Arizona @ # 7 Oklahoma StateGame time: 7:00
Sirius Channel 94 (AZ) 91 (OSU)
The Spread: Oklahoma State - 14
The Lowdown: Tonight on ESPN is the rematch from last year's Alamo Bowl, a 36-10, win by Oklahoma State. Both teams come into the game after short weeks following easy opening game wins. The Cowboys took down Lafayette, 61-34, while Arizona downed Northern Arizona, 41-10.
As a team, Arizona returns just 10 starters from last year's 7-6 team. They do, however, return their three best skill position players on offense; quarterback Nick Foles, running back Keola Antolin, and wide receiver Juron Criner. Criner has been sick all week and it's been reported he did not travel with the team to Stillwater and will miss tonight's game. If that's the case, it's a huge loss for the Wildcats. Criner opened the season with 151 yards receiving last week.
Foles also got off to a red hot start in the opening weekend by completing an impressive 34-42 passes for 412 yards and five scores.
The Cowboys meanwhile will try and build upon last week's 61 point performance, their first with Todd Monken calling the plays. Brandon Weeden and Justin Blackmon were their usual selves, but the star of the show may have been running back, Joseph Randle. It's hard to call Randle a question mark coming into the season after a successful freshman campaign, but someone had to replace Kendall Hunter and Randle was first in line. He didn't' disappoint carrying the rock 22 times for 124 yards and two scores.
There was a little issue with Weeden's three interceptions, two of which were returned for touchdowns, but coach Mike Gundy isn't all that worried about his quarterback. “I thought Weeden pressed a couple of times,” Gundy said. “I mentioned to him that he doesn't have to make every single play. The second interception he threw for a touchdown, he was just pressing and he doesn't have to do that. But he’ll figure that out.”
It's not always smart to put much stock in bowl games, but I'll go ahead and do it anyways because in a couple instances, there are a numbers worth paying attention too. Coming into that game, the Pokes were average a whopping 537 yards of offense and the Wildcats were able to hold them 312 for the game, well below their average. Considering one of Cowboys' scores was a defensive touchdown, the final score wasn't quite as bad as it seems. It should also help Mike Stoops and his staff having already seen what he's up against to devise a game plan capable of slowing down Weeden and company.
Arizona, What to Watch For: For as much publicity as Oklahoma State's passing game receives, they still love to run the ball as last week's 44/43 run-pass ratio indicates. In last year's Alamo Bowl, the Wildcats did an excellent job slowing the Cowboys rushing attack holding them to 72 yards for the game. If Arizona hopes to have a chance at an upset tonight, they'll have to do the same thing this time around. If not, the Cowboys offense becomes almost impossible to defend.
On offense, Arizona needs to attack the middle of the Pokes defense with Ka'Deem Karey and Antolin before testing what should be a much improved secondary this season, even with safety Johnny Thomas being ruled out for the year. If they can have some resemblance of a running game, it'll make it much easier on Foles who will be working without Criner.
Oklahoma State, What to Watch For: Oklahoma State got after Foles last December, sacking him five times and coming up with three picks. Considering he'll be working without his favorite target, look for Bill Young's defense to generate a pass rush one way or another, even if it means bringing an extra man or two to get it done. Foles is a very good, if not great quarterback, and he'll do damage if he's able to pitch a tent in the pocket all night.
On offense, here's a crazy prediction that you'll see a whole bunch of Randle and Jeremy Smith pounding behind a great Okie State line. Then you guessed it, it'll be over the top to some guy named Blackmon.
Final Take: The odds makers have the Cowboys as 14 point favorites which sounds about right. Arizona needs to sustain the body blows Oklahoma State will throw early coming out in front of a fired up Thursday night crowd. If they can do that and not have to play catch up, they have the talent to stay with the OSU.
I'm going to say it's within 10 at half, before OSU gets some breathing room with a big special teams/defensive touchdown in the third quarter. It won't be a route, but Arizona doesn't enough to stay with the Cowboys on their home turf. Oklahoma State 38 Arizona 25.