A major concern for Oklahoma State is the perceived emotional edge that Indiana may have in the game Monday. It's the first bowl game for the Hoosiers in 14 years and they were led to Tempe by a head coach, Terry Hoeppner, that died tragically following a gallant fight against a brain tumor, all the while building the Indiana program and making football popular on the Bloomington campus again.
"Coach Hep provided a goal for us and also a slogan," said Indiana fullback Josiah Sears. "His poem for us was Don't Quit and that became the motto for us this season, and has been for awhile. It was incredible with all the adversity that he dealt with in his own life that he never quit and he kept pressing forward and lived as long as he did.
"Coach Lynch has done a great job as well using Play 13 and making that important and that we play one play and one game at a time and I think that has been equally important for us," added Sears about Bill Lynch who jumped in after Hoeppner's death and helped the players and staff finish the dream.
Make no mistake this Indiana team is not just riding emotion. They are talented and were in all but two of the games they played this season including narrow losses to Illinois 27-14 and to Penn State 36-31, who defeated Texas A&M on Saturday in the Alamo Bowl. They have an explosive offense and a defense that features the top sack artist in the country in defensive end Greg Middleton.
The fact that Indiana is so excited to be bowling is a concern, but one that Mike Gundy feels his team will make up for.
"We discussed that as a team and I had a concern about that," said Gundy. "I had concern about how excited Indiana was because I know early in my coaching career I didn't go to bowls and then how excited I was when I finally made it to a bowl game and they've been 13 or 14 years not being in a bowl.
"The flip side is that we've done it several times and these guys have been here and that experience we hope helps us. Being around the Indiana staff I know they are going to be prepared. I also know our team is thrilled to be here. The last thing is the experience that I've had is if the players really like each other they will enjoy being together away from home for another week of practice and will practice and play well and make the most out of it."
"We're completely focused now," said OSU quarterback Zac Robinson, playing in his second bowl game. "We had the time off and then we got right back into it with the practice and the preparation and once we got back into the routine and then we got down here and it was like a regular practice week."
And yes, Oklahoma State does understand the perception that comes with a win here -- finishing with a 7-6 winning record. , as compared to losing and completing the season 6-7. Gundy says that is not imperative, but for a group that is very competitive like his team they want the winning mark.
Top Three Matchups
OSU Defense vs. Indiana QB Kellen Lewis
The numbers don't lie. Lewis had 653 yards and eight touchdowns rushing and threw for 2,839 yards and 26 touchdowns during the regular season. He is the absolute focal point for Indiana on offense. He makes it go or brings it to a halt, which he did at times with 10 interceptions and a midseason problem with fumbles.
"Sometimes we forget that Kellen is just a sophomore and playing the quarterback position in a spread offense that ball is in his hands a lot," said Indiana head coach Bill Lynch. "In both the run game and the pass game, and then he takes off with it and runs it himself a lot. He's worked on taking care of it and he has made a lot of plays for us. I thought he had a great season and I don't worry about him turning the ball over. Now having not played in 40 days you always worry a little bit about how your team is going to play overall because this is a lot like an opener. It's the same for both teams."
The Oklahoma State defense has had problems with quarterbacks like Lewis all season long. They struggled against similar signal callers at Troy, Texas and Kansas.
"He's a great athlete," said OSU linebacker Jeremy Nethon. "Talent-wise, he can play with anyone. His playing style is different. He's fast and a good athlete and we've watched a lot of film and have tried very hard to prepare for him."
Gundy says, "He does a really nice job of making plays, and as much as anything I just think you call him a good football player."
The advantage is that OSU defensive coordinator Tim Beckman did coach against Lewis and Indiana a year ago and with lots of success. Of course, that came with Ohio State's defensive personnel.
Advantage: Kellen Lewis
OSU WR Adarius Bowman and TE Brandon Pettigrew vs. Indiana Secondary
Bowman is completely healthy and fired up to play in his final game as an Oklahoma State Cowboy. Being on the sidelines for the final three weeks of the season was no fun and he wants to add to his 61 receptions and go over 1,000 yards for the second season in a row along with adding a few more touchdowns. Indiana, who struggled some in the secondary this season, allows 239 yards a game passing, is well aware of Bowman.
"Bowman is one of the top receivers in the country and if I had to compare him to anybody I would have to say it would be (James) Hardy," said IU cornerback Tracy Porter. "They both can make plays and he's a guy that if you mess up in coverage and leave a hole in the zone then he can find it. He can hurt you on your mistakes and he is a tough task for us."
You have to add Pettigrew at tight end and a more experienced Dez Bryant at wide receiver, not to mention the explosive Cowboy running attack with Dantrell Savage and quarterback Zac Robinson, who seems to love to run as well.
"I think the toughest part of defending him and the entire Oklahoma State offense is the balance," said Lynch. "You can always gear a defense toward a receiver, but if you do that you are going to make yourself weak in defending the running game, so with a good balanced offense there are limits to what you can do with your coverage. He's a great player, but is a piece of what makes them a good offense, the same with the tight end Pettigrew."
Indiana is okay defensively but they would rank right around the middle of the pack in the Big 12 and those defenses got chewed up pretty good by the OSU offense.
Advantage: Bowman, Pettigrew, and the OSU Offense
OSU LT Russell Okung vs. Indiana DE Greg Middleton
This is a mano-verrsus-mano deal. Middleton is one of the best in the nation as the 6-3, 275-pounder had 16 sacks this season.
"He is definitely a great player and anytime you are leading the nation in sacks then you are a special player," said Robinson. "He has a great first step and good moves with the swim and the rip. We are definitely going to have our hands full up front."
Okung, who is just a sophomore, has 20 college starts under his belt and is one of the best pass blockers and offensive linemen overall for the Cowboys. Watch this battle closely because we think Okung will surprise folks and make it a stalemate, which will be a win for the Cowboys.
Advantage: Okung in a tussle
The Cowboys' bowl experience will be huge, as is the fact they got a jump this week and seemed to get into a routine in their preparation. Both offenses hold the advantage of the opposing defense but the feeling here is that the Cowboys are more explosive as they averaged more points (33.4 to 31.6) and more yards (484.1 to 393).3 against a more difficult schedule. Cowboys win this but in an entertaining show.
Oklahoma State 45, Indiana 35
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