Oklahoma State has been a hard team to peg through the first two weeks of the season.
The Cowboys were riding high after a near upset victory against No. 1 Florida State in Jerry World in Week One, but after a subpar, half-hearted showing against FCS foe Missouri State a week ago and the loss of starting quarterback J.W. Walsh for two months the enthusiasm in Payne County has been tempered somewhat.
On the opposite side will be a confident, experienced UT-San Antonio squad that is still in its infancy as a program but has already established itself as a winner under former OSU offensive coordinator Larry Coker, who won a national title as head coach at Miami in 2001, and has led UTSA since its first game four years ago.
The Cowboys won the first matchup between the programs last season 56-35 in the Alamodome but a lot has changed since. OSU enters the game as a two-touchdown favorite but the pressure will be firmly placed on the Cowboys at 6 p.m. on Saturday because – if the early part of the season is any indication – this one won't be easy.
Three Storylines To Watch
1. It's A Trap!
Maybe this isn't full-on Admiral Ackbar time but the Cowboys will have to be on alert and efficient against a talented, experienced Roadrunner team.
If the Cowboys put forth the same level of effort and consistency they did against Missouri State, then trouble could follow closely behind on Saturday at Boone Pickens Stadium.
Reason being: Oklahoma State is the youngest team in college football; UTSA is arguably the oldest.
Yes, UTSA is only in its fourth year of football but that entire initial class is in its senior year, resulting in a whopping 28 seniors in the two-deep, 15 senior starters and that's not including starting seniors at kicker, punter, holder, deep snapper and punt returner.
The Roadrunners are battle tested and has experience at nearly every position on the field except for quarterback, but the Cowboys certainly don't have an upper hand in the experience department under center with Daxx Garman prepping for his first career start.
In a nutshell, UTSA's growing pains with its current crop are long since in the past, resulting in a team that has won six of its past seven games dating back to last season. The Roadrunners ended last year on a five-game winning streak and kicked off 2014 with a 27-7 domination of Houston on the road.
Last week UTSA came within a whisper of upsetting a solid Arizona squad, ultimately falling 26-23 to the Wildcats. This likely won't be a walk in the park for the Pokes against a Roadrunner squad that is on the rise but still searching for a marquee victory to legitimize itself and kick start the next stage in the growth of their program. A young but talented Cowboy squad with a first-time starter at QB probably looks like an appealing target. Expect UTSA to come out guns blazing.
2. Daxx Attacks
Speaking of OSU's first-time starter at QB, Daxx Garman was up-and-down in his debut outing in his last Saturday after taking over for an injured J.W. Walsh late in the first quarter. That inconsistency can be excused due to the fact it was Garman's first live action since his junior year of high school in 2009.
Even though Garman struggled with timing, pocket presence and game speed off-and-on, the Arizona transfer was certainly more up than down in his three-plus quarters of action, throwing for 244 yards and two scores with no interceptions.
But Missouri State UT-San Antonio is not. UTSA's defense has been pretty solid thus far in 2014, ranking 51st in total defense (331 ypg), 33rd in rush defense (98.5 ypg), 21st in pass efficiency defense (93.12), 33rd in scoring defense (16.5 ppg) and ranks eighth in turnover margin with a plus-2 ratio per game.
As a result, Garman won't have nearly as much room for error as he had a week ago but, hopefully for the Cowboys, three quarters of play against the Bears was sufficient to get the butterflies out of the way.
Garman might not have the wheels Walsh brought to the offense, but he has a much more dynamic arm and can make pretty much any throw this offense can think up. His ability to stretch the field vertically should get the most use out of OSU's deep, athletic receiving corps and open up the ground game for Desmond Roland, Tyreek Hill and Rennie Childs.
If Garman can stay on-point with his passes and strike for a few long balls, it would go a long way toward putting the Roadrunners back on their heels and forced to play catchup on the road, but this OSU offense still has a lot of growing to do with Garman at the helm.
