Sudden Turnaround Finds Oklahoma State Playing For First Place

Sunday, September 30th 2007, 7:04 pm

By: News On 6

STILLWATER, Okla. (AP) _ In a matter of weeks, Oklahoma State went from down in the dumps to the top of the standings.

After a day of upsets in the Big 12 Conference and elsewhere, the Cowboys (3-2, 1-0 Big 12) will find themselves playing for first place in the South Division when they play at Texas A&M (4-1, 1-0) on Saturday.

``That's a good deal for us, I guess. That's what you're in this game for, and that just tells you about how the Big 12 is right now. It's very even,'' Oklahoma State defensive coordinator Tim Beckman said.

A 34-10 win by the Aggies against Baylor on Saturday, coupled with losses by league favorites Oklahoma and Texas, has left Oklahoma State and Texas A&M as the only South teams without a Big 12 loss so far this season.

The Cowboys opened league play with a 49-45 win against Texas Tech last week before finishing their nonconference schedule with a 39-3 win over Sam Houston State on Saturday.

``You have to strap it up and be ready to win and be ready to play, and one challenge we have here at Oklahoma State is to go out and win on the road because championships are won on the road,'' Beckman said. ``We've got to go out and play better on the road because we haven't played well on the road, for sure.''

In fact, Oklahoma State has lost 10 of its last 11 road games, dating back to a 61-23 loss at Texas A&M in their last trip to College Station. The Cowboys' most recent road game was a 41-23 setback at Troy two weeks ago that put their future in question. Now, they can turn their season around with back-to-back road games at Texas A&M and No. 25 Nebraska.

``We've got a big chance to do what we're prepared to do,'' said cornerback Perrish Cox, whose punt return for a touchdown against Sam Houston State was the Cowboys' first such runback since 2004.

Since the loss at Troy, which was the first career start for quarterback Zac Robinson, the Cowboys' offense has returned to the form that helped Oklahoma State become the nation's seventh-most productive scoring team in the Football Bowl Subdivision (formerly NCAA Division I-A) last season.

They've racked up more than 575 yards in consecutive games for only the second time in school history, and the first time happened when Barry Sanders was finishing off his Heisman Trophy season in 1988.

The defense's development has been slower, although there seemed to be some progress against Sam Houston State. Coaches have noticed fewer missed tackles, and the Cowboys have been able to improve their pass rush enough to get two sacks each of the past two weeks _ although Beckman said he'd like to have twice as many, or more, sacks so far this season.

``The bottom line is scoring defense. You've got to be good in scoring defense to be considered a good defense,'' Beckman said. ``Keeping them out of the end zone and doing the things you need to do in the red zone are important.''

After facing spread offenses that combined for 165 pass attempts the past three weeks, the Cowboys will encounter a Texas A&M offense that has attempted only 133 passes through five games and ranks fifth in the nation in rushing, averaging 267.8 yards per game.

Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy said the Aggies will force his team to focus on their assignments to take the next step.

``You're not just going to all of a sudden show up and be a top-10 defense in the country,'' Gundy said.

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