OSU-Washington State: Key Matchups

I don't know if I am doing you a disservice or not because, quite frankly, I don't know if Washington State is improved over the 1-11 record from a year ago or the 3-22 record in the Paul Wulff era.

I feel like I have a pretty good read on the Cowboys. I believe the defense will be better, maybe much better, than preseason prognosticators believe. I know there is great excitement about the offense and I share that excitement and have a firm, absolute, belief that Brandon Weeden is going to be teriffic at quarterback.

Still, I don't know if this is a game the Cowboys will blow out and have a chance to rest or flex scoreboard muscles in the fourth quarter. For me it hinges more on Washington State. If they have improved to say the level of a Kansas State or Iowa State then this could be competitive into the second half. If they are still closer to the Washington State of last year then get ready for a false sense of security out of Saturday's game.

Key Matchups
1. OSU Receivers vs. WSU Secondary
This may be one of the strongest areas for the Cougars with strong safety and All-Pac-10 candidate Chima Nwachukwu. The corners are young but athletic. On the front line the addition of standout Juco defensive tackle Brandon Rankin and emmergence of defensive end Kevin Kooyman will help the pass rush.

The key is the Oklahoma State receivers must catch the ball and make plays for this new offense to operate in sync. Sure, Kendall Hunter is a primary weapon but this spread requires multiple weapons spreading the field and the defense to succeed at the top level.

In fall camp, the Oklahoma State receivers have been inconsistent, good one day or one scrimmage and then average the next. It needs to be consistently good - not great, but good. Actually, great would be better.

Washington State averaged giving up 275.6 yards per game passing last year and the Cowboys should have a speed advantage. The Cougars also gave up 21 touchdown passes versus just intercepting 10 rival tosses. Those ratios are all good for the Cowboys and it is up to the offense to make it happen.
Edge: Solid to OSU Receivers

2. OSU Center Grant Garner and Left Guard Lane Taylor
vs. WSU Defensive Tackle Brandon Rankin
Brandon Rankin is identified as a difference maker and Washington State head coach Paul Wulff is more than happy to unveil the 6-5, 281-pounder in Stillwater.

Folks like Alabama and USC wanted Rankin before it looked like he might not be eligible. Wazzu stayed with him and he stayed true to the Cougars. He has help as the defensive line has been a strong part of the team in preseason camp dominating the first scrimmage.

I don't have to tell you that the Cowboys are replacing four offensive line starters this season. Fortunately, the one returning starter in Lane Taylor should see Rankin, and receive help from veteran center Grant Garner, who was good enough three years ago to play as a true freshman when David Washington was injured at Troy.

This should be a fun matchup to put the binoculars on during the game. If the Cowboys own the matchup it will be a long night for the Cougars. If Rankin is dominant, then OSU will have to run away from him and devote more manpower for protection.
Edge: Even

3. WSU Quarterback Jeff Tuel
vs. OSU Strong Safety Markelle Martin
Tuel got his feet wet last season, but he had best beware of Markelle Martin. The Cowboys talented strong safety has corner speed to go with a killer instinct as a hitter. Former Ole Miss quarterback Jevan Sneed can testify to Martin's vicious nature. Martin is not just a hitter as he has become a leader and a technician in the secondary that makes plays with his head now along with his ability. Expect at least three major plays during the game either made by or severely influenced by Markelle Martin.
Edge: Solid to Markelle Martin

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