It might be worth noting that Walsh was outstanding against UTSA last year, completing 24-of-27 passes for 326 yards with four touchdowns. He also added a rushing TD.
3. Defensive Consistency
OSU's youth-laden defense was all the rage after a stalwart performance against defending national champion Florida State and Heisman winner Jameis Winston. The Pokes made Winston look decidedly more human than most opponents had been able to manage, forcing the projected No. 1 overall draft pick into two interceptions, sacked him twice – both coming from sophomore Emmanuel Ogbah – and limited the Seminoles to just 1.8 yards per carry.
Not bad for a defense that was breaking in seven new starters.
However, inconsistency reared its ugly head against MSU, particularly in the second half.
It was understandable to a point given the low-tier opponent and the seemingly insurmountable 37-6 lead, but to see OSU's defense – especially slip ups in the secondary – allow MSU to score 20 or the final 23 points left a sour taste in a lot of people's mouths in Stillwater, including Mike Gundy's.
“I wasn't real fired up about our team and how they played. It was kind of the first sign of an immature team in not preparing well,” Gundy said. “We had warned them throughout the week. But sometimes you have to learn on the run.”
And hopefully the lessons were learned because UTSA is considerably better than MSU and mental lapses will be exploited.
Glenn Spencer's troops have a world of talent, particularly on a wildly athletic and dynamic defensive front, but the youth in the secondary and linebacking corps makes focus and execution vital against a capable and mistake-free Roadrunner offense (UTSA ranks No. 8 nationally in turnover margin).
If Spencer's brief history directing the D in Stillwater is any indication, expect the Cowboys to bounce back and return to its ball-hawking ways and finding ways to make life hell for QB Tucker Carter.
· Oklahoma State has won 23 straight games against unranked opponents in Boone Pickens Stadium.
· OSU is 22-4-1 all-time against current members of Conference USA. The last loss to any league member was at Louisiana Tech in 2002.
· The Cowboys are 20-3 in their past 23 games against teams from Texas, including a 56-35 victory against UTSA early last season.
· The Cowboys have at least one touchdown drive of faster than two minutes in each of its past 37 games and have accomplished the feat in 53 of their past 54 contests.
· Entering week No. 3 of the college football season, Oklahoma State still ranks No. 1 in red-zone offense with a 100 percent success rate (9-for-9). UTSA has been pretty successful in stopping teams in the red zone, ranking 38th nationally allowing 75 percent conversions. Coincidentally, OSU is tied at 38th in red-zone defense.
· UTSA coach Larry Coker served as OSU's offensive coordinator from 1983-89. OSU coach Mike Gundy was the quarterback for Coker's offenses from 1986-89.
· Last week's 40-23 victory against Missouri State saw an impressive streak come to an end for the Pokes. OSU had forced at least one turnover in 22-straight games but was unable to force a miscue against the Bears.
· Tyreek Hill has yet to score his first touchdown as a Cowboy but he's shown a penchant for big plays. The junior-college-transfer speedster already has 379 all-purpose yards through two games, which ranks fifth nationally, and didn't really see much action against Missouri State. Expect Hill to see the ball early and often against the Roadrunners because he presents a major matchup issue.
· OSU's receiver depth has been much discussed and 11 different Cowboys have caught a pass through the first two games. However, the leading receiver from a catches standpoint is a running back. Hill has seven grabs through two games.
· In case you missed it, Oklahoma State blocked a ridiculous three kicks against MSU – all in the first half. Making it even more unique was the fact OSU became just the second school in NCAA history to block a punt, a field goal and an extra point in the same game. The other orange-and-black OSU – Oregon State – did it back in 1996.
If OSU takes this game as seriously – or even close to as seriously – as it did Florida State, the Cowboys could walk away with a convincing 45-14 victory or something of the sort. But if the tone and execution is resemblant of last week's outing against Missouri State, OSU's current home winning streak against nonconference opponents could be in jeopardy. Here's betting the truth lies somewhere in the middle.
Score: Oklahoma State 38, UTSA 24