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Oklahoma State Football: Previewing The Cowboys And TCU

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STILLWATER, Oklahoma -

Oklahoma State returns to the field after a bye week and will welcome a dangerous TCU team to Stillwater for its 2013 Homecoming celebration. Here is a look at the matchup between the No. 21 Cowboys and Horned Frogs:

Three Things To Watch

1. Offensive progression

If the Cowboys (4-1, 1-1 Big 12) are still going to make a legitimate run at the Big 12 championship, the offense has to hit its stride and establish consistency. While the most recent bye week could arguably make this more difficult, as the team will find it harder to get in a rhythm, it also provided the Pokes with two full weeks to prepare for one of the conference's top defenses. Fans should hope to see a little more precision from Walsh this week and fewer drops when his throws do find their intended target. The running game likely won't become much of a threat with a watered-down offensive line and a dip in talent at the running back position, but the passing game is capable of being much better than it has been. TCU (3-3, 1-2) could make things difficult if OSU isn't efficient.

2. Turnover creation

It's apparent this OSU defense is set on living up to coach Mike Gundy's prediction that it is his best unit since taking over at OSU in 2005, ranking 18th in run defense and pass efficiency defense, 28th in scoring, and 25th in the red zone and on third-downs. Perhaps the biggest key in achieving this has been the D's return to its ball-hawking ways. OSU ranks a deceptive 34th in turnovers gained, partly because the Cowboys have already had two bye weeks and rank behind several teams who have already played seven games to the Pokes' five. That said, the Cowboys have rediscovered their knack for forcing miscues, particularly in the passing game. OSU has already intercepted nine passes and has also recovered three fumbled. It forced five turnovers in the second half alone to stave off a pesky Kansas State team in its last game. The Cowboys harassed TCU last season in a 36-14 victory and the defense will again be key in taking down a capable Horned Frog team.

3. Contain Boykin

TCU quarterback Trevone Boykin was as green as they come last season when the Cowboys rolled in Stillwater. This time Boykin returns a lot more seasoned but still far from a lethal passer. Boykin, a sophomore, is completing 61.5 percent of his passes in 2013; a step up from his 57.2-percent clip as a freshman, but he's still prone to rough outings against quality defenses and has thrown just five touchdown passes so far against four interceptions. For example, he threw for just 70 yards against LSU after taking over for an injured Casey Pachall. In fact, in his five starts since, he has only eclipsed the 200-yard mark through the air once, throwing for 228 against Southern Methodist. But what Boykin may lack through the air, he makes up for on the ground. This could shape up similarly to OSU's last outing against run-oriented quarterback Daniel Sams, who ran for 118 yards and a touchdown in a closer-than-expected contest at Boone Pickens Stadium. Boykin's been an effective runner and that's something the Cowboy defense needs to lock down early. If OSU can force him to throw, it will be much better off.

Notables

• Offering up a nice bit of symmetry, Oklahoma State ranks 26th nationally in both points per game (38 ppg) and points allowed (20 ppg).

• While TCU might have one of the conference's best defenses, its offense has been severely lacking in 2013. Through six games, the Frogs rank 100th in passing offense (189.8), 92nd in rushing (141.3) and 80th in scoring (27.8).

• OSU is 49-35-7 all time on Homecoming but the numbers have been far better as of late, as the Cowboys have been victorious in five of its past six installments.

• Oklahoma State has won six consecutive games in Stillwater and 14 of its past 15 at Boone Pickens Stadium. Meanwhile, TCU is 0-3 on the road this season.

• Taking care of the ball is paramount to any team's success but it is very evident under Mike Gundy. In nine seasons under Gundy, the Cowboys are 17-0 when they don't turn over the football.

• Speaking of turnovers, OSU is back among the nation's elite in forcing them. Since 2009, OSU ranks second nationally with 142 takeaways, trailing only Oregon's 147. The Cowboys have forced 12 already this season, including five in their last outing against Kansas State.

• Senior linebacker Shaun Lewis enters Saturday's contest having started 37-consecutive games for the Pokes.

• The Cowboys' run game has trailed off significantly this season, as OSU ranks just 87th nationally in at 144.8 yards per game and just 4.1 yards per carry. This could shape up poorly in an effort to establish a balanced offensive attack against a TCU defense that ranks 20th nationally in run defense (118.7 ypg) and allows a paltry 3.2 yards per attempt.

• However, the aforementioned rushing matchup goes both ways. OSU comes in even better in run defense at No. 18 nationally while TCU ranks 92nd in rushing offense, as previously mentioned.

• Third-down defense has been an Achilles heel for OSU for quite some time, but the tides have turned a bit in 2013. OSU ranks 25th nationally and second in the Big 12 in third-down defense, allowing opponents to convert just 32 percent of their attempts.

Prediction

This game has already been mentioned by several pundits as an "upset special," but the Cowboys' track record at home and the Frogs' road woes make that difficult to swallow. Yes, OSU has struggled against average defenses this season and TCU's is the best it has faced thus far, but the Pokes' defense is nothing to sneeze at and the Horned Frogs have looked inept at times on the offensive end.

This likely won't be a matchup that will leave the school's ROTC members sore on Sunday from pushups, but rather a slugfest that will be determined by a few big plays and timely turnovers, both of which favor the Cowboys.

Score: OSU 24-17

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