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SPORTS: Oklahoma State University

Cowboy Football: Previewing OSU vs. Texas Tech

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LUBBOCK, Texas -

Oklahoma State isn't playing great football but that hasn't stopped the Cowboys from winning three-straight conference games after bouncing back from a shocking loss at West Virginia in late September. That said, the Cowboys' three wins have come against Kansas State, TCU and Iowa State, none of whom have a winning record and are a combined 7-14 on the season.

OSU is still very much in the conference title mix but marking games in the win column is about to get a lot more difficult.

The Cowboys' (6-1, 3-1 Big 12) remaining schedule – outside of Kansas next week – is made up of the top half of the league, starting with a stiff road test on Saturday in a 6 p.m. contest in Lubbock against No. 15 Texas Tech (7-1, 4-1). OSU just got the road monkey off its back, winning at hapless ISU but Lubbock is an entirely different story and Oklahoma State will need to be on its A-game to leave victorious.

Here is a breakdown of the matchup and some key storylines to watch for at Jones AT&T Stadium:

 

1) Oklahoma State's defense must maintain high level

The Cowboy defense has been a pleasant surprise in Stillwater in 2013, ranking favorably on a national scale in nearly every relevant defensive category. But where the Pokes can take the most advantage against Tech will come from a familiar area – turnovers.

The Cowboys have rediscovered their prowess for creating miscues this season and have forced 12 turnovers in their past three contests, all victories. In fact, OSU took it to another level in Ames when it managed to turn two of its three takeaways into touchdowns.

Overall, OSU ranks 14th in the NCAA with 19 turnovers forced, which is made all the more impressive by the fact that all but one team ranked ahead of the Cowboys has played more games since OSU has already used two bye weeks.

And the stat that turns this from bad to awful news for the Raiders is that they are tied for ninth in the country in turnovers, having already given the ball away 19 times in 2013.

Adding even more intrigue is the fact that 12 of Tech's turnover have been interceptions, which make up 13 of OSU's takeaways.

Oklahoma State has the Raiders' number in recent years and forcing a few early TO's could help the Pokes get in their head.

 

2) Cowboys need better QB play

Thank goodness for Desmond Roland's performance against Iowa State because the Cowboys are still getting virtually nothing out of the quarterback position through the air.

OSU replaced J.W. Walsh because he was struggling with the deep ball and was forcing throws into coverage resulting in interceptions, but Clint Chelf hasn't done much to open things up as a result of his play.

Chelf is below 50 percent passing for the season and was just 10-of-26 last week for 78 yards with a TD and an interception. That won't be good enough against Tech.

That said, Chelf had one of his better outings a season ago against the Red Raider, throwing for 229 yards and three touchdowns with no picks in Stillwater. His play will need to more closely resemble that than the past few weeks or Walsh could find his way back on the field as the QB carousel continues to turn.

 

3) Josh Stewart must shine

Maybe the coaching staff feels like Chelf is the best option at quarterback, and he very well may be, but one thing always seems to happen when he plays over Walsh – the ball stops finding Josh Stewart.

Stewart is clearly this offense's best weapon but in Chelf's two starts, Stewart has just seven receptions for 49 yards and no scores, and all four of Stewart's receptions in Chelf's first start came after Walsh taken over at QB.

For OSU's air attack to perform at its best, Stewart must be involved. Expect to see more balls thrown in his direction than last Saturday, as the Cowboys will need his contributions far more in Lubbock than they did in Ames.

But receiving isn't the only area where Stewart can have an impact. Thanks to No. 5, OSU ranks fifth in the country in punt returns at 17.5 a pop and Stewart has already taken two to the house this season. Meanwhile, Tech ranks just 74th in net punting average. If the Raiders make the mistake of kicking to Stewart, it could work very much to the Pokes' benefit.

 

Notables

• Oklahoma State has won the past four games against Texas Tech and the past two by a whopping 125-27 margin.

• Not only have the Pokes won the past four meeting, if OSU should win on Saturday it would be the first team to win three straight in Lubbock since Nebraska pulled it off in 1994, 1996 and 2000.

• OSU's offense might not be putting up the numbers fans have grown accustomed to, but it's still putting points on the board with consistency. The Cowboys have scored 20 or more points in 46 consecutive games.

• Speaking of impressive streaks, senior linebacker Shaun Lewis is slated to start his team-leading 39th consecutive game on Saturday.

• Through seven games the Cowboys are still showing quality balance on both sides of the ball, ranking 23rd in points per game (38.9) and 19th in points allowed (19.6).

• Tight end Jace Amaro will be a stiff test for a Cowboy defense that has yet to play a standout tight end this year. Amaro leads Tech with 64 receptions for 861 yards and also has three touchdowns. And at 6-foot-5 and 260 pounds, he's a load to cover. The Pokes will need to keep tabs on him and also accomplish this without sacrificing its run defense.

• Roland's explosive performance last week wasn't just a breath of fresh air for the Cowboy ground game, it raised the bar for the conference this season. His 219 yards and four touchdowns both rank as the top individual outing for a Big 12 rusher in 2013. Not bad for a debut start.

 

Prediction

Oklahoma State will need way more out of its offense than it has received against any opponent it has faced so far this season and will need Chelf to repeat his outing against the Raiders from 2012. Another strong outing from Roland would go a long way but it will be difficult to topple Tech without a reliable passing game. The defense still figures to play well, but its performance will be graded on a different scale against a potent Tech passing attack. This is shaping up as close game and potentially a lower-scoring affair than the barnburners of year's past between the Cowboys and Raiders. Expect the OSU offense to play better than it has, but how much better will determine the outcome in this one.

Score: Texas Tech 31, OSU 27

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