Oklahoma State Preview

Oklahoma State will enter Austin Saturday with a chance to take another step toward the Cowboys' ultimate goal.

From the Oklahoma State offense putting up Playstation numbers to Mike Gundy dancing in the locker room after the Texas A&M win to the Cowboys' occasionally gaudy uniforms, this is a flashy team looking to add some substance by inserting themselves into the national title hunt.

While the Cowboys do strive for some balance offensively, there isn't any doubt that the passing game is the proverbial straw that stirs the drink. Senior Brandon Weeden (6-4 218) has been even better this year than he was a year ago, putting up a 165.03 quarterback rating. He's completing nearly 76 percent of his passes, throwing for 33.2 completions and 376 yards per game — both second in the country — and 15 touchdowns.

Weeden has earned some mention with Aaron Rodgers this week, because of Weeden's advanced age. At 28, he's actually three months older than the Packers star, who is entering his prime as an NFL signal caller. But Weeden's play most represents Rodgers' predecessor, Brett Favre. His arm strength makes him a gamebreaker, because he can make any throw on the football field. It's also what gets him in trouble at times — he has six interceptions in five games — because he knows he can make every throw.

The Cowboy offense thrives on its versatility, and there aren't many more versatile backs than sophomore Joseph Randle (6-1 191), who was recruited by some schools as a safety prospect. He went to Oklahoma State as a running back instead, and has filled in nicely for the departed Kendall Hunter. Randle averages more than 120 all-purpose yards per game, with about 97 per game coming on the ground, where he has eight touchdowns. Randle's versatility showed against Arizona, when he had 99 receiving yards. Jeremy Smith (5-10 205) is more of a power back, and averages 4.9 yards per carry. He has five rushing touchdowns on the year.

Justin Blackmon (6-1 215) is Weeden's top target, and arguably the best player in the Big 12. A year ago, he was close to breaking Texas Tech receiver Michael Crabtree's Big 12 receiving records, though his progress was halted by a one-game suspension. Still, he had nearly 1,800 yards receiving and 20 touchdowns in 12 games. Blackmon's pace is down from his torrid numbers of a year ago, which isn't exactly saying much. Counting in a bowl game, he's still on schedule to put up almost 1,400 receiving yards and 16 touchdowns this year. He's catching more underneath passes this year, and averaging 4.5 yards per catch less than a year ago.

Blackmon's presence has helped to open things up for receivers like Josh Cooper (5-11 195) and Hubert Anyiam (6-0 202), who average a combined 121.4 yards per game. They've caught five touchdowns between them. Tracy Moore (6-1 233) is a tight end hybrid with great hands who averages another 44 receiving yards per game. He has two touchdowns on the season.

The offensive line was expected to be among the Big 12's best, though they haven't necessarily lived up to that yet. The Cowboys have allowed seven sacks, some of which have come because of Weeden's tendency to hold onto the ball to try and make a play. Even with the lost sack yardage, the team still averages four yards per carry. Left tackle Levy Adcock (6-6 322) and right guard Lane Taylor (6-3 310) are both considered All-Big 12 types.

The Cowboy defense doesn't get much credit, though their stats are partly skewed from the fact that they jump out so early on teams. Oklahoma State allows 27.6 points per game, but they can get after the quarterback — they average almost three sacks per game — and defensive coordinator Bill Young is renowned for his ability to make adjustments and scheme against the running game.

The Oklahoma State defensive line is built for mobility, and three of the Cowboys' four defensive linemen have at least two sacks. Ends Richetti Jones (6-3 260) and Jamie Blatnick (6-3 265) have a combined 5.5 tackles for loss and five sacks between them, while defensive tackles Nigel Nicholas (6-3 285) and Anthony Rogers (6-3 284) are quick, penetrating types who have 5.5 tackles for loss and another three sacks themselves. If there's a weakness here, it's that they can be run against — the Cowboys allow 4.4 yards per carry.

Like the defensive line, the linebackers are athletic, if undersized. Shaun Lewis (5-11 220) is one of the Big 12's top young linebackers. He ranks third on the team in tackles and is first in tackles for loss. James Thomas (5-11 215) is Lewis' backup and an excellent blitzer. Thomas is a playmaker with two sacks and two interceptions. Middle linebacker Caleb Lavey (6-3 231) and WILL linebackers Alex Elkins (6-3 225) and Joe Mitchell (6-3 215) all average right around four tackles per game.

The Cowboys' safety duo of Markelle Martin (6-1 198) and Daytawion Lowe (6-0 195) is active and hard-hitting. The two make up Oklahoma State's top two tacklers, and they each have two forced fumbles on the year. Martin is one of the hardest hitters, pound-for-pound, in the Big 12. The cornerback group took a big hit with the injury to Devin Hedgepeth. Brodrick Brown (5-8 185) is paired with return specialist Justin Gilbert (6-0 205) there. The two have five interceptions between them.

Quinn Sharp (6-1 189) serves as both the team's kicker and its punter, and he's been all-conference worthy at both spots. He's 9-for-10 on field goals this season, with the lone miss coming from 42 yards. He has a long of 46. But as good as he is as a place kicker, he's even better as a punter, averaging a whopping 49.2 yards per punt, with nine of his 15 punts going for 50 or more yards. Gilbert is one of the Big 12's most dangerous return men, and he has a 96-yard kickoff return for a touchdown already this year. Cooper hasn't been able to break a punt return, though he's mostly back there for his steady hands.

This is a program looking to take that next step toward national relevance. The Cowboys were just 1-13 against the Longhorns in Big 12 play heading into last year's game, but should be brimming with confidence after taking that contest, in Austin, 33-16 in a game that wasn't ever really that close. If the Cowboys win, they'll be well on their way to their season-ending showdown with Oklahoma, one that could have national title implications. But lose, and the Cowboys will be staring another nice 10-or-so-win season right in the face.


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