September 26, 2009

Grambling Time: OSU host Tigers

After a topsy-turvy three-week period for Oklahoma State, it's time for a breather.

And while the true breather comes next weekend in the form of a bye, the Cowboys get to throttle things down a bit this evening when they take on the Grambling State Tigers. The game is set for a 6 p.m. telecast and will not be televised.

The No. 16 Pokes (2-1) face off against the small, Football Championship Subdivision opponent from the Southwestern Athletic Conference after a tough win over Georgia, an upset loss to Houston and an uninspired victory over Rice.

So what to expect this week? This will most likely be a game that a lot of the regulars sit and watch while backups gain quality experience minutes. It will also most likely be a weekend to heal the wounds of some Pokes, as a rash of injuries has hit the program in the young season.

Not that head coach Mike Gundy would admit that is the plan for today, even if it is.

"I have never been big on not preparing to play the next game," he said. "I just feel like you just have to go all-out in the next game. If we have a guy who needs to be rested then we will not practice him as much, and maybe not play him. If they have the capability of playing, and it's not an injury or situation that could affect their career, then we will play them."

So the big excitement of the day could be waiting to see who does or does not play. In the meantime, what of the opponent?

"The team we are playing is a little unusual," Gundy said. "Grambling State has a defensive lineman who has scored two touchdowns and got another one to the three yard line in three games."

So hey, maybe the Tigers will go sandlot on the Cowboys and just throw all sorts of crazy things out there since GSU will be pretty overmatched in this one. That could be fun.

But what OSU fans will be looking for in terms of fun is seeing the running game come alive. So far this season, it has largely been stuck in a pile of molasses. Getting the wheels turning on the ground will go a long way in calming some fears that fans have related to the offense at this point of the year. Injuries to Kendall Hunter and Kye Staley have thinned out the tailback slot a bit, although its still arguably the deepest position the Cowboys have.

"I'm pretty comfortable with every running back that we have," Keith Toston said. "There are a lot of us, we started the year off about six deep and all of us could play. The top three of four, we might start on other good teams. Anytime you have a running back go out it hurts, but to have a lot of backups like we have, it keeps us moving."

If the ground game really gets on track tonight, that will benefit not only the offense but the defense, which has had to run out after offensive misfires.

"We have to stop putting our defense in a bad situation," Toston said. "When we turn the ball over on their side of the field, it gives their offense a short side of the field, so we have to make sure we go in as the offense and take care of the ball."

And what about that side of the ball?

"I think we're getting better," defensive coordinator Bill Young said. "We're showing improvement. We're not a finished product and we talked about that all along. Anytime that you're new into the situation like myself, you're striving to get better and better and as long as you're showing improvement you've got to feel good about it. And I do truly believe we are getting better."

While that may be true, there is still plenty of room for improvement. While this can be partially blamed on the offense, Rice outscored OSU in the second half last week and the game was statistically in doubt most of the way. That might cut it tonight, but it won't when Big 12 play starts in two weeks.

"That wasn't the best half that we've ever played," Shane Jarka said. "But as a defense when there's turnovers and stuff like that in the short field, we have to stand strong and I don't know if we have done that yet, but we will. We're getting better and better each game. And I think it's going to come to that point where, if there is a turnover down there, it isn't going to be a big thing. It's going to be like a whole other series and I think we'll be okay with that."

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