November 18, 2006

Next stop? The Twilight Zone

Last week, Oklahoma State officially recovered from the 4-7 season in 2005 by staking claim to its sixth win this season, gaining bowl-eligibility.

Now, with two games left, the mission is simple: Win out and improve what bowl the Cowboys will be playing at in the postseason. That mission starts Saturday at 1 p.m. at Jones/AT&T Stadium on the campus of Texas Tech. The game will not be televised.

This is the first meeting between the two schools since last season's 24-17 Cowboy victory over the Red Raiders in Stillwater. It was the lone conference win for Mike Gundy in his inaugural year as OSU head coach.

"I think our defense had a good scheme and went out and executed," said Gundy of last year's win. "I think our guys played with great effort, pushed and put some pressure on the quarterback, got some hits on him, made some plays in the secondary. Offensively, we were able to move the football, rush the ball some and I think we worked well together on that day."

So now the Cowboys (6-4 overall, 3-3 Big 12) try to post a second-consecutive win over Tech (6-5, 3-4). That's a tough task for a young team, but Gundy says his team is very mature for its collective age.

"They act responsible, they understand what college football is all about," he said. "Our coaching staff has done a good job of instilling the right principles in them. We had two goals, our goal was to win the (Big 12) South and be in postseason play. We were able to accomplish one of those, but I do not think that anybody is selling out and saying lets just ride this thing out and go play a bowl game and have some fun. I know the staff is not and I would be very surprised if the team feels that way."

That's a big question, though. Will OSU be too relaxed because it's already going bowling?

"I do not know if you ever get relaxed in what we do as a coaching staff and as players," Gundy said. "You just prepare for the next game. I do not know the difference in preparing to play Tech with six wins and preparing to play Tech with five. I want our team to play hard. I do not care if we are 10-0 or 0-10. So we are going to go play Tech, we happen to have six wins and we are going to go play hard."

One player who has played hard lately is tailback Dantrell Savage. In his last four games, he has 373 yards and four touchdowns and he's averaging 7.9 yards per carry. Take out the poor performance against Texas (four carries, six yards) and his per-carry average shoots up to 8.5.

"I think his speed can be a little deceptive because he is not very tall," Gundy said. "If you are pursuing him - if I was a defensive player - and I was not careful, you think you are gaining on him and you are actually not gaining on him. He is a lot like Vernand Morency. If you remember during preseason camp, I told you that I thought he had a chance to be as good as Vernand Morency someday. He has some of the same characteristics as Vernand, but probably faster."

The running game could ultimately help out the OSU defense, ranked 90th in overall defense. If the running game can be established early, that could help milk the clock and keep the high-flying Tech offense on the sidelines.

"We need to keep our defense off the field," offensive lineman Corey Hilliard said. "We need to wear their defense down. The more we do that the more we can score. That will be one of the keys to the game."

"We all know Texas Tech wants to throw the ball, but they have a lot more to their offense," linebacker Rodrick Johnson said. "They love screens and draws. You have to go out there and practice and prepare for everything. You never know what they are going to do. Last year, we did a good job. We are looking at trying to do it again.

"The secondary and linebackers will be the key to winning this game. If we can stop the passing game, we will definitely stop the running game. As we all know Texas Tech can put up a lot of points quick on offense. The key is formation recognition and knowing your assignments."

If the defense has anything going for it this weekend, it's that they had success against a similar offense in Baylor.

"Hopefully it helps, Baylor passes the ball a lot," Andre Sexton said. "We worked on the pass a lot last week and it is another week of working on the pass and trying to get pressure on the quarterback. It is pretty similar to last week."

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