1. What is the most important factor in the Cowboys perfect start to the 2004 season?
There is no doubt it is the turnover margin. While Oklahoma State has taken ball security to a new level with no turnovers in the first three games, the Cowboy defense has forced 10 turnovers. That comes out to an average of plus 3.3 a game in turnover margin – three extra opportunities for a fairly proficient O-State offense a game. It's by far the best run for the Cowboys in the takeaway-giveaway category in the Les Miles era.
Another plus has been penalties. In the first three games the Cowboys have only been penalized 11 times for 78 yards (an average of 3.7 penalties a game for 26 yards). The Cowboys were right at that average against SMU with three penalties for 25 yards.
Solid performance on both sides of the ball combined with added possessions from forcing over three turnovers a game with none of your own and few lost yards in penalties is a nice prescription for success. It also shows the discipline that Miles and the coaching staff have created with this year's squad.
2. Why did Al Pena get the opportunity to run the two-minute offense at the end of the first half and the snaps in the second half instead of Jamie Beeghley?
Starter Donovan Woods missed some of Tuesday's practice and most of Wednesday's, and the end of Thursday's workout with the flu. Pena and Beeghley both got added snaps with the first unit and the coaches felt Pena had the better results in practice. Thursday is the day the Cowboys drill the two-minute offense and Pena looked really good running it. Miles and Mike Gundy decided to use their timeouts late in the half to force a two-minute situation. It worked as well as they could have hoped because Pena only needed 24 of the 58 seconds on the clock to hit two passes, including a 34-yard fade to Luke Frazier to the 1 to produce the final touchdown of a productive first half and give the Cowboys a 31-0 halftime advantage.
"I liked Al," said head coach Les Miles of Pena's work on the two-minute drill. "I liked what he did out there. In game week Donovan had the flu and Al had most of the work on Wednesday and the two-minute drill on Thursday and did a great job with it. He came in the game and handled the situation very nicely. He made a couple of good throws, got the team up and on the ball well, and ran the drill extremely well. I think that is a great characteristic of this football team to send some others guys in there and have them perform at a very high level."
Pena's success also may have had a positive impact on Donovan Woods as Woods had to have viewed that drive and been chomping at the bit to get back out for the second half and make some plays in the passing. That's exactly what happened.
3. Why were the Cowboys able to run the ball more effectively against SMU than they did last year?
This one is simple. The Cowboys are better than they were a year ago on the offensive line. Morency is a stronger runner than Tatum Bell was a year ago.
"He (Morency) is a good running back, a strong runner," said SMU All-WAC defensive tackle Allan Adami. "There were a lot of times that we had him wrapped up, but he ran through tackles. He is a big, solid running back and that is what the Oklahoma State offense needs. He is a big guy in there who is going to run the ball and get you down the field as fast as he can."
SMU was missing two starting linebackers, and the OSU offensive staff had noticed that SMU had problems protecting the corner. Once they attacked the corners, the middle became softer. Morency only had 18 carries for 116 yards, a light night for him. However, in all, the Cowboys had 10 players contribute in a 299-yard rushing night. It was really good to see Calvin Roberts come in and carry nine times for 76 yards and Greg Gold carry 10 times for 63 yards.
Five different Cowboys ran for touchdowns in the win over SMU and it's been a long time since that has happened. For Roberts it was his first collegiate action and first touchdown as a Cowboy. As a footnote, when you include the three touchdown passes there were seven different Cowboys that scored a touchdown. The only repeater was wide receiver D'Juan Woods who caught two touchdown passes, but they were thrown by two different quarterbacks.
4. What was the most spectacular play of the game?
There were a number of plays that would qualify as spectacular, but the most athletic came early in the game and set up the Cowboys' first touchdown. Vernon Grant anticipated a Chris Phillips' pass and tipped the ball then spun around and dove to make the catch. Grant was so impressed, even though he knew he was down, he got up and set sail for the end zone.
"I was going for six," said Grant of his jaunt to the end zone. "It's not the NFL, but I just got up and go. I was feeling good after the interception. We were playing one free (cover one) and it was like outside man coverage. The receiver came up field and stopped right in front of me, and I just broke on the ball and made a tip. Then I was able to come up with the ball."
Grant's sprint to end zone didn't seem to impress Big 12 referee Jon Bible, but no flags were thrown as a result of Grant's somewhat celebratory return.
5. What was the best coaching move in the game?
By far this award goes to special teams coordinator Joe DeForest. DeForest has made a habit of outthinking opposing coaches in the special teams area. His best scheme for the SMU game came on the Mustangs quick kick. DeForest worked with the defense this week to alert them that when SMU quarterback Chris Phillips moved back an extra three steps he was going to launch a quick kick. When the Cowboys saw that, corner and punt returner Darrent Williams sprinted back to field the kick. The defense moved into a punt return mode and even had a blocking scheme to give Williams a return lane. It worked to perfection as Williams turned a quick kick that SMU hoped to gain field position on into a 47-yard return.
"We went over that all week in practice," said Williams. "Coach said nobody had returned one on them, and we were. We had a good scheme and it worked out. We got a good return and should have had a touchdown. We should have scored a couple of times, but I'm still happy with what we did today in returns."
Williams had 162 yards on five punt returns and another 60 yards on a fumble return, so yes, he had a very good day. DeForest is hands down the best special teams coach in the college game.
Five Questions Following OSU's Win Over SMU
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