It's dress rehearsal time Saturday when the Ragin Cajuns invade. No, I don't want to see the playbook emptied out on the 0-5 visitors from Lafayette, but the challenge for this football team is to play a clean game, free of errors. Plays need to be made. The offense which has been one dimensional based on what the opposing defense is giving them needs to find a way to get the offense going both on the ground and through the air. The offense needs to be free of turnovers.
On the other hand the defense, which should be able to throttle the ULL offense needs to create turnovers. That has been the weakness of an otherwise solid defensive football team throughout the season. Last week Bill Clay and the defensive staff hammered into the players the need to create turnovers. Louisiana-Lafayette has averaged giving up 2.4 turnovers a game this season. The Cowboys need to create four or five on Saturday night. The hits need to be crisp, no plays over 20 yards or more. The Cajuns have been averaging 237 yards offensively, that needs to be under 200 on Saturday night.
Oklahoma State is about to embark on a very challenging six-game run, yes, you can add Kansas to the mix as they will play K-State, Tech, A&M, OU, Texas, and KU in a row. If they can't dismantle ULL then they will certainly struggle against the better teams in the Big 12.
It is time to demand the best effort because without it, as was discovered in Lincoln, expectations and dreams will fall short of what the players, coaches and fans are counting on. A nice little rehearsal won't hurt on Saturday.
A big part of the off-week was to rest and heal up some of the injured Cowboys players. The three most prominent injured players were back in pads by, at the latest, the middle of the week. On offense, center Ben Buie had been battling back spasms, but sitting out the SMU game helped the wear and tear on the junior from Broken Arrow. He was back in practice last week, and he said on Monday that he was feeling very good, ready to go with Louisiana-Lafayette on Saturday.
Tight end Billy Bajema also sat out the SMU game with a hamstring pull, actually a relapse of an earlier injury but he was back in practice and looking good last week. Many of you have had questions about where the tight end has been in the passing game. With Bajema healthy and with the offensive line becoming better at protecting the passer along with fullback Tim Burrough getting more healthy from his shoulder injury and Shawn Willis doing better on pass protection, then maybe it's on the horizon to see more impact in the passing game from the tight ends.
Over on the defensive side everybody seems to be more healthy -- safety Jamie Thompson did miss the SMU game and he, too, was back in practice during the open week.
Off Week A Win
Head coach Les Miles considered the off-week productive as did the players that spoke with the media on Monday. Besides using the week as a time to heal up injured and banged-up players and resting some others, the week was used on offense to work on packages of the offense that havn't been used so far, but will in the remainder of the season. There was also time to get some of the younger players more reps, and Miles said several of those young players showed marked improvement.
"There are names of guys that you might expect," said Miles. "Tommy Devereaux, I think he is really improving. I think Donovan Woods is really improving. Those young defensive linemen, we're counting on them more and more, and I think that's helping them understand the role that they are going to have to play."
As for the overall imporvement, which included the defense working on several schemes that have given them problems and several plays that they will expect to see a lot of, the players could sense the improvement.
"We concentrated a little more on us than our opponent," said center Ben Buie. "We did some play polishing and we polished up some of our protections."
Offensive Line Under A Microscope
There is no doubt that with a head coach that played offensive line in his playing days at the University of Michigan that offensive line is put under a microscope under Les Miles at Oklahoma State. Miles has been better, at times, of moving around the practice field, but he can most often be found over with the offensive linemen.
"I'm sure it's easier for me naturally to critique the offensive line," said Miles. That is a good news, bad news situation."
Having the head coach watching you all the time has to promote improvement. Miles was pleased with what his eyes saw during last week's practices.
"They worked very hard this
past week, and I fully expect them to step up," said Miles of the offensive
He's also passed on that perfectionist attitude to the members of the offensive line as evidenced by center Ben Buie's comments.
"I would say we are not where we want to be, but we are defintely heading the direction that we need to be," said Buie. "We still lack the experience on the edge and they are getting better with every game, so we are going the right direction. I wouldn't quite say where we need to be yet."
Defense Taking On Expanded Look
The defense used last week to work on a variety of offensive ploys that they expect to see the rest of the season. The defense also got a new look and an emphasis on being more aggressive. Defensive coordinator Bill Clay has moved Vrnon Grant back from cornerback to strong safety full time. Grant gives the secondary added speed, a very good open field tackler, and another player capable of covering like a corner. It is hoped that Grant's addition might aid in forcing more turnovers, an area Clay has felt the defense has been lacking in.
"Our coaches are preaching turnovers, stripping the ball on the point of attack, and when we have the chance to make an interception then go and make the play," said strong safety Vernon Grant. "On a gang tackle, I see a person standing up then I go in there and try and take it, but you want to get them down so they can't get any more yards."
There is no doubt that, overall, the defense is better than it was a year ago. The numbers say it, but the players feel it.
