How Good Are These Cowboys?

STILLWATER – I know you've already asked yourself the question. If you haven't, the question is on the tip of your tongue: How good are the Cowboys? Or, if you are really a hardcore fan, how good are we? It's okay to say we. If you go to the walk, or if you've bellied up to the higher ticket prices, or if you know the words to the fight song and alma mater then you're on board.

The answer is we don't know how good this football team is. The three blow out wins have been fun, a lot more fun than the very similar three-game schedule that started last season. The only similarity between this year and last is the record, 3-0. The fashion in which it was accomplished is totally different.

That gives us a start. We know this team is better than last year's team. They have disposed of a Division I-AA in Missouri State and Arkansas State and Florida Atlantic by a combined score of 135-25. Last year's total at this time was 58-23.

On offense we know that Bobby Reid is an improved quarterback that has more improvement to make. He seems to make strides with every game. We know the running back position is stacked, really stacked after seeing Dantrell Savage, at approximately 75 percent of his abilities, make a Barry Sandersesque-type run cutting all the way back across the field and then going 70 yards for a touchdown. He now joins Mike Hamilton, Julius Crosslin and Keith Toston, and all are talented in their own special way. The receivers are better thanks to the addition of Adarus Bowman, who himself had a highlight reel play by catching a short pass from Reid and turning it into a 69-yard touchdown, all with a little help from his friends.

"When I caught the ball and looked out there and saw D'Juan Woods out there as a lead blocker," Bowman said of the play. "Actually D'Juan and Ricky Price both there lead blockers, I kind of knew I had a chance to go all the way with it."

The offensive line is not there yet, but they are improving with every game. Two of the Cowboys leading playmakers even have a slight disagreement over whether the progress is gradual or in great leaps and bounds.

"It's kind of both at the same time," said Bowman. "I thought we took a big a big step forward, but we've got to continue to get better and correct all the mistakes that we made. Winning the game we take a big step, but we have to get better."

"I think it is a gradual process and each week we try to get better," said Reid.

While the offense is making strides in the right direction, the defense has made a large jump. A mostly new linebacker corps is improving rapidly. The secondary has been steady and hasn't allowed anywhere close to the number of big plays they allowed against the first three opponents last season. The defensive line is where it has started and they are flat out smothering people.

The first team defense has still not been scored on and they followed up their five sacks and 10 tackles for losses last week in Little Rock with five more sacks in the 48-8 conquering of Florida Atlantic, and another 11 tackles for loss. The defense also produced its first score of the season as Martel Van Zant and defensive end Marque Fountain combined to force FAU quarterback Sean Clayton to cough up the ball and linebacker Chris Collins got a relative easy three-yard scoop and score.

"I have to thank the rest of the defensive line, especially the defensive tackles - Larry Brown, XLK, McBean," said Fountain, who had two sacks and four tackles for a loss. "Without them I could not have made those plays. They do a great job and because of that I was back in a groove tonight. I was able to make some plays."

Brown said, "We're all helping each other, you know what I say. We have great players up and down the defensive line and that is what you have to have to come up with big plays. We set each other up." Defensive end Victor DeGrate said, "We're just starting to play together as a team, and the front four is the key to the defense. The young linebackers are stepping up and the secondary is gaining in maturity. We've got to step it up and set the tone because we are the leaders on the defense."

Mike Gundy gave credit to the defense and his guys on the defensive line for igniting the effort against FAU, but he also threw in that question - the same question you're asking.

"They played reckless and created a lot of havoc on the quarterback," said the Cowboys head coach. "They've stuffed the run and they've done what we've asked them to do in these three games. The big question is they haven't given up any points, but how good are the three teams we've played? They've been very average on offense, but we've still stuffed them and shut them out."

How good are these Cowboys? This Saturday may give all of us a better answer when they tee it up at 8 p.m. in Houston. Physically, the Houston Cougars are a very solid 3-0 team. They have a high-powered offense led by a potential Heisman Trophy candidate in Kevin Kolb. He is the leading passer in the "pass happy" school's history. He is a quarterback that Gundy once picked out and had committed to the Cowboys for several months before Houston hired his former high school coach Art Briles as its head coach. Gundy isn't sore about losing Kolb. He's eager to see how his defense can stop the slinger from Stephenville.

"Now they have a big challenge this week with Kolb in Houston," said Gundy. "They run up some points. They are very well coached and they can play. I'm looking forward to that, seeing how the defense responds."

"It kind of helps us because we have a lot of head hunters like Nate (Peterson) and Victor," said Xavier Lawson-Kennedy, who had three tackles and one for a loss. "We probably will have to work on a lot of pass rush moves this week. U of H is a good passing team and they will try to open us up and we will try to shut them down with the pass rush. I'm excited because we've got a lot of Houston guys and I'm excited to see how they react, and how they play and how we all try to help them next week."

That's where the mental challenge comes this week as there are four starters and 11 other players that should see action that are from the Houston vicinity. Going home to play in front of the home folks can be a challenge.

"That just comes with the territory of playing college ball, going to Houston next week is just an away game," Reid said in trying to play it off. "It's an away game that happens to be in my home town. My friends and family are going to be there, but I'm still the quarterback of my team and I have to do what it takes to get ready and help them win."

Sounds good, and so far this team has stood up and taken account of themselves. Until they don't then we should give them the benefit of the doubt. Right now, I could see a loss to Houston, but at the same time I can't rule out another blowout win or anything in between. The answer is now less than a week away.

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