When the Oklahoma State Cowboys face the TCU Horned Frogs this week in Big 12 conference play, it will not only be the first time these two programs have faced off as conference foes, it will also be the first time they have played—period—since the 1993 season.
This first matchup is a fitting one to start the conference series, as it is very important for both teams.
Few Big 12 teams are in closer proximity than TCU and Oklahoma State. They compete in recruiting on an annual basis, so it is only fitting that they should now compete annually on the football field. TCU head coach Gary Patterson has done a great job of building a previously-bad program into a great one, just as Mike Gundy has done at Oklahoma State.
As you can see, these two schools are very similar, and their seasons this year have followed suit. Both teams have suffered at the quarterback position, losing their starters for long stretches of the season. Both have also suffered multiple, heart-breaking losses to good opponents.
This game could be the start of an exciting new rivalry, which would be great. Either way, the Cowboys need to make sure they start out that rivalry on the right foot with a big win. There are some important things they can focus on to make sure that happens.
The biggest key for this Oklahoma State team for the rest of the season, in every game, is this.
If the Cowboys can get Joseph Randle going early and often, they will be in this game from the beginning to the end.
Randle currently leads the Big 12 with 765 rushing yards and eight touchdowns, putting him in clear contention for All-American status at the end of the season. He is on pace to eclipse 1,500 rushing yards, a mark few college players can say they ever broke in one season.
This week, he will face a talented defense that has more talent in its front seven than possibly any team Oklahoma State has face up to this point.
The running game is not only important because it can move the chains, it will also help negate the Horned Frog pass rush, which has shown the propensity to wreak havoc on opposing quarterbacks in the past.
Getting Randle the ball on plenty of draws, screens and plain power handoffs will help keep Wes Lunt (or Clint Chelf) safe.
Oklahoma State has done well on defense against the run this season, holding opponents to an average of just 3.4 yards per carry.
TCU has not rushed the ball particularly well, averaging only 4.1 yards per rush, which is good enough for a ranking of seventh in the Big 12. This is a matchup that favors the Cowboys.
TCU quarterback Trevone Boykin does not have the experience to really carry the team on his own, which is why stopping the run is so important.
If the Cowboys can force Boykin to try to beat them, he will likely force the ball into places he shouldn’t, as he has in other games this season. That will lead to turnovers, which leads me to my next point.
As we all know, forcing turnovers was a big deal for the Cowboys last season. They led the nation in turnover margin.
This season, it has become a struggle to force turnovers of any kind. The last few games have yielded some positive results in this area, though.
This week provides another good opportunity to get back to forcing turnovers.
As I mentioned in the previous slide, Trevone Boykin has little experience as the quarterback of TCU. He does have three full games under his belt, but that will not be enough for him to keep up in a shootout with the Cowboys.
In those three games, he has thrown five interceptions. Although he has thrown for 10 touchdowns as well, that is still an alarming number of turnovers for that type of stretch.
The Cowboys must get pressure on Boykin and force him to make tough throws. That's how they can stop this offense. Boykin is very talented, but he is fighting an uphill battle as he continues to stand in for Casey Pachall. The turnovers will be there for the taking.
This will not be an easy game for either team.
In these types of games, field position is always crucial, for obvious reasons. In that respect, Cowboy punter Quinn Sharp will play a very important role.
Currently, Sharp leads the Big 12, averaging 48 yards per punt. Nearly half of his punts have traveled over 60 yards, and he has maintained that high average despite having one of the fewest punt attempt totals in the Big 12.
With Sharp’s strong leg and the offense taking care of the ball, the Cowboys should be able to control their own destiny from a field position standpoint. That will go a long way toward making this a Cowboy victory.
We do not know for sure yet, but it appears that Wes Lunt will be back as the starter this week against the Horned Frogs. However, he is recovering from a fairly serious knee injury, and there is no doubt that there will be some rust.
That is why it is all the more important for the Cowboys to make things easy on Lunt in order to help him get re-acclimated to playing at the Division I level. The offensive line needs to protect him well, the receivers need to have sure hands and the running backs need to play well also.
Do not forget, Lunt had very little experience when he got injured. The long layoff he is coming back from did not help in that department.
If the Cowboys can accomplish this goal, along with the rest outlined here, they will be in good shape. TCU is a good team, but the Cowboys are playing at home, which should make this game theirs to win or lose.
If they run the ball, defend the run, force turnovers, control field position and help out Lunt, they will win.