For the third time in as many years, the Arizona Wildcats will see the Oklahoma State Cowboys on the opposing sidelines. The Cowboys will travel to Tucson to play in a 7:30 PM PST game in Arizona Stadium.
The previous two meetings did not go in the Wildcats’ favor in the slightest. Oklahoma State has outscored Arizona 73-24 in the two games and will look to continue the dominance this weekend. Without the presence of Brandon Weeden and Justin Blackmon, the offense has shifted to accommodate junior running back Joseph Randle.
This is where things get interesting. Oklahoma State, led by Randle and freshman quarterback Wes Lunt, put up 84 points (most of which came without these leaders on the field) a week ago against Savannah State. Arizona needed overtime to beat a scrappy Toledo team that held a 14-10 lead at halftime.
Oklahoma State is heading into Arizona with a inexperienced quarterback, so expect a run oriented offense from Oklahoma State until Arizona proves that it can stop Randle, who had six carries for 107 yards and two touchdowns last week.
The rest of the game matches up fairly well, although slightly shifted in the Cowboys’ favor for the most part. The key for Arizona’s defense is stopping the run game.
On the offensive side of the ball, Arizona has the firepower to keep the game close, but has to cash in when the opportunity presents itself.
With Matt Scott breaking out for 461 yards of total offense against Toledo, many are expecting a similar performance. While his numbers may not be quite that high, the offense should be in good shape barring any mistakes.
When it comes down to it, Oklahoma State is the better team. However, playing on the road in a hostile environment while only returning four starters on offense may be enough for Arizona to be able to keep the game within reach in the fourth quarter. Either way, expect the Cowboys to put up some points; they’ve scored at least 30 in the last 28 games.
Players to watch:
#19 CB, Brodrick Brown: As the lone preseason All Big-12 selection on defense, Brown is the leader of that side of the ball. He’s a ball hawk who can make quarterbacks pay for getting too much air under a pass.
Brown didn’t play much against Savannah State, as he was not needed for more than a few series. Expect to see him on the field for more snaps against Arizona.
#37 WLB, Alex Elkins: The senior shines for the Oklahoma State defense. He finished last season with 90 tackles and an interception. Elkins was another member of the Cowboy defense that didn’t get to see the field very much in the opener, but still managed to record a tackle in the limited minutes.
He gives the defense experience and speed, both of which are factors that could help slow down the Arizona offense on Saturday.
#1 RB, Joseph Randle: The junior running back may, in fact, be the most important player on the Oklahoma State team when it comes to Tucson on Saturday.
Last season, he rushed for 121 yards and two touchdowns on 15 carries. In the season opener, he rushed for 107 yards and two touchdowns on just six runs. If the Wildcat defense can’t contain Randle, it could be a long, long night for Arizona.
#11 QB, Wes Lunt: There will be plenty of questions surrounding Lunt until his first couple of series in Arizona Stadium. The true freshman was 11-11 against Savannah State at home, but that doesn’t match up with higher-level competition on the road with a chance of rain and heat.
His success may be the difference between Oklahoma State blowing out Arizona or the Wildcats having a shot to pull the upset.
#87 WR, Tracy Moore: The senior wide out is the team’s top returning receiver and possibly the top returning offensive weapon. While he won’t quite be able to fill the hole that Justin Blackmon’s departure leaves in the OSU offense, he should fit in comfortably.
Howard returns 45 catches, 672 receiving yards, and four touchdowns and should be the top target for Lunt this season.
He was suspended for the season opener, but will return to the lineup against Arizona. There is no doubt that Moore will be hungry to contribute. Moore vs. the Arizona secondary is definitely a matchup that should be kept an eye on.
Keys to the game:
1. Contain Randle and slow the run: It is no secret that Oklahoma State is going to try and run the ball against the Wildcats. Arizona needs to set the tone early by stopping the run in the first few drives, forcing the Cowboys to change things up.
Randle is good enough to break the century mark in yardage, but the difference between him achieving it in 15 carries or 25 carries is immense for the Wilcdats.
2. Hit Lunt early: Jeff Casteel chose not to be over aggressive against Toledo, possibly saving a few cards for this matchup. However, the defense needs to be aggressive in going after the freshman quarterback.
The heat and pressure (possibly rain) are already going to be factors for him. A few early shots could go a long way towards Arizona having a chance to win the game.
3. Limit Mistakes: Arizona put up over 600 yards of offense against the Rockets, but there were a few bad penalties on offense and defense that kept the game closer than it should have been.
Two major penalties, and two costly fumbles gave Toledo the opportunity to steal one in Tucson. For the Wildcats to have a shot at stealing one from the Cowboys, they need to avoid drive-killing penalties.
4. Don’t give up the big play: The defense got better as the previous game went along. The coaches made the correct adjustments and put the team in a position to win.
That being said, Arizona gave up a few big plays (third down conversions and a deep pass). Oklahoma State will manhandle the defense if it is not careful. Teams win games with big plays and Arizona can’t afford to give up too many on Saturday.
5. Stay in the game: Oklahoma State is going to score. It has put up 30 points in every game for the past two and a half seasons. Arizona’s goal, if trailing, is to keep the game as close as possible until crunch time.
With an inexperienced offense, the Cowboys may actually struggle when the game comes to the wire. That could give Arizona the chance to steal the victory at home. Crazier things have happened at Arizona Stadium.