Miles Looking Ahead to Big 12 Play

Oklahoma State head coach Les Miles' message to his team after Saturday night's 59-7 win over SMU, first stage accomplished, lots of improvement made, more improvement needed, and the most critical part of the season with the strongest opposition is on the horizon.

Miles was very comfortable talking to the media by teleconference on Sunday afternoon and pleased to hear that the Cowboys body of work in the nonconference season had been noticed. Both Associated Press and the ESPN/USA Today coach's oll came out just before and ranked the Cowboys 25th. In the poll for the first time this season, but like his message to his team not a finishing point.

"It's a compliment to the position that we have put ourselves in," said Miles of the ranking in both polls. "It's not the spot that we're looking to stay, but it's good to see that people have seen that we've improved."

So does he expect to see his players beating their chests about being ranked 25th?

"Number one is much more poignant than being 25th, and no, I don't expect our players to be all that impressed with where we are currently ranked," added Miles. "If anything they earnestly understand that we'll have to improve. This team has not hit a high tide mark, and if any of our players feel we have, I've not caught wind of it."

There were mild pats on the back by players, but nothing serious.

 "It feels good knowing that we're 3-0 going into Big 12 play," said kickoff specialist and punter Cole Farden. "We have gained a lot of confidence, but there are places we need to improve before we head into the Iowa State game."

"It feels great because there are only four Big 12 teams that are going into conference play without a loss," said center Chris Akin. "It will give us a boost as we have the off week to prepare for Iowa State."

There have been many accomplishments for the Cowboys thus far. A 3-0 start, the first with Miles in control, Vernand Morency is second in the country in rushing averaging 187 yards per game. He is included in a tight pack that also includes Texas' Cedric Benson and Kansas State's Darren Sproles, Morency with his total of 561 rushing yards in three games trails Louisiana Tech's Ryan Moats, who is averaging just over 198 yards per game.

Donovan Woods has improved steadily at quarterback, and Woods along with backup Al Pena, who was a perfect 4-for-4 passing, both improved in that area against SMU. Woods was 6-of-11 for 99 yards with two touchdowns. Counting two drops in the first half, Woods really should have been 8-for-11 on the night.
,br> "I thought Pena came in and played well," said Miles. "Donovan, I felt that he played pretty well. He did the things we asked him to do last night."

Offense, defense and special teams have all contributed. The win over SMU may have been the best example. The combination of Cole Farden's touchbacks on kickoffs, of which he had eight and two returned short of the 20, along with defensive stops, and Darrent Williams' five long punt returns all resulted in plus field position. Williams's five returns led to touchdowns. His 57-yard fumble return led to a field goal. The Cowboys average field position for the entire night was a starting point of their own 49-yard-line.
,br>  "It was a tremendous advantage," said Miles of the choice field position. "You had the feeling that SMU couldn't get off their goalline, and they would punt to us and that carried the momentum of the game to us immediately."

Another important advantage for the Cowboys in the game included being able to get all of the backup personnel playing time in the second half. It boosts morale and also gives the coaching staff some ideas for the off week.

"I enjoyed seeing Calvin Roberts and (tight end) Paschal Smith get in there on offense along with the second line and Julius Crosslin," said Miles. "Nathan Peterson is coming along; he played well. He can look forward to playing a lot of snaps in the future. Chase Holland (safety) and a number of guys got snaps and minus one a play (Romo's 59-yard touchdown run) looked good on defense."

It is time to move on and Miles and his staff plan to do that starting with Sunday night's practice. The plan is to practice all week, including a night practice on Monday, and then after a good conditioning workout on Friday morning with running and lifting give the team Saturday and Sunday off. They will start the first week of Big 12 play the same way they started the opener with UCLA with the first practice on Monday. In between there are a myriad of objectives for the five practices through Thursday.

"First, we have to improve our individual personnel, each coach making sure they have their players working on the technique and the abilities we will need with better opponents coming up," explained Miles of his off week plan. "Then we need to look at guys that are competing for playing time, and look at any personnel changes that need to be made. We need to self scout ourselves. Offense, defense, special teams, how you look to your opponents. Then we look at any additions in schemes, what we need for the rest of the season. We'll look at our opponents coming up and work some against them, and finally, give them some time over the weekend."

Miles is cautious and isn't making any promises, but he does say that if this team continues to improve then this could be a very special season. He talks of the possibility of some Big 12 team being in contention to win the Big 12 and play for a national championship. He doesn't name his team or any other, just that the possibility is out there for somebody in the Big 12. The Daily Oklahoman's John Helsley reminded him that he never placed any preseason limits on his team, and Miles echoed why he didn't.

"We knew we had an advantage coming in this season," answered Miles. "We had two fullbacks, two veteran tight ends, a good offensive line, young wide receivers, tailbacks, and were confident that Donovan would develop as the quarterback. On defense we had a fast, talented, experienced secondary, quality linebackers, and a young defensive front that we thought would improve. When Jason Ricks came in and earned the field goal kicking job we felt we were in pretty good shape."

Approximately one-fourth of the way through the 2004 campaign the Cowboys are in very good shape. The head coach feels he has his team's ability sized up well. He has their frame of mind and motivation in the right place, and now he is presented with a week to make any adjustments and fine tune before the games start counting for more. More is what this Cowboy team is looking for.

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