1. Cowboys offensive left tackle RUSSELL OKUNG vs. Washington State right defensive end ANDY MATTINGLY
Washington State is not exactly loaded with playmakers on the defensive side of the ball. Good running teams were really able to run the football on the Cougars last season and good passing teams generally were able to pass on Wazzu.
Mattingly is the Cougars' leading returning tackler and is impressive with 91 tackles, 11 tackles for loss, 8.5 sacks, an interception, and four forced fumbles. That is a lot of play making. He will apparently have to sit out the first quarter as a disciplinary action, but he will come off the bench ready to make up for a lost 15 minutes.
Waiting for the 6-4, 251-pound Mattingly will be 6-5, 290-pound Cowboy left tackle Russell Okung. Okung took on the nation's leading sack artist in Indiana's Greg Middleton and not only shut him out on sacks in the bowl game, but Okung held him scoreless, no tackles. It was impressive to watch and earned Okung several postseason honors, as well as preseason honors going into 2008.
Okung is better than a year ago. He's stronger and quicker. Attitude should play a role in this matchup and Okung is nastier this year than in his first two seasons.
Mattingly is good, but Okung is better and wins this battle on the edge of the trench.
2. Cowboys nose tackles TONGA TEA Jr. and SWANSON MILLER vs. Washington State center KENNY ALFRED
This is a good match up in the ugly zone. Ugly because it is inside where not everything that happens can be seen. Tea is better this season and thanks to Miller, who is an athletic 300-pound plus player, neither of them will have to play 50 or 60 snaps in the game. These two should rotate pretty freely.
Tea is probably the better gap-control run stopper type of player inside, while Miller looks a little more versatile and has the speed to be more effective in a pass rush. Miller also has longer arms that will help him get off the blocks.
You have to realize that Alfred will get help inside from one of the guards, at least getting some brush help, but the 6-2, 300-pound center would likely tell you he doesn't need it. Alfred is a tough guy that is not all that different in playing style from his new head coach Paul Wulff, who was an All-American at center as a Cougar senior.
While we would like to declare an OSU victory in this matchup, we really can't. However, we do think you will be able to call this a push and that would be better than the inside of the Cowboy defensive line fared in most games last season. The bonus is Tea, Miller and company can also improve off this opening contest.
3. Cowboys wide receiver DEZ BRYANT vs. Washington State corners ROMEO PELLUM and ALFONSO JACKSON
The first job of the Oklahoma State offense will be to establish the run. But once they do then it will be time for Dez Bryant, the other wide receivers, and tight end Brandon Pettigrew to have their fun.
If the run game gets established as it did in the bowl game, against a team of similar ability in Indiana, the defense will press up with safeties and linebackers to stop the run, giving Bryant and others the opportunity to operate in one-on-one man coverage.
The Cougars' corners are pretty good and they are really high on Jackson, but Bryant is a receiver that can't be stopped in man coverage. He is too good of an athlete for that.
Bryant wins this match-up provided the run is established. If it isn't, and Jackson and Pellum have safety help over the top then Bryant is going to have to be really good for the passing game to get the desired amount of big plays.
OSU-Washington State: Key Matchups
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