OSU vs. MSU is Big12 vs. SEC
The college football world will see a Big 12 offense against a Southeastern Conference defense Saturday as the Oklahoma State Cowboys travel to Houston to take on Mississippi State.
The Cowboys will be playing for national rankings and conference pride against a tough MSU squad on a neutral field.
This could be the toughest nonconference game for an OSU that faces University of Texas at San Antonio and Lamar.
“I think the players know what they’re into by watching tape,” said OSU coach Mike Gundy. “Last year, we never tried to convince them of anything other than what was up. We needed to try to perform at our highest level and not concern ourselves with who we’re playing. This year, we have the advantage of playing a good football team. They can watch the tape and make those decisions on their own.”
And as late as last week, Gundy had not designed a starting quarterback. Clint Chelt or J.W. Walsh will get the nod.
“We’re going to play both guys,” Gundy said. “It hasn’t changed since spring. Both quarterbacks have improved. I don’t know any other way to say it. It’s the same thing I’ve said for the last five months. Both guys are doing a good job. We’re glad we have them. They’ll both get a chance to play.”
If Gundy has a formula for playing time for his quarterbacks, he’s not making it public.
“It’s going to be hard for me to predict reps, but I don’t feel like either one of them will be a backup in the first game,” Gundy said.
In his ninth season, Gundy (67-35) went 8-5 in 2012 after winning the Big 12 in 2011 and coming within one upset of playing for the national title.
This season, OSU lost running back Joseph Randle to the Dallas Cowboys plus kicker Quinn Sharp and other starters to graduation. Quarterback Wes Lunt, who started the season for the Cowboys in 2012, transferred to Illinois.
Wideouts Josh Stewart and Tracy Moore, running back Jeremy Smith, cornerback Justin Gilbert, safety Shamiel Gary plus Chelf and Walsh return and their performances last year prompted OSU to be the favorites to win the Big 12 in 2013.
“I like our speed on defense,” Gundy said. “I like our attitude. We’re still getting steady play from the offensive line. Both quarterbacks have continued to improve and play well. We’ve got a number of receivers that can run around and catch the ball. Our tailbacks, we’re still developing a young back behind Jeremy. I’m comfortable with our kicking game.
“Really, anything that I would say now would just be what I’ve already said over the last few weeks. There hasn’t been any change in how I feel about our team.”
Gundy has confidence that Smith can pick up where Randle left off.
“Well, one is that he’s the next guy,” Gundy said. “Two, he’s played well, scored and made some good runs against really good, quality opponents in our league.”
Smith is ready to take on Mississippi State on a national stage.
“They have a great defense and a great defensive coordinator,” Smith said. “We pretty much have to do what we know how to do, which is move the ball fast. I think that if we can get them tired, then it will be a good game for us.
“You can never ever count the Big 12 out. The SEC has done a great job of winning national championships, but you can never count a Big 12 team out. We’re always competing, and again, it’s all about moving the ball for us.”
The Cowboy players seem confident in both quarterbacks.
“[Clint Chelf and J.W. Walsh] are doing a great job,” Smith said. “I really can’t choose either one. Both are showing some really great things, and you just have to look out for both of them. I get reps with both of them every single time. Again, they are both really talented and know what they’re doing.”
“They both have their strengths and weaknesses,” said Moore. “They are both great players. It doesn’t really matter who starts because we have faith in both guys to go out there and perform well.”
Moore is excited about the passing attack.
“We have a great connection,” he said of the quarterbacks. “I have been friends with Clint since the beginning. We both came in here at the same time and have just hit it off ever since. J.W. is a great person too, though. I met him on his first visit here, and we also have a great connection.”
Gundy is 7-1 in season openers.
“He knows how to work the team and has everyone ready to go on game days,” Moore said of Gundy. ” He knows not to have us work too hard during the week but still has us work hard enough during the week to have us ready for game day.”
The Mississippi State game will be the first for OSU Offensive Coordinator Mike Yurcich for the Cowboys.
“I think our guys are really excited for this opportunity, regardless of the opponent,” Yurcich said. “Mississippi State is going to be a challenge because they’re a very good team. They’re tough and they’re physical. We’re just excited to get out there and play somebody that’s not wearing orange.”
This is his first year as an offensive coordinator in Division 1.
“We’re just trying to win games here,” Yurcich said. “I’m just a little piece of a big puzzle, honestly. We’re just trying to work together and win some ball games, so it’s not about one person. We just need to do what it takes, be organized and be detailed in our work. It’s my job to prepare our guys and have them ready to go on the field.”
Defensive Coordinator Glenn Spencer also is new.
What has he changed?
“We just play defense,” Spencer said. “I don’t have a brand for it because it’s all about performance, executing and doing your best each day in practice. I’m not concerned about giving us a label because we’re going to go out there and do what we do.”
He would rather open the season at home than on a neutral field against a tough SEC opponent.
“Anytime you’re traveling on the road to play somewhere else, it’s going to be a little uncomfortable compared to playing at home,” Spencer said. “The neutral field is rowdy, but it’s not our field. That’s the way we look at it. We have guys making the trip who haven’t played yet and haven’t traveled, so they don’t know how to approach a game yet. Until they get hit in the mouth on that first snap, you just don’t know exactly how they’re going to react.”
“We’ve been playing aggressively,” said safety Daytawion Lowe.
“We’re challenging the receivers to catch the ball and making the quarterbacks put it in a tight window. That’s what every defensive player wants. You get turnovers that way.”
Gilbert is ready to begin playing.
“We’ve really just been getting our defense set and watching a lot of film lately to prepare for the upcoming season,” Gilbert said.
He likes what he sees in the younger cornerbacks.
“They are looking pretty good,” Gilbert said. “We have a couple guys who didn’t play much last year who are going to step up this year and play well for us I believe.”
Moore is excited about playing in Reliant Stadium in his home state.
“I have a lot of friends and family from the Houston area. I’m from east Texas, but my whole family will be at the game,” Moore said.
“It’s not a long drive. My best friend and my brother are going to be making the trip. It’s going to be really cool. I can’t wait to play there. I’ve never been there, actually.
“I’m just excited to get the season rolling. Just being around the guys and this being my last year with them, I’m having a great time just helping guys out and doing all I can for the team. I’m just excited with where I’m at.”
This game will be a showcase.
“We want to prove that our defense is dominant every Saturday, not just against an SEC opponent,” said linebacker Shaun Lewis.
“We just want to establish that no matter who we’re playing, whether it’s Savannah State like last year, or Mississippi State this year. We’re just excited to go out and prove next Saturday that we belong.