October 10, 2009

Conference Time! OSU starts Big 12 slate

If Oklahoma State is to get a quick start in the Big 12 race, it'll be without some of the key cogs that have raised the program up over the past couple of seasons.

While the Cowboys have dealt with some nagging injuries, the sudden loss of Dez Bryant this week has turned the program on its head. And if they are to win against Texas A&M this morning at 11:30 (Fox Sports Net), it will take a focused effort and contributions from understudies to make it happen.

With Bryant out, the approach to the passing offense will definitely change. Orange Country got a preview of this against Grambling, where quarterbacks Zac Robinson and Brandon Weeden were forced to look for targets without the No. 1 on their chests. That game revealed more about the talents of receivers such as Josh Cooper and Dameron Fooks and those two, plus others, will need to step up with the absence of Bryant - not to mention a tailback corps. that has been decimated by injuries.

And for added difficulty, OSU heads into one of the toughest environments in the league, Kyle Field, where there is concrete for miles and fans sway back and forth as if they're hung over from the night before.

"Our coaches already emphasized it's going to be loud down there so we have to just pay attention to what's going on, pay attention on the sideline," said wide receiver Isaiah Anderson.

The fact that it's the first conference game just ramps up a game that looms large for both teams.

"The reason that it's way different from the beginning is that it's more exciting," said safety Lucien Antoine. "You know that you're playing for the Big 12 Championship, you can't lose a game. If you lose a game you're going to go toward the bottom. This week is just more of a challenge, like every game. Every game is a challenge, but I think from now on, every game we play it feels like we have to win."

That's no joke, as the Big 12 offers few weekends of relaxation. Starting out 0-1 in conference play means a greater degree of difficulty for every game the rest of the way. That said, Andre Sexton feels good about OSU's chances in the dirty dozen.

"We feel very confident," he said. "We started out the season with a great win against Georgia. We had a slip up against U of H, but after that we've corrected the things that we had problems with against U of H and we've continued to get better each week and I think that's just how we're just going to continue to do it in conference and work on our mistakes. That gave us another opportunity to focus on the little things that we weren't doing well on defense and on offense and on special teams and just polish up some things so that we'll be ready come time to play A&M."

The Cowboys come into this game after a much-needed bye week. A&M limps into this contest after a 49-17 loss to Arkansas.

"The game was somewhat deceiving in the score," said head coach Mike Gundy. "Arkansas hit three or four big plays that changed the game. If you take four plays out, the game is completely different. They hit them on a big pass play, they hit them on a big run late, they caught them in a mismatch and the score got lopsided. If you just watch the rest of the game, the score is not that lopsided."

The fifth-year head coach of the Pokes has a lot of respect for A&M, especially on offense. The Aggies' O is rated the second nationally.

"They're as fast-ball, speed-ball as you can get," Gundy said. "In watching them on tape, they're trying to play very fast. It's considerably different than what they were last year. It has some similarities to what you're seeing throughout the country in college football. They want to play very fast. I think they want to keep the defense on the run and limit substitutions. They certainly want to play with a lot of pressure and just continue at full speed."

On the other side of the ball, Gundy and Co. go up against a defensive coordinator that almost came to Stillwater, Joe Kines.

"The guy has been around a long time and coached a lot of ball," he said. "He's very knowledgeable. He's kind of one of the founding fathers of the three-down blitzing package. He's doing a lot of that now and he did a lot of that last year. I remember years ago people talking about the three-down and him being involved in the start of it. They're doing the same types of blitzes and defensive structure now that goes back to that three-down. We've gone against him several times."

So OSU is facing off against a top offense and a wily, old-school defensive schemer. While A&M is seen to be down from years past, Bryant Ward believes this is a chance to make a statement.

"Yeah, I think so," Ward said. "We got healthy and we had a week off. Not everyone's healed up, but it did help out. We need to go out there and get it done, especially since we're not going to have another break until after the bowl game."

Welcome to the Big 12. No more days off.

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