lot about his character."

"We haven't had to simplify any of it," added Gundy of how much offense they have put in for the opener. "How much will be called on game day has yet to be seen. Those discussions took place after spring ball and throughout the summer in preparation for fall camp and there wasn't any scaling back the offense.

"He's shown signs of being intelligent enough and smart enough to be able to handle it. We feel like it is better for Oklahoma State football that we give it all to him and see how much he can handle in the early part of the season."

Along with Lunt the Cowboys will also play several freshmen wide receivers, possibly as many as five. There aren't any rookies on the offensive line but a couple of new starters.

On defense, there will be some young players that range from sophomores to red-shirt freshmen to true freshmen. They will all get a chance to play. There is a good chance that everyone that suits up should get to play. That scenario of everybody playing is great for moral.

"The offseason evaluation is the same," said Gundy of playing Savannah State instead of Georgia or team that is better. "We don't know a lot about them other than what we read, and there's not as much coverage.

"Is it the same as playing a school from maybe the SEC? No it's not the same because you don't get the same media coverage, but it doesn't really affect our game preparation."

"Go out and compete," said junior running back Jeremy Smith of the opener with the Tigers out of the MEAC. "Not everything is going to go right. You have to let that go.

"Whatever happens on the previous play, you have to let it go and move on to the next one. You never know what will happen. You can't take them out of the picture. As long as we execute every play and do what we are supposed to and not slack off, we will be ready when they come."

It will be interesting because the week after the Cowboys face Savannah State they will be on the road at Arizona. On that same evening, Savannah State will be at Tallahassee to play Florida State. I know you are not supposed to compare schools because there are too many different match-ups. However, Oklahoma State fans won't be able to resist.

However, the reward of playing everybody, the reward of letting those offensive linemen have some fun now and then, of getting walk-ons into the game, is immeasurable. It can really lead to some good things down the road.

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