Oklahoma State 101: Youth abounds

MIKE GUNDY

TALK ABOUT YOUR unknowns – Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy says as many as 10 freshmen will play for OSU this year. There are 12 first time starters on the offense and defense – four of them on the offensive line, with OSU losing 14 of 22 starters from last year's Cotton Bowl squad, including two first round NFL draft selections. As for WSU's defense, they might need to put on their track shoes..

Why? Because Mike Gundy says he anticipates running a 70-30 pass-to-run ratio, although some of those pass plays will be short screens and pitches similar to runs.

Can a Cougar squad eager to issue a national wakeup call surprise Oklahoma State?

Cougars (0-0) vs Cowboys (0-0)
AT A GLANCE
KICKOFF:
4:00 pm Pacific Time

WHERE:
Boone Pickens Stadium (60,200)

TELEVISION:
FSN

RADIO:
The Cougar Sports Radio Network covers much of the West. Click here for listings.

THE LINE:
Oklahoma State by 15.5

LAST MEETING:
Oklahoma State won in Seattle in 2008, 39-13.

THE SERIES:
OSU leads 2-1.

CF.C PREDICTION:
Cougars 21, Pokes 20

THE COWBOYS ON OFFENSE

Players to Know
Brandon Weeden, QB: The 26 year old former baseball player replaces OSU's all time leading passer Zac Robinson. Weeden has maturity and arm strength on his side but is inexperienced and will be the first to captain the new OSU spread offense.
Kendall Hunter, RB: Hunter is on the small side (5-8, 198) but has potential NFL speed and talent. He is OSU's most proven offensive weapon but it remains to be seen how much of a focal point he will be in the new pass-happy offense. An ankle injury plagued him last year but he led the Big 12 in rushing in '08
Tracy Moore, WR: OSU isn't exactly green at receiver, but nobody truly filled the void amidst the DezBryant fiasco last year.

With four receiver formations now OSU's norm, the whole group has to step up. The 6-2, 237 pound Moore is the most physically promising.

Overview
The Cowboys have traditionally been a running back squad but the legacy of the Mike Gundy era will be the passing game. Gundy decided to take that up a notch this year in hiring new offensive coordinator Dana Holgorsen from Houston (and previously at Texas Tech though Mike Leach mostly retained control over the offense). Holgorsen isn't yet 40, but he is a man, and he'll be implementing a version of Tech's spread offense with a few changes of his own. The passing will be plentiful.

Strategy
Yes, the d-line's ability to crunch the pocket and get to both quarterback and running back early is important but here's what else is critical -- Attack the receivers. Holgorsen's offense figures to put as much pressure on the receivers as the quarterback. Routes are fast, precisely timed and the receivers take hits. WSU needs to get physical with the receivers and -- perhaps most importantly -- not give up cheap yardage on short routes. If WSU is going to be sound defensively, their talent on the front seven has to come through to keep Hunter under control so that they can pay ample attention to the pass.

THE COWBOYS ON DEFENSE

Players to Know
Ugo Chinasa, DE: At 252 pounds, Chinasa is OSU's best speed rusher. He had a team best 6.5 sacks last year. Orie Lemon, MLB: The senior returns after a torn ACL in '08. He is one of the few experienced players and will have to bring a steady presence to the center of the defense.

Jamie Blatnick, DE: One of the Cowboys' top d-linemen, he is expected to play now that an offseason felony charge has been reduced to a misdemeanor. Safety Victor Johnson, also in trouble with the law this offseason, is expected to play as well. Gundy, however, has refused to comment on their status for Saturday over the past several weeks. As of Thursday morning, there was still no word. Gundy said earlier this week he had not yet made his decision on Blatnick and that he he still needs to gather more information on Johnson before making a final decision. Johnson was arrested twice back in the summer, on June 11 and July 24.

Overview
Veteran coach Bill Young runs a very disciplined 4-3 defense but as with the offense, the Cowboy defense hemorrhaged talent in the off-season. Only four starters return. Outside linebacker and cornerback appear the biggest question marks.

Strategy
Be aggressive and stay creative. Set up the circumstances for this young defense to get mistake happy. WSU needs to stress the defense with their own tempo. Washington State must prove they can hit a big play early, or OSU will simply do what WSU opponents have done the last two years and send in blitzers at will. Jeff Tuel is still a young quarterback but he is far more experienced than the secondary he is up against and he and the Cougs must make plays and move the chains.

THE COWBOYS ON SPECIAL TEAMS
The Cowboys have been historically sound at the return game and have both their kicker and punter back from '09. True freshman Justin Gilbert is the punt returner and had a nifty 80-yard return for a score in a recent scrimmage. Washington State and their gunners need to make him feel the heat and see if a freshman mistake could be in the offing.

FINAL THOUGHTS
  • The local media reports have been almost glowing but the off-season talent loss on offense for OSU borderlines on catastrophic. It may be felt most at the offensive line where they lost 4 starters including No. 6 overall draft pick Russell Okung. OSU gave fantastic protection to its QB last year, but it's hard to see it not being an issue in 2010.
  • The new spread offense has everybody in Stillwater psyched, but they do not have the right personnel in place just yet. The new offense would seem to de-emphasize OSU's strongest position (running back) in favor of its weakest (receiver) in the current roster.
  • If the Cougar defense is ready to take a quantum leap, OSU is a pretty good stage. They are a young offense in transition right now and could start off shaky.

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