"I think this defense is
better than a year ago, and this is a really good defense," said defensive end
and sometimes tackle Antonio Smith. "I think other teams see this as a good
defense because so many of them change their offense just to match up better
with our defense." Overlooking La-Lafayette For K-State
There is concern about Oklahoma State having a hard time not looking past Louisiana-Lafayette at the return to Big 12 play the next week when they host Kansas State. Les Miles said he doesn't just expect the players to focus in on the Ragin Cajuns, and that he will leave nothing to chance or just assume that they will respect the winless Cajuns.
"We make no assumptions, we will make sure that everybody understands that we are pointing at Louisiana-Lafayette, the opponent we play this Saturday and no other," said Miles with a chuckle.
Players try different ways of focusing in a team, some just try and treat every game the same.
"I just go out and play," said strong safety Vernon Grant. "I treat every game the same. I focus on my key points on what I have to do to get the job done and help my team be successful. I treat every game the same, go out and play with great technique and have fun."
Grant's teammate defensive end Antonio Smith in a very honest vein said it is tough not to look ahead at Kansas State.
"It's really tough because we all hate what happened to us up at K-State," said Smith. "It's all stuck in the back of our minds, and we are angry everytime we think about it. We just have to look at Lafayette as if they were K-State and play them just as hard."
Smith was reminded that on Saturday as they are in their rooms that afternoon waiting for pregame and then "The Walk" to Boone Pickens Stadium, that K-State will be on the tube with Texas.
"Coach Miles gives us about two hours to lay up in the room and watch the games," added Smith. "We normally watch Big 12 schools, so we will see it."
Ragin Cajun Scouting Report
Louisiana-Lafayette is 0-5 and they are working on a 10 game road losing streak. Last week the Cajuns played tough, even closing to 30-23 in the fourth quarter, at North Texas, but they were defeated 44-23. It was a productive offensive night as they scored the most points they had put on the board this season. This is a one dimensional team as they average 237.4 yards per game, but only 89 yards rushing per game. In the North Texas game they had 229 yards passing and 27 yards rushing. Two quarterbacks Eric Rekieta and Jerry Babb have taken turns hitting standout wide receiver Fred Stamps and tight end Josh Joerg. The leading rusher is Travis Smothers averaging 44 yards per game.
On defense they are led by Butkus Award watch list linebacker Ross Brupbacher, who has 30 total tackles. However, they average allowing 433.8 yards per game including 233 yards on the ground and 200.8 yards through the air.
The losses have come at South Carolina (14-7), Louisiana Tech (34-3), Houston (21-14), at Minnesota (48-14), and North Texas (44-23). OSU leads the series with ULL 5-0.
We had a good conversation with Idalou, Texas quarterback and strong safety Shae Reagan. The 6-3, 230- pounder is one heckuva athlete. Shea told me that he has 900 yards of total offense so far on the season and nine rushing touchdowns with three touchdown passes for the 4-0 Idalou Wildcats. He also had 15 tackles from his strong safety position in the 35-19 win over Seagraves on Friday night last week. This week Idalou takes on Littlefield.
Reagan said he and his family had a good trip last Saturday to College Station to see the Texas A&M-Pittsburgh game. He says he is open in recruiting, but has a top five that he is very strong on and all five schools have offered. Those schools are Texas A&M, Texas Tech, Nebraska, Oklahoma State, and TCU. He said he is going to the A&M-Tech game this Saturday, and he added that Kansas State is about to offer and they could impact his top group of schools.
Reagan is a tremendous athlete that most likely will grow into a linebacker or defensive end.
Basketball Schedule Scoop
The Cowboys basketball schedule was released on Friday, and the home games scheduled for Gallagher-Iba Arena are disappointing. The Cowboys will have one premier game in their official home with Pepperdine coming in on November 29. Other than the Waves, the Cowboys will host Northwestern State of Louisiana, Texas-San Antonio, Southeastern State (OK), Texas-Pan American, Samford, and Texas A&M-Corpus Christi. That is not a stellar field. Assistant coach James Dickey, who had to schedule games into Lubbock when he was Texas Tech head coach, said it is harder than ever to get decent teams to come in and play at Gallagher-Iba.
"It is very tough," said Dickey. "Nobody wanted to come in here. You would start talking and they would say we'll play you, but not in Stillwater. We couldn't get anybody to even do that. These days they look at what you did last season, what your RPI is, what conference you are from, and how hard it is to win on your home floor. I had a lot of coaches say there was no way they were coming to play here, but they would play us at a neutral site close by like Tulsa or Oklahoma City."
The Cowboys last plug in was Colorado State, and they will play them in Tulsa this season. Next season they will play the Rams in Denver, and then the next season in Oklahoma City. So, is it really that much more difficult to play OSU in Gallagher-Iba than in Tulsa or OKC?
"Yes," said Dickey. "I hate
to say it, but our crowd makes a huge difference, and the word is out. Opposing
coaches want to keep their jobs, there's a lot of pressure on winning, and
coaches don't want to go where they don't believe they have a chance."