Cowboys Begin Preparing For Sooners

STILLWATER - During Oklahoma State head football coach Mike Gundy's Sunday teleconference with the beat writers and reporters the usual pre-Bedlam questions were asked. What is your relation with Bob Stoops? How do you channel the emotion of Bedlam to make it productive? What do you think of the color crimson? However, none of those are really relative to the major concerns Gundy and staff happen to be dealing with heading into the season finale with their archrival.

The Cowboys had a golden opportunity Saturday in Waco, Texas to win their first Big 12 road game and stay alive for a bowl game. The bowl game would have extended the program's consecutive bowl string to a school record four and, more importantly, bought the team a month more of valuable practice time with a team full of young players.

The road win, staying alive for a bowl and a winning season was over early as the Cowboys handed Baylor a 38-0 first half advantage thanks to five first-half turnovers, three of those resulted directly in Baylor scores and another kept Oklahoma State out of the end zone. The defense contributed by letting Baylor convert a couple of third down and double digit situations, and the special teams had a melt down half as well.

Going into the wind in the first quarter, a 36-yard punt with a 34-yard return set up the first Baylor score. In the first half freshman Matt Fodge punted for a 34-yard average, and later in the game there was a kickoff return for a touchdown negated by a block in the back and two fumbles on punt returns. It was one of the worst special teams days for the Cowboys in several seasons.

The talk after the game was that the team came out flat. It's been a reoccurring problem on the road, and so have the turnovers - seven at Texas A&M, five at Iowa State and now eight at Baylor. It all started on Saturday with a fumble by Mike Hamilton at the end of a 12-yard run. The Bears cashed that donation into a touchdown to make it 14-0.

"Some of it was the running backs getting stripped of the football, but that goes back to us as coaches putting this team in the best position to win," said Gundy. "We have to make sure the running backs understand that they have to take care of the football."

Some fumbles are caused while others are carelessness, and the Cowboys have had more of the latter.

"I think we've had three (fumbles) caused where a defender blew our guy up, but the rest have been strips," analyzed Gundy. "That's a case of the ball carrier not taking care of the ball. That has to be stressed that he has the responsibility of taking care of the football."

It's not just fumbles, Saturday's give aways included interceptions too - four of them, one returned for a touchdown. It's turnovers period that the Cowboys have to figure out how to curb severely before this team can move on and achieve the success they are capable of this season in the finale with OU, and in the future.

"Some of it is based off the style of offense, but a lot of it has to do with who is handling the football," added Gundy. "The guy touching the ball last year (Vernand Morency) is playing for the Houston Texans. In the passing game last year there were not a lot of reads and most of the time we were just dumping it off. We have to make the quarterbacks aware of our wishes."

That brings us to quarterback and it didn't take a veteran football coach to figure out that Bobby Reid was totally out of sync, not prepared to succeed and couldn't get anything going while commanding the offense.

"Bobby didn't play well enough or stay into the game mentally enough to leave him in the game," said Gundy.
Why? "I'm not sure right now," continued the Cowboys head coach and a former OSU quarterback. "There could be a lot of contributing factors as to whether he is in the flow of the game or not. It could be youth, ability, ability of the defense, playing on the road versus playing at home."

It would lead everyone to believe that Al Pena will get the start in the Bedlam game on Saturday in Norman. That decision had not been made when Gundy discussed it with the media on Sunday, but Gundy's comments led one to believe Pena would get the nod.

"We will make a decision on that as the week goes on," said Gundy. "We haven't got that far yet. It was not a lot of difference from what I thought I had seen. On the first interception Al was blindsided and that helped cause the interception. On the other he was scrambling and threw back across his body which we coach him not to do. He was productive throughout the game, and Bobby was not in his time in the game."

There are only certain rewards and incentives left to play for on Saturday. The biggest is that always boastful opportunity to beat your rival. That kind of win has and can still be momentum building during the offseason from one year to the next. It can help recruiting. There are other incentives too, and they include playing better than any game so far this season, setting an example to follow as this young team and new staff work to eliminate the mistakes for the 2006 season.

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