Oklahoma State Football: 5 Keys to the Game vs. Arizona
It may seem that the Oklahoma State Cowboys’ next game should be smooth sailing, as they will travel to Tucson to do battle with an Arizona Wildcats team that is clearly in the rebuilding stages. However, we still have not seen this Cowboys team be tested, and it must take this game ultra-seriously to avoid an untimely upset.
Playing on the road is never easy, and it will not be a cakewalk for the Cowboys against Arizona. Rich Rodriguez has always had teams that could score and move the ball, and this Wildcats squad is no different. Despite only beating Toledo by seven in overtime, the Wildcats accounted for 624 total yards of offense. Stopping this team will not be easy.
The Cowboys have certain specific things they can do to almost ensure a victory. Containing the opponent’s runners and limiting turnovers are just a few ways to start. More will follow as we examine this matchup more closely.
This Arizona group runs the same fast-paced rushing attack that Rich Rod’s West Virginia teams did. The Wildcats play extremely fast, and they are much better at passing the ball than one first realizes. Containment is an essential part of stopping such an offense.
It may seem like the right thing do it would be to blitz like crazy in order to bottle up the high-tempo rushing attack. However, doing that leaves big plays wide open, and this is an offense that will capitalize
Instead, the Cowboys must do what they normally do in Big 12 play. They need to lay back, keeping the ball in front of them and denying the Wildcats the long runs and passes that they want to use to get down the field.
It is much tougher for offenses to get down the field if they have to use more than 10 plays to do it, and that is what this defense is built to force.
Last week, Toledo forced three Arizona turnovers. That was a big part of why the game was so close and why Arizona could never get any separation. This Cowboys defense has changed little from last season, when it was the best turnover-inducing unit in the nation. That must be a big focus in this game.
Whether they are fumbles or interceptions, the turnovers must come. Taking possessions away from a high-powered offense is the only way to really keep that offense from torching you. It is the only way to be certain at least. Which leads to the next key for this game…
Limit Offensive Turnovers
The Cowboys turned the ball over twice against Savannah State. While those were both committed by backups and in low-pressure situations, it is a bit concerning nonetheless. Winning the turnover battle against Arizona is crucial, because turnovers are probably the only hope the Wildcats have of keeping the Cowboys out of the end zone.
Wes Lunt was limited in the time and plays he has given against Savannah State, but he will have to make bigger throws at Arizona. He, along with the rest of the offensive skill players, must make smart play. Turnovers were what killed the Cowboys against Iowa State last season, and it cannot happen again in Tucson.
Run the Ball Downhill
Most spread offenses have a tendency of running more east-west rather than north-south. What I mean is that they run more to the right or left than straight ahead. This Cowboys offense does utilize spread formations, but it has been able to run the ball downhill out of them. In fact, it can be argued that the Cowboys are the only spread team out there that are able to have a power running game.
That will be important in this game. Running downhill on a defense and having success is demoralizing for the opponent. It is a direct challenge and is proof that you are the superior team because you are winning the battle up front. Joseph Randle is a big strong back, and the offensive line knows what it is doing, so this should be something the Cowboys can accomplish.
Play with Confidence
In past years, this is the type of game that the Cowboys have lost. We have all heard about how this is a bit of rebuilding year, but that cannot be used as an excuse to lay an egg this week in Arizona. This team must play like it is the best on the field, and it will be.
Despite losing the players they did from last year, this team has tons of athleticism at key positions. If it executes and plays with the swagger that it can, it will win handily.
The Cowboys should win on Saturday against Arizona. However, they must contain the ball defensively, win the turnover battle, run powerfully and play confidently. Those are the ingredients for an Oklahoma State win on Saturday.
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