2008 Oklahoma State Cowboys Preview: Can OSU’s defense step up?

Oklahoma State’s 2007 season may be more remembered by the masses for a famous (or is it more infamous?) rant by head coach Mike Gundy than for anything that the Cowboys may have done on the field.

The season itself proved to have many ups and downs, from a loss to Troy, to heartbreakers against Texas A&M and Texas, to thrilling wins over Texas Tech and Kansas State. In the end, the Cowboys finished break-even in the Big 12 and overall in their regular season, but the season ended on a high note with a victory over Indiana in the Insight.com Bowl, the second straight season that the Cowboys have gone to the postseason under Gundy.

But, the Cowboys have the talent to do more than just finish barely above .500, and with many returning starters in their ranks, the pressure is on OSU to perform.

Oklahoma State Cowboys

Coach: Mike Gundy (4th year at Oklahoma State, 18-19 record)

Starters Returning: 16 (8 offense, 6 defense, kicker, punter)

Key Returnees: QB Zac Robinson, WR Dez Bryant, WR Jeremy Broadway, TE Brandon Pettigrew, LT Russell Okung, LG Andrew Lewis, C David Washington, RG Steve Denning, RT Brady Bond, DT Jeremy Chatham, LB Patrick Lavine, STAR Andre Sexton, CB Jacob Lacey, CB Perrish Cox, SS Ricky Price, K Dan Bailey, P Matt Fodge

Key Losses: RB Dantrell Savage, WR Adarius Bowman, DE Marque Fountain, DE Nate Peterson, DT Maurice Cummings, LB Donovan Woods, LB Jeremy Nethon

2008 Schedule

8/30 at Washington State
9/6 vs. Houston
9/13 vs. Missouri State
9/27 vs. Troy
10/4 vs. Texas A&M
10/11 at Missouri
10/18 vs. Baylor
10/25 at Texas
11/1 vs. Iowa State
11/8 at Texas Tech
11/15 at Colorado
11/29 vs. Oklahoma

Key Game: Nov. 29 vs. Oklahoma – The Cowboys scored a couple of big upsets over the Sooners during the Les Miles era, but the Sooners have taken the last five meetings. However, each of the last couple of meetings in Stillwater have been close (38-35 in 2004, 27-21 in 2006), so OU, who may still be in the thick of the national championship hunt come the end of November, will come in on upset alert.

2008 Outlook

The Big 12 is chock full of talented quarterbacks this season, and Oklahoma State is led by one of them, junior Zac Robinson.

Last season, Robinson took over for Bobby Reid in the second game of the season against Florida Atlantic and completed 14 of 20 passes for 250 yards and three touchdowns as the Cowboys won 42-6. Robinson started the next week against Troy, and even though OSU lost 41-23, the sophomore kept the starting job and would show why as the season wore on.

Like Reid, Robinson has the ability to beat you with his arm and his legs, as shown by his impressive numbers last season – 2,824 yards, 23 TD passing, 847 yards, 9 TD rushing. Better yet, he showcased good accuracy and decision-making by completing 60.4% of his passes and tossing only nine interceptions in 333 attempts. There’s a reason why I have him rated as one of the top dual-threat quarterbacks in the country headed into this season, and why the Cowboys should have no problem producing this season.

Robinson won’t be the only one running the ball. Dantrell Savage, who ran for 2,092 yards and 17 touchdowns in his two seasons in Stillwater, will definitely be missed, but he has a more than capable replacement in sophomore Kendall Hunter, who ran for 696 yards and four touchdowns last season and caught 10 passes for 137 yards and a touchdown last season.

Then again, there’s no telling at this point if it’ll be Hunter who gets the majority of the carries, or if it’ll be junior Keith Toston or JC transfer Beau Johnson. Toston ran for 631 yards and six touchdowns as a freshman before seeing his touches greatly diminish as a sophomore, thanks in no small part to losing five games to injury and Hunter’s emergence/Savage and Robinson’s success. As for Johnson, he’s a four-star recruit who ran for more than 1,000 yards last season.

So, whoever carries the ball, and however the carries are split up, the running game should easily produce well over 200 yards per game. One of the backs will have to step up in goal-line and short yardage situations, with the departure of bruiser Julius Crosslin, whose job was to get those tough yards and short scores (23 touchdowns on 145 carries in four seasons).

