OSU-Texas A&M: Matchups & Prediction

While Mike Gundy continues to keep Oklahoma State's quarterback plans a secret for Saturday at Texas A&M the majority of guesses have third-year sophomore Al Pena starting against the Aggies. Pena's experience includes completinig 7 of 11 passes for 94 yards in five games last season and a touchdown in a two-minute drill against SMU just before halftime.

Last week, Pena came in when Bobby Reid was injured and led OSU to a touchdown before throwing an interception on the Cowboys final possession when he didn't get enough on a ball he wanted to see go out of bounds. He finished 4 of 7 for 64 yards. A short college resume for a player that has a little moxie to him.

"It felt good to get back on the field, a little nerve wracking in the beginning because it was so sudden, but once I got in there and settled it just felt real good to be back on the field," Pena said of his experience last Saturday against Missouri.

Pena is a frequent post-practice penalty sprinter. The guy likes to have fun, and sometimes his activities aren't in accordance with Mike Gundy's wishes. It's part of his personality that also has him as a gun-slinger type of quarterback that isn't shy on confidence, even though he has played little.

"I guess you could say that," Pena said when asked if he was a swashbuckler, gun-slinger type of quarterback. "You have to have confidence and I have a lot of confidence in the other 10 guys that I am out there with, so that helps me feel like that. If you go out there feeling confident it gives you that much more of a chance to perform the way you need to."

Pena knows his football - you have to coming off the bench and showing the kind of command he had last Saturday, rather than the rust that would be logical for a quarterback that gets few reps. He grew up following his dad, Jorge Pena, a high school coach and now head coach at Hidalgo High School in far south Texas. Pena played for his dad, who was his offensive coordinator, at Leander, Texas. He ran a sophisticated offense and was a champ at reading coverages. Now, he could possibly make his first college start just 100 miles or so from the high school where he set virtually all the single-season records. His ticket request list is long, but his mind is on the game, not the stands.

"You have to block it out," Pena said of all the family and friends that will be there. "I wouldn't have it any other way. I get to go back home and play in front of my family and get the opportunity to play, but you have to block it all out and concentrate on executing the game plan and winning the game."

Something else he has blocked out is his sudden celebrity status. For a long time he could walk by the media completely ignored. This week he's been interview request number one.

"It's kind of a big change, but I also have to block that out," added Pena. "I go out and do the interviews and just go home and focus, and not pay too much attention. I haven't read the newspapers. My girlfriend is saving them and I will look at them one day. Right now I am trying to focus on the game."

A former top-rated football video game player, Pena now has a custom simulator that OSU has purchased to study plays and possible defenses from the opponent. He always grades high on the simulator, but would prefer to get his grade Saturday at Kyle Field doing the real thing.

OSU – A&M Key Matchups

OSU's Offensive Line vs. A&M's Defensive Line
Texas A&M came into this season with one of the top regarded defensive lines in the Big 12, consisting of defensive tackles Johnny Jolly and Red Bryant and defensive ends Jason Jack and Chris Harrington (all but Harrington were returning starters). The Aggies have been decent against the run, allowing 124 yards a game, but the pass defense has been a different story. The Aggies have sacked opposing quarterbacks just 11 times in five games and as a defensive unit are allowing a league worst 305 yards through the air. Overall, A&M is last in the league in total defense.

Oklahoma State has been far from a jugarnaut on offense, but signs of life came last week and it was keyed by the offensive line and fullback Shawn Willis. The switch to the I-formation in the second half against Missouri yielded yards on the ground, and gave better protection to Bobby Reid and Al Pena. The quarterbacks have to help by getting the ball away in a timely fashion. Tackles Charlie Johnson and Corey Hilliard should be the key in protecting the QB. If the offensive line wins this matchup it will go a long way to Oklahoma State winning the game.

OSU's Wide Receivers vs. A&M's Secondary
We just documented A&M's failure to stop the pass. The other half of that depressing stat for the Aggies is a secondary that is beat up and struggling. Free safety Jaxson Appel is one of the best in America, but he is surrounded by youth and corners that bite on fakes like skiddish animals. Marquis Carpenter and Brock Newton have had problems all season. Melvin Bullitt is a solid strong safety, but the safeties can't cover all the receivers. D'Juan Woods will likely get double attention, which he can beat. But the other Cowboy receivers – like an emerging Ricky Price, Luke Frazier, Tommy Devereaux and maybe Seth Newton - could have a fun trip to Kyle Field. The Cowboys need to be smart about this, work the fakes, and find the openings. Every other team has so far this season.

OSU's Defensive Front vs. A&M QB Reggie McNeal
Missouri quarterback Brad Smith was a nightmare last Saturday. Reggie McNeal is a similar talent, except McNeal is beat up. The senior that did a number on the Cowboys last season in Stillwater has a hip pointer and a high ankle sprain. That will make him close to even with Cowboy defensive leader and linebacker Lawrence Pinson. McNeal runs an Aggie offense that seems to change from week to week, and the best guess is that A&M will try to do a Missouri impersonation on Saturday. If they do, then running the option will expose McNeal to even more banging around. The Cowboys have to hit him and hit him hard - discourage him from running, try to discourage the Aggies from using option. Get A&M in a conventional run and pass game and the Cowboys can go back to what they enjoy the most, pressuring the backfield. If McNeal shows up healthier and the option is clicking then the Cowboys will have to do a better job of assignment defense than they did against Smith and Mizzou or it will be a long afternoon at Kyle Field.

OSU Special Teams vs. A&M Special Teams
Pretty simple, win the kicking game. OSU has won it in every game but the Colorado game and that was really a break even proposition. The problem is Oklahoma State can't afford to break even in special teams because they need to assist the offense and defense. Returns and preventing A&M from any big punt returns is important. This will be the battle of the spread punts as both teams use the West Coast style punt formation. The OSU spread better be better. Bruce "Sunshine" Redden is good, but so is Aggie kicker Todd Pegram. The Aggies have punted the ball farther, but freshman Matt Fodge seems to come up with whatever size punt he needs at the time.

Prediction
If this game were in Stillwater and Boone Pickens Stadium, I would pick the Cowboys, but it isn't. Kyle Field will have 65,000-70,000 fans and they will be cheering the Aggies. It's one of the best atmospheres in all of college football. I see the Aggies a little more comfortable at home, and the Cowboys coming up just short. I've been wrong the last two weeks, so I wouldn't mind being wrong for a third week in a row.
Texas A&M 23, Oklahoma State 20

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