Mississippi State offensive coordinator Les Koenning is coming home this week. The veteran coach is from Houston and played his college football at Texas before going on to coach at Texas (graduate assistant), Rice (wide receivers), Texas A&M (wide receivers first time, offensive coordinator and quarterbacks second time), Houston (offensive coordinator and quarterbacks), and TCU (passing game coordinator and quarterbacks), in addition to six other schools and the Miami Dolphins.
He has seen Oklahoma State before and is glad to see them this time in the opener.
"We've been practicing against each other for a long time and we're glad it's game week, and we are looking forward to getting another opponent," said Koenning.
Glad to see them since it means playing a game and starting the season. Not so glad because he believes the Cowboys are pretty good defensively and realizes that a guessing game is in play with Glenn Spencer taking over from Bill Young as the Cowboys defensive coordinator.
"They will probably be more aggressive and do some things different to get the ball back for their offense," said Koennig.
Maybe Koenning has already guessed correctly, and then again, maybe not, at least not totally.
"Glenn has been here for a number of years. He was very familiar with our personnel and we really haven't adjusted very much on our defense," said head coach Mike Gundy of the Cowboys being careful not to fill in any blanks for Koenning. "It is more of an attitude and a little bit of an approach."
A little like Gundy has been known to do, Koenning doesn't memorize names but instead remembers the numbers that come up over and over again on video.
"Number 99 is a really good football player and you'll probably get a chance to watch him on the weekends for a long time," said Koenning dwelling on Calvin Barnett. "I mean when you go through it, number four (Justin Gilbert), number 11 (Shaun Lewis) so you can tell names don't stick out but numbers do and they have a really good defense."
Despite a quarterback that can really throw it in Tyler Russell, who Gundy expects to be playing in the NFL next season, expect Koenning to give OSU a heavy dose of the big road graders up front on the offensive line and big muscled up running back LaDarius Perkins.
He certainly didn't tip his hand while visiting with the media on Monday but with a bunch of young receivers and a bunch having been injured during camp, including a couple of banged up tight ends, it would make sense for the Bulldogs to run it.
"I can't wait because it is really going to measure how we are as a defensive line," said Barnett almost smiling, perhaps his version of trash talking, which is mostly absent from this match-up.
"Mentality-wise, talent-wise, really you don't need much talent to sit in a gap and take on a double team and drive it back," added Barnett. "It is more about an attitude than anything. If we let them come off the ball and beat us up then talent is really out the window."
Barnett will truly have a classic challenge in front of him. Barnett, who signed with Arkansas out of high school before going to Navarro junior college and then bouncing back to his original college commitment, Oklahoma State, will be in between Mississippi State's All-American candidate Gabe Jackson at left guard and standout center Dillon Day.
It won't help against Barnett on Saturday but Day showed he could bowl between his legs with a snap release during a bowling trip that MSU head coach Dan Mullen scheduled as a replacement for practice.
"I didn't know that many people saw it," said Day. "It all worked perfect. I never thought it would be a strike but then I saw people talking and I looked and there was one pin wobbling and then saw it fall over and I was like, 'that's what up.'"
What's up is Mississippi State flunked offensively the tough part of its schedule last season by losing five of the last six games after starting 7-0. The Bulldogs are ready to show they can sustain against a good team and yes a good defense.
"We've all turned a leaf over and are trying to be the best we can," said Dillon. "They do some different stuff more than teams we see in the SEC. They are real explosive and have a lot of speed and they will hit you."
There's been no trash talking, just respect, but Barnett is looking forward to another opponent too. Just like Koenning said of needing to see somebody else, Barnett makes it sound like the big boys up front are what he and the Cowboys want to spend time with this Saturday.
"I watch film and I do think they are really good," said Barnett of Jackson at guard and Day at center. "They are big and they like to get their hands on you. They don't mind, they are doing their job, and like you said they are road graders. I can't wait to see what it looks like in person rather than watching film."
Cowboys fans can only hope that when it's over they are saying that Barnett and Co. are the real deal.
The question exists in Starkville whether a young secondary and an SEC defense can deal with the up tempo explosion from the Big 12 and we will address that in part two.
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