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Preview: Oklahoma State vs. Missouri State

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STILLWATER, Oklahoma - There is understandably a much different level of excitement for Cowboy fans heading into Saturday's contest against FCS foe Missouri State than there was for last week's doozy against defending national champion Florida State.

That happens when you drop from playing the No. 1 team in the nation to a middleweight from the FCS.

However, the valiant showing from this young group of Pokes in their near upset of the Seminoles has piqued the interest of the orange-clad faithful and they'll get their first look at the team in the friendly confines of Boone Pickens Stadium at 2:30 p.m. on Saturday.

Here is a preview of the matchup:


Five Things To Watch



1. Consistency and Attitude

A whopping 11 players made their first career starts against No. 1 Florida State last week and 27 freshmen and sophomores played so it was a pleasant surprise for OSU fans to see the Cowboys, arguably the nation's youngest team, so in sync and active against the nation's top team. That has led to a lot of the aforementioned enthusiasm but it would be a major downer to see an unbalanced, lackluster showing – even in almost certain victory – against a team they are expected to trounce. It would be a sobering reminder of the perils of a youth-laden roster.

However, if OSU comes out and takes care of business with a crisp offense and focused defense, it will do a lot to justify the rapid rise in expectations for this team.

Another area fans should look for consistency is in the depth. Coach Gundy and Co. have brought in a wealth of talent in recent years and it should show well beyond the first and even second units against the Bears. It will be a good opportunity for coaches and fans to get a look at the majority of the eligible roster.


2. Tyreek The Freak

Everybody heard the stories of Tyreek Hill's explosive speed and dynamic playmaking leading up to the season but it was even better than most imagined last Saturday – and that was against Florida State.

The junior college transfer befuddled arguably the country's best defense to the tune of 44 yards rushing on eight carries 62 receiving yards on six catches. Those numbers aren't earth shattering but the way they happened and the way they looked are almost impossible to describe and had people taking notice.

Once you include his special teams impact, he ultimately carved his way to 278 all-purpose yards on 12.6 yards per touch. His speed is undeniably game breaking and he has the moves to match.

If you're having a hard time getting fired up to watch this likely blowout, just think about watching what Tyreek can do against an FCS defense and — with Desmond Roland likely sidelined — Hill will get plenty of opportunities.


3. Special Teams Improvement

Coach Gundy didn't hide his displeasure with the Cowboys' kicking game after the Florida State loss, even going as far as saying it cost OSU the game against the Seminoles.

Gundy put the blame on himself but it's hard to blame the head coach for the poor execution put on display in Jerry World.

Sophomore kicker Ben Grogan had his share of ups and downs as a freshman last season – lowlighted by a pair of misses in an upset loss at West Virginia – and showed inconsistency again in the opener, missing a 42-yarder in the first quarter that would have been important later on given how close the game got. He did bounce back a little by nailing a chip-shot 37-yarder as time expired in the second quarter but it would be nice to see him put a more complete, consistent effort together for an entire game. Missouri State shouldn't rattle his nerves so this is a good opportunity if confidence is any part of the issue.

But Grogan's miss was far from the only problem in the kicking game. The Cowboys had two botched snaps in the punting game in the second half, the first of which resulted in a short-field touchdown for Florida State in just six plays. The second was a near disaster where punter Kip Smith had to run out toward the sideline and boot it on the move. The punt barely made it to the 50-yard line.

It was the first-career start for long snapper Kaleb Smith but that issue needs to be rectified quickly, especially given the inconsistencies of Grogan and Smith. Once a strength in the Gundy era, the kicking game has been on a massive decline the past two seasons since the departure of Joe DeForest.


4. Quarterback Play

J.W. Walsh was somewhere in between "good" and "solid" against Florida State and looks to be in full command of the starting role moving forward. It was a big vote of confidence in the junior to use him on every snap against the Seminoles and, overall, he did more good (15-of-27 passing, 203 passing yards, 51 rushing yards, three total TDS) than bad (pick-6 interception, lost fumble). That said, the two mistakes were costly with the latter, for all intents and purposes, deciding the outcome of the game in Arlington.

