Cowboys finally back home, as tougher foes await

Monday, October 16th 2006, 10:29 pm
By: News On 6

STILLWATER, Okla. (AP) _ Oklahoma State finally will have another home game this week, and it comes at an opportune time for the Cowboys.

By the time it takes the field on Saturday, Oklahoma State (4-2, 1-1 Big 12 Conference) will have not played at home in five weeks _ an eternity in college football, especially for a team from a Bowl Championship Series league.

``I'm going to be glad we don't have to ride on buses to the game,'' quipped junior linebacker Jeremy Nethon.

Oklahoma State's last home game came Sept. 16, a 48-8 rout of Florida Atlantic that capped a 3-0 start. Since then, the Cowboys have lost at Houston, took a week off, blew a late lead and lost at Kansas State before rallying for a win at Kansas.

The Cowboys have yet to play a ranked team, but when they return Saturday to Boone Pickens Stadium, they'll begin a stretch of three games against top-25 foes _ starting with No. 23 Texas A&M _ that could either propel them up the Big 12 ladder or relegate them to middle-of-the-pack or also-ran status.

After Texas A&M (6-1, 2-1) visits Stillwater, No. 17 Nebraska will do the same the next week before the Cowboys travel to defending national champion _ and fifth-ranked _ Texas. A home game against No. 20 Oklahoma, looms at the end of the regular season.

Oklahoma State will enter Saturday's game riding a wave of momentum, having scored 42 points in the final 24 minutes in a 42-32 win at Kansas. The Cowboys rank second in the Big 12 in scoring offense at 38.2 points a game and second in total offense at 432.2 yards per game.

Sustaining that offensive production will be a challenge as the Cowboys' foes become tougher, coach Mike Gundy said Monday.

``We're going to go on a stretch here where we play some pretty good defenses,'' Gundy said. ``Any time you play better defenses it becomes more difficult to score points.''

It's not hard to pinpoint why Oklahoma State has improved offensively. Sophomore quarterback Bobby Reid, in his second year as a starter, leads the Big 12 in pass efficiency thanks to a 17-to-5 ratio of touchdown passes to interceptions. During an injury-plagued freshman season, Reid's touchdown-to-interception ratio was 2-to-4.

Gundy, a former quarterback, both praises Reid's improvement and nitpicks his performances.

``Bobby is going to get better every game, and he gets better every practice, because he stays very levelheaded,'' Gundy said, but only after noting that ``he still makes a lot of mistakes in games.''

Wide receiver Adarius Bowman has given Reid another target, joining D'Juan Woods. Bowman leads NCAA Division I with an average of 123.8 receiving yards per game. Against Kansas, Bowman caught 13 passes for a school-record 300 yards and scored four touchdowns.

Bowman became the first Division I receiver in almost five years to reach the 300-yard receiving mark in a game, prompting Kansas coach Mark Mangino to quip, ``He gets my vote for the Heisman.''

On Monday, Bowman received offensive player of the week honors from the Big 12 and a national organization, the Walter Camp Football Foundation.

``It's still kind of feeling real good right now, but I'm kind of ready to practice,'' Bowman said. ``I think when I start practicing I'll start focusing more on Texas A&M.''

So how good could the Cowboys be? A lot might hinge on their defense, which has been suspect against better opponents and ranks only ninth in the Big 12, allowing 328 yards per game. That unit might have taken a hit when an emerging talent, freshman linebacker Chris Collins, left the Kansas game in the second half with an apparent knee injury.

Gundy wouldn't say if Collins _ the team's second-leading tackler with 31 _ would play against Texas A&M. But Collins was scheduled to undergo an MRI exam Monday to determine the extent of the injury, and he wasn't listed on the two-deep chart released Monday by Oklahoma State's sports information department.

Another freshman, Patrick Levine, likely would start in Collins' place.