Miles remembers last time OSU overlooked foe

Friday, September 12th 2003, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

STILLWATER, Okla. (AP) _ It was a Saturday afternoon in August 1996, back when Les Miles was the offensive coordinator for Oklahoma State.

Southwest Missouri State, a Division I-AA team that had finished 4-7 the season before, came to Stillwater as a huge underdog in the season opener for both teams. When the game was over, Southwest Missouri State had humiliated Oklahoma State and stunned the nation by forcing the NCAA's first-ever overtime game and narrowly losing 23-20.

The memories from that embarrassing evening will be with Miles Saturday night, when his heavily favored Cowboys face Southwest Missouri State for the first time since that game.

``Obviously, we had some trouble that day,'' said Miles, now Oklahoma State's head coach. ``I promise you, (our players) know and have heard from me that they need to be prepared for this football team.''

Of course, these Cowboys are much more talented than the bunch that edged the Bears in 1996. Oklahoma State, then in its second year under head coach Bob Simmons, lost six games that year by an average of 24 points.

This year, Oklahoma State was ranked in the preseason AP Top 25 until it lost to Nebraska in the opener. The Cowboys still hold hopes of competing for the Big 12 title, though, boasting an explosive offensive threesome of quarterback Josh Fields, running back Tatum Bell and receiver Rashaun Woods.

Oklahoma State rolled up 594 yards of offense in last week's 48-24 win over Wyoming. That was the start of a four-game stretch _ including Southwest Missouri State, SMU and Louisiana-Lafayette _ which should provide plenty of opportunities for the Cowboys to pad their stats and gain a little confidence before the Big 12 portion of their schedule starts.

Miles worries about his team getting overconfident.

``Yes, there's a lot different talent here than when we arrived,'' Miles said. ``That doesn't mean this football team coming in here doesn't pose a tremendous threat to us. Not at all.''

Southwest Missouri State did cruise in its first game two weeks ago, a 48-0 victory over East Central Oklahoma, a Division II school.

Still, the Bears are coming off a 4-7 season (just like in '96), losing to lightly regarded teams such as Western Illinois and Illinois State. They had 28 players make their debut in the opener. Even coach Randy Ball admits that his team will be on the wrong end of a talent gap Saturday.

``You want your kids to feel as if they should win it,'' Ball said, ``but you know the odds of that happening (are low).''

But it's not like Southwest Missouri State isn't used to facing Division I-A teams. Last season, the Bears managed to keep it close against Big 12 doormat Kansas, getting within 27-24 late in the third quarter before the Jayhawks ran off 17 straight points.

Miles' players have taken note of such things and, certainly, their coach's lasting memory of the Bears' most recent trip to Stillwater.

``I know we're going to get their best shot,'' defensive back Darrent Williams said. ``They're going to exploit some of the things these other teams have done to us, so we have go in and make corrections and just get better every day.''

The team that gave Oklahoma State trouble this season, Ball points out, had a different caliber of athletes.

``People tell us, 'They didn't look that good against Nebraska,''' Ball said, ``As if Nebraska is SMS.''

Miles could tell you that they don't have to be.