Cowboys hope to build on momentum of last season

Wednesday, August 14th 2002, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

STILLWATER, Okla. (AP) _ When last we saw the Oklahoma State Cowboys, they were whooping it up on the field at Memorial Stadium in Norman, celebrating a stunning victory over Oklahoma that ended the Sooners' national championship hopes.

It was a season-saver for the Cowboys, who otherwise were disappointments in their first year under coach Les Miles. They finished just 4-7 (2-6 Big 12) with a defense that gave up at least 424 yards in each of the six games leading up to Oklahoma.

Now the question in Stillwater is whether the Cowboys will enjoy any carryover from that game.

``It was a fun and exciting time, it was good to beat Oklahoma, but Oklahoma doesn't make the whole season,'' said Aso Pogi, who will compete with Josh Fields for the quarterback job. ``What makes the whole season is us going to a bowl game and beating people consistently.''

That figures to be a significant chore. While the Cowboys expect to be more effective on offense and better on defense, the schedule is a doozy. In addition to the rugged Big 12 South division, the Cowboys play Nebraska and Kansas State from the North, plus UCLA and Louisiana Tech in nonconference games.

The Louisiana Tech game is on the road in the season opener _ a worrisome combination.

``You hate to say `must win,' but it's a must win,'' Miles said. ``Could we go 2-2 in the first four and still be a bowl team? Yes. But there's a lot of momentum, strength and hump to get over with the first win.''

The Cowboys had their chances in the opener last year at Southern Mississippi, but turnovers and penalties dashed those hopes. Burdened by a poor running game and a porous defense, they wound up beating only Louisiana Tech, Northwestern State of Louisiana and Baylor before upsetting Oklahoma.

Miles says he has reason to believe the offense will be better this year.

In Rashaun Woods, the Cowboys have one of the top receivers in the country. Tailback Tatum Bell is bigger and stronger than a year ago, when he was prone to fumble, and newcomer Seymore Shaw brings big-play potential.

The Cowboys must replace three starters in the offensive line, but Miles said he expects an upgrade. And at quarterback, Fields has a stronger arm than Pogi, and also has a confidence and poise beyond his years.

As a true freshman, he came off the bench and helped the Cowboys beat Baylor last year. He did the same thing a week later against Oklahoma, driving his team for a touchdown in the final two minutes.

``Nothing's a big deal to him,'' said offensive coordinator Mike Gundy. ``Fortunately for us, at that position that helps. Because if you're in awe of the stadiums, if you're in awe of Nebraska or if you're in awe of something, you struggle for a while and you have to overcome it. He doesn't care. He just has that temperament about him.''

Miles said he expects to be better in the defensive front, led by tackle Kevin Williams. Terrence Robinson gives the Cowboys a solid linebacker, a position that could see contributions from a number of freshmen. The secondary should be improved, although depth is a concern.

Miles' offseason didn't go as smoothly as he would have liked.

In December, Pogi was in an automobile accident that required surgery to repair tendons in his left hand. Then Miles had surgery after doctors discovered a build-up of fluid caused by a cyst on the brain.

Both now have clean bills of health, and Miles said he's excited about the prospects for this season.

``I would think that whatever team we put out there on the field, barring a really significant rash of injuries, we'll be a better football team from start to finish, really at every position,'' he said.