Star receiver Adarius Bowman is gone after back-to-back 1,000 yard seasons, but Robinson has a new go-to guy in sophomore Dez Bryant, who greatly impressed as a true freshman, catching 43 passes for 622 yards and six touchdowns. Robinson proved his worth big-time late in the season, catching eight passes for 155 yards and two touchdowns in a loss to Kansas and ending the season with a nine-catch, 117-yard, two-touchdown performance in the bowl win over Indiana.

There really isn’t a ton of proven experience behind Bryant in the receiving corps, but junior Jeremy Broadway, who’s also penciled in to start, had 13 catches for 125 yards and a touchdown last season.

Fortunately, to offset the relative inexperience in the receiving corps, the running backs should be a regular part of the passing game, and then there’s also senior tight end Brandon Pettigrew, who’s one of the best at his position in the country. Last season, Pettigrew caught 35 passes for 540 yards and four touchdowns, and another big season could see the senior be drafted on the first day of the 2009 NFL Draft.

To get the most out of an explosive offense, it helps to have a good offensive line, and the Cowboys are definitely set in that area. The return of senior center David Washington after missing the 2007 season will be an even bigger boost to an offensive line that allowed only 11 sacks and opened holes for a rushing attack that averaged 243.2 yards per game.

What will be the difference between this year being an average year and a very good year for the Cowboys is how the defense performs. Last season, the defense allowed 29.5 points and 443 yards per game.

Nice to have an offense that puts up a lot of points, but when you give up plenty, it often means trouble, and that was the case for OSU, as the Cowboys gave up more than 30 points eight times in 13 games. Their record in those games? 3-5.

The only one of their losses last season, a 24-23 setback at Texas A&M on October 6, highlights another big issue that OSU’s defense faced last season – allowing second-half/fourth-quarter comebacks. In that game, OSU squandered a 17-0 halftime lead, and that wasn’t the only time that holding a lead was an issue. They also squandered late leads in wins over Kansas State and Texas Tech, but the most forgettable (or unforgettable) squandering of a lead came against Texas, when the Cowboys rolled into the fourth quarter with a 35-14 lead, only to see the Longhorns score 24 points in the final stanza for a seemingly improbable 38-35 win.

So, clearly, tightening up on defense is a must. While there are several new starters across the D, each of the projected new starters has at least a little experience, and the pass defense, which was a big weakness last season, could actually be the strength of the entire unit.

Last season, Oklahoma State allowed 286.5 yards per game through the air, and 64.5% of opponents’ passes were completed, with 27 going for touchdowns. Not good, not good at all. But, last year’s starting cornerbacks return in Jason Lacey (63 tackles, sack, 5 INT) and Perrish Cox (42 tackles, 2 INT), and at the safety positions, regular starting strong safety Ricky Price (78 tackles, sack) is back, with Quinton Moore, who had 58 tackles and an interception last season, penciled in to start at free safety. If that unit can be solid, it’ll pay big dividends for the Cowboys’ hopes of success.

The early part of Oklahoma State’s schedule does produce challenges. Washington State has a new head coach and a new quarterback, but the Cowboys can’t underestimate the Cougars, especially on the road. The next week, they host another bunch of Cougars from Houston, and with the offensive capability that the Cougars have, that one could be a shootout. However, there’s an excellent chance for OSU to be 4-0 when they hit Big 12 play.

The home games against Baylor and Iowa State are ones that they should win, and if they can win a ‘toss-up’ game against Texas A&M, that should put them at seven wins and a good bet for a bowl. Whether they can get the highest win of Gundy’s tenure and finish over .500 in conference play will depend on if they can pull an upset in the finale against OU, or take one on the road at Missouri, Texas, Texas Tech, or Colorado.

A 7-5 mark will mean a third straight bowl game, and that’s all well and good, but if they can step up in the biggest games and not falter when they’re in position for a win, the Cowboys could be in the running for eight wins or more.

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  • http://none Paul

    I noticed that Troy was not mentioned in this article.

    Will OSU beat Troy?

    Their defense shows improvement and it is a home game for OSU. Along with the revenge factor, will OSU win?