Look for the coaching staff to test out Walsh's arm more against Missouri State to see how well he can utilize the depth and versatility of the receiving corps, particularly with downfield passing. If he struggles look for junior Daxx Garman or true freshman Mason Rudolph to try to make a statement that the quarterback derby isn't settled just yet.

Garman impressed in the spring and Rudolph was one of the most highly-recruited quarterbacks in the country last year.


5. D-Line Dominance

Most firmly believed the strength of the Cowboys' defense would be the line in 2014. The front four did little to dissuade anyone from that against FSU. The OSU line was dominant at times against a Seminole offensive line that featured five senior starters, three of whom are potential first-round NFL Draft selections.

The defensive line rotation of Emmanuel Ogbah, Jimmy Bean, Ofa Hautau, James Castleman, Sam Wren, Trace Clark, Vincent Taylor, and so on is quite possibly the best in the Gundy era and certainly the deepest.

Ogbah, “Nigerian Nightmare,” led the charge against FSU with six tackles, two sacks, two tackles for loss and two pass breakups en route to Big 12 Defensive Player of the Week honors. Overall, the line helped limit FSU to just 106 yards on 3.4 yards per carry and made life hell for reigning Heisman winner Jameis Winston in the pocket, forcing him into a pair of uncharacteristic interceptions.

And that was in all likelihood the best o-line they will face all season.

Look for OSU's talented front to stay hungry and try to build on its current momentum by decimating Missouri State on Saturday.


Notables

· Oklahoma State has won 18-straight home openers, 17-straight games against FCS opponents and 22-straight at home against unranked foes.

· OSU leads the all-time series with Missouri State 6-0, meeting last in 2008 when OSU beat the Bears 57-13 in Stillwater. The Cowboys are 23-5-1 all-time against FCS opponents but hasn't lost since 1949. OSU is 11-0 against the Missouri Valley Conference.

· OSU has won its past five home openers by an average score of 58-17.

· In an odd stat that is sure not to last, OSU and Missouri State rank No. 1 nationally in the FBS and FCS, respectively, in two categories. The Cowboys and Bears rank No. 1 in fourth-down conversion defense, allowing a zero percent conversion rate. The two also rank No. 1 in FBS and FCS, respectively, in red zone offense with 100 percent scoring success.

· To lead off a short list of notable streaks, Oklahoma State was back to its ball-hawking ways to start the season, forcing FSU into two turnovers. Both came off of interceptions of Heisman winner Jameis Winston. The picks give OSU at least one forced turnover in 22-straight games.

· The next streak in the lineup should come as no surprise given OSU's long-term success with its quick-strike offense. David Glidden's 55-yard TD reception in the second quarter marked the 36th-straight game OSU has had a touchdown drive of faster than two minutes. It is also the 52nd time OSU has done it in the past 53 games. Glidden's reception capped a three-play, 76-yard drive in 58 seconds.

· Last but certainly not least, OSU's 31 points against the Seminoles kept the Pokes' nation-leading streak of 20-points-or-more alive at 53 consecutive games. Not only does that streak lead the nation, it is flirting with the all-time NCAA record since the FBS/FCS split in 1978. USC holds the record with 63-consecutive games set from 2002-06.



Prediction

This is a great opportunity for Oklahoma State to get some quality run for its young players and test out the depth in a far less stressful setting than last week's tilt with the top-ranked ‘Noles. Missouri State is no Savannah State in the FCS but it is nowhere near a heavyweight either. OSU is clearly more talented at every position and should roll but there is plenty to be learned in the process to benefit this team down the line. This is a hard game to peg from a score standpoint, it all depends on the Cowboys' level of focus and when Gundy chooses to call off the dogs.

Oklahoma State 55, Missouri State 12

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