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Cotton Bowl Preview: Oklahoma State vs. Missouri

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Three Keys For The Cowboys

1. Good Chelf

There have been two versions of the Cowboys' senior quarterback this season. On one end of the spectrum, Chelf had the highest passer rating in college football for the month of November and looked unstoppable in OSU's bulldozing of then-unbeaten Baylor.

On the other end, however, is a quarterback who completed just 45.6 percent of his passes with two touchdowns and three picks combined against Mississippi State, TCU, Iowa State and OU.

The good version of the Enid native will be a must against a stingy Tiger defense that ranks 11th nationally in forced turnovers with 29, 29th in scoring defense at 22.5 points per contest and 44th in pass efficiency defense. Not to mention Mizzou is plenty capable of putting up points of its own on offense, where it ranks 15th at 39 points per game.

When Chelf is on, the Cowboys' offense tends to fire on all cylinders, opening up a number of options in the running game while utilizing OSU's enviable depth at wide receiver. For OSU to win its first Cotton Bowl since 1945, this is the version of Chelf that will be needed.

2. Creative Playcalling

Coach Gundy and Co. shouldn't be timid in pulling a few tricks out of their sleeves on Friday. The Cowboys have a high rate of success this season when they run reverses, fleaflickers, wide-receiver passes, and mix up blitz packages and coverage schemes, etc.

In other words: OSU needs to play more like it did against Baylor and less like it did in Bedlam.

The coaching staff kept the opposition on its toes in lopsided wins against nationally-ranked Texas and Baylor, never allowing either team time to figure out what the Pokes were doing until the outcome of the game was already decided.

Not so much against OU.

The Cowboys didn't show much variety, creativity or moxy. Part of the reason was likely the weather and probably partly the opponent, but the Sooners did mix it up and it paid off in a Big way for OU, which is ultimately the reason the Cowboys are in Dallas and not Phoenix this bowl season.

Mizzou is a stout defensive team and has plenty of speed and athleticism across the board. The more the Cowboy coaches mix things up, the more big plays there will be to open up their options.

3. Win The "Big Play" Battle

This is partly a continuation of the previous point but it shouldn't be understated in its importance. These are two teams who thrive on game-altering plays, particularly in the turnover arena. Oklahoma State ranks seventh nationally with 30 takeaways and the Tigers are just one behind with 29.

The Cowboys are 34-1 in their past 35 games when they win the turnover battle and they have won or tied that battle in 19 of the past 23 games. OSU has also scored four touchdowns off of turnovers this season, two each on interceptions and fumbles.

On the opposite end, Mizzou has lost the turnover battle just once this season but managed to win the game anyway in a 48-17 drubbing of Kentucky.

But it's not just about turnovers; Missouri ranks 15th in the country with an average of 6.4 yards per offensive snap and its top three rushers all average better than 6.3 yards per carry. Tack on the fact that their receivers averaged a combined 13.3 yards per catch and the top two pass catchers — L'Damian Washington and Dorial Green-Beckham — have 22 touchdowns between them and it's safe to say the Tigers won't hesitate to pounce on a big-play opportunity.

The Pokes aren't slouches in this regard, either, having struck for 76 plays this season covering 20 yards or more and have three special teams touchdowns (one kickoff, two punts).

It seems obvious, but whichever team manages to make the big plays will have a significant advantage and the upper hand might go to the Pokes here. OSU's defense ranks 13th in the country by allowing just 37 plays of 20 yards or more this season. Also, the Cowboys have blocked four kicks, which ranks seventh in the nation.

Notables

• First-year Mizzou offensive coordinator Josh Henson is a Tuttle, Okla., native and a former player and assistant coach at Oklahoma State. Henson was an offensive lineman for the Cowboys from 1993-97 and was on the OSU coaching staff in 1999 as a graduate assistant and then again from 2001-04 as the Pokes' tight ends coach and recruiting coordinator.

• Henson's first year as the Tigers' o-coordinator has been a good one. Missouri ranks 16th nationally in total offense (492.9 ypg) and 15th in scoring (39 ppg) despite playing in the defense-oriented Southeastern Conference.

• A win against the Tigers would make this year's senior class the winningest in Oklahoma State history with 42 wins over the past four seasons.

• A win on Friday would also give the Cowboys their third 11-win season in the past four years. The Pokes had zero 11-win seasons prior to 2010.

• Oklahoma State has won nine of its past 10 games against current members of the SEC. The lone loss came in the Cowboys' last appear in the Cotton Bowl, losing 21-7 to Ole Miss in 2010.

• OSU has scored 20-or-more points in an NCAA-leading 51 consecutive games. It is not only the nation's longest-active streak, it is the second longest in history since the FCS/FBS split in 1978. Coincidentally, the last time the Pokes didn't score at least 20 points was also in the 2010 Cotton Bowl loss to Mississippi.

• Speaking of Cotton Bowl coincidences, OSU went 4-0 in the month of November this year for the first time since 1945, which was the last time OSU won the Cotton Bowl with a 34-0 victory against TCU.

• The Cowboy defense has forced its opponents into a three-and-out on an impressive 37 percent of their possessions this season, or an average of nearly six per game. OSU also leads the Big 12 and ranks seventh nationally by allowing its opponents a paltry 31.3 percent success rate on third downs.

• If OSU manages to score 43 points against Missouri, it will finish the year averaging at least 40 points per game for the fifth time in the past six seasons.

• With a kickoff return touchdown in the Cotton Bowl, OSU senior Justin Gilbert can become the NCAA's all-time leader in the category. Gilbert is currently in a three-way tie atop the all-time list with former Clemson star C.J. Spiller (2006-09) and dynamic Houston return man Tyron Carrier (08-11) with five kick return touchdowns. A sixth would leave Gilbert alone at the top.

Prediction

These teams carried conference-title and BCS-berth aspirations into their final-week matchups back on Dec. 7. Those dream were shattered within mere hours of one another and both are out to end the season on a positive note.

The Cowboys and Tigers are similarly built but, at least from a statistical vantage point, Oklahoma State appears to have a slight edge. Expect the Pokes to rebound nicely from a Bedlam bust with an efficient offensive outing and look for the defense to be gunning for a major statement in the final collegiate game for 14 seniors on the defensive two-deep.

This game means plenty to both squads and should be close throughout, but for as close as these foes, the slight upper hand goes OSU's way for experience, ability in the trenches and overall execution throughout the season.

Score: Oklahoma State 31, Missouri 24

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