COWBOYS defense faces difficult challenge

Friday, September 7th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

STILLWATER, Okla. (AP) _ Thoughts of an unbeaten nonconference schedule for Oklahoma State's football team evaporated last week with a loss to Southern Mississippi.

Now the Cowboys have their work cut out to keep from falling to 0-2.

Louisiana Tech went just 3-8 last season and, when placed on the schedule for this year, appeared to be an automatic victory for OSU. But the Bulldogs feature a passing offense unlike anything Oklahoma State will see this year, and they come to Stillwater with confidence after beating SMU 19-5 last week.

``I think it's going to be a long game,'' safety Elbert Craig said. ``It makes you bring out your 'A' game.''

Coach Les Miles put it this way: ``If we don't come out and play with everything we have, it'll be a dogfight.''

As a freshman last season, Luke McCown threw the ball 72 times in a 42-31 road loss to Miami. He finished the game with 418 yards passing, one of five games where he topped 300 yards through the air. His season best was 433 yards in a 38-28 loss to Auburn, also on the road.

The 72 pass attempts were an NCAA record for a freshman, as were his 47 completions against Auburn. He tied a freshman record with six TD passes against Louisiana-Lafayette.

``The one thing Louisiana Tech proved a year ago, they threw the ball effectively against pretty much everybody they played,'' said Doug Mallory, who coaches OSU's defensive backs. ``As a secondary coach trying to prepare for that, it makes for a long week.''

The secondary, a weakness on Oklahoma State teams in recent years, held up pretty well against Southern Miss. Jeff Kelly was 22-of-36 passing for 277 yards and a touchdown, but the Golden Eagles didn't score in the second half.

``We played all right, but as a secondary we have to play a whole lot better,'' Craig said. ``We gave up too many passing yards. We're better than that. I think we'll play better in this game.''

Miles, in his first season as head coach, is trying to turn around a program that has had one winning season since 1988. He said he expected to win last week, and the Cowboys may have if they hadn't turned the ball over four times.

But those mistakes, along with penalties and other breakdowns, doomed Oklahoma State and as a result Saturday's game is all the more important.

Is it too soon to call it a must-win game?

``Just get it going right,'' he said. ``Whenever that happens, this team has a chance to win a lot of games. We just have to take one step at a time and get the car headed downhill.''