To get ready for this week's game with Oklahoma State, we posed five questions to the excellent bloggers at Cowboys Ride for Free. Their answers are below. You can check out my answers to their questions here.
1. The elephant in the corner is Justin Blackmon's suspension. How much does this hurt Oklahoma State?
I think it hurts what this offense has evolved to. It wasn't like Oklahoma State came into this season forming an offense to utilize the talents of Justin Blackmon (his emergence has been a total surprise), so the basic scheme that is in place shouldn't have to change much. What will be tough is that Brandon Weeden has grown accustomed to looking for #81 as his bailout when he is in trouble, and since defenses have started keying on him the last few weeks it has opened up the underneath routes. There is no doubt that it will require some adjustments, but the real power of this offense lies in Kendall Hunter, and spreading the ball out to a bunch of receivers... so the offense will just have to stick more to these principles. In all, I think the loss of Blackmon might cost us 7 points as we likely won't have some monster play over the top like we seem to get once a game, but it won't shut down the offense all-together.
2. Before the season, I had almost considered Oklahoma State an automatic win. At this point, I consider it a likely loss, and K-State is doing about as well as I would have figured before the year. How have the Cowboys overcome the massive personnel losses from last season?
A lot of that is the pre-season predictions over-reliance on the value of returning starters. Sure we lost 16 starters, but most of the guys starting this year saw significant playing time last season, and had just been waiting for their turn. Add to that the fact that everyone (including Oklahoma State fans) forgot how amazing a healthy Kendall Hunter is, the return of MLB Orie Lemon form injury, and new OC Dana Holgorsen's scheme working so well in it's first season and here we are at 6-1. The other big factor is that this group of Freshmen has been incredible. There are 10 true freshmen that see regular action, and that contribute in big ways.
3. As you're probably noticed from our fans' comments on your site, we're not optimistic about this game. From your perspective, give us one reason you think K-State has a chance to win this game.
Special teams. And here is why... Oklahoma State is ranked 119th in kickoff coverage, allowing 34.4 yards per return, and 3 TDs on the season. The kick coverage is just awful. Kansas State is ranked #1 in the nation in kickoff returns, averaging 29 yards per return. Yikes!
If I had to pick a 2nd reason it would be the Cowboys depth on defense. Nebraska straight wore this defense out by the 4th quarter, and I worry that a heavy dose of Daniel Thomas could do the same thing this week.
4. Tulsa and (sort of) Texas A&M are the only teams who have slowed down Kendall Hunter this year. What did they do that worked against the Big 12's best running back?
Tulsa stacked 24 guys in the box. They really didn't stop him so much as make it so that Oklahoma State would have been stupid not to pass. Many times they were covering 4 WRs with 3 guys in the secondary. It was a ballsy move by Tulsa, and it did not work at all. Kendall only had 11 carries in the game and the 2nd team was in 5 minutes into the 3rd quarter. A&M brought a lot of pressure, yet for some reason Oklahoma State was happy to keep dropping Weeden back and let the pressure keep coming. It was the one situation this season where the whole fanbases was questioning Dana Holgorsen's decisions. We should have ran the ball much more than 23 times in that game, and especially more than 2 times the entire 4th quarter when we were protecting a lead.
But I assume what you are asking is.. "How do you stop Kendall Hunter?", and unfortunately I think the answer is "You can't". He is just such a freak combination of speed, power, vision, and cutting ability that I don't know what you can do to stop him. I would say the best bet would be to play balanced and hope that Dana gets pass happy.... but this is where the absence of Blackmon could actually hurt K-State.... it may force Oklahoma State into running the ball 45 times, and honestly, I think they will be a better team if they do this.
5. Turnabout is fair play. Do you predict a win in Manhattan?
I do think Oklahoma State will pull out the road win, but I am going against the grain a little here and not calling for a shootout. I think Oklahoma State will take a similar game plan into this one as they did into Lubbock. A lot of running, a lot of clock control, and play balanced on defense... and K-State seems like the type of team that would be fine with playing at a slightly slower pace, so they will oblige. I do think Oklahoma State will pull out the win, but I think somewhere in the neighborhood of 31-20. And what is funny is that I am calling for a slow paced game, but a total of 51 points... but that is how it goes in the Big XII this year.