January 2, 2010

Time to Play! Pokes, Rebels square off

ARLINGTON, Texas - After weeks of anticipation, it's finally time for Oklahoma State to get on the field and try to post a bowl victory.

And this afternoon, that chance finally comes, as the No. 21 Cowboys (9-3 overall, 6-2 Big 12)) will square off against Ole Miss (8-4, 4-4) in the 2010 Cotton Bowl Classic, which is set for a 1:15 p.m. Central Time kickoff and will be televised nationally on the Fox Broadcast Network. Pat Summerall and Daryl Johnston will call the action.

It will be an interesting game for many reasons. For starters, it pits two fairly equal teams against each other that both were both on the cover of Sports Illustrated to begin the season, both upset in the early going and both endured a tough loss to its in-state rival.

And oh, both coaches played quarterback at Oklahoma State.

With those similarities setting some of the storylines in the game, Friday afternoon some negative breaking news bubbled up that is not good for the Cowboys. Sources close to OStateIllustrated.com said that Perrish Cox had violated team rules and would not play in the game. Shortly thereafter, head coach Mike Gundy confirmed that with a release. Now the Pokes head into Cowboys Stadium without one of its best players on defense and special teams.

While that no doubt will hamstring OSU, if its offense can set up the run, it could still have a successful day. In each of the Rebels' losses this season, they had issues containing the run. And with Kendall Hunter and Zac Robinson supposedly at or near 100 percent, combined with Keith Toston looking to continue his big season, the Rebs might be facing a three-headed monster on the ground.

And if the Cowboys can run, they would be in great position to pick up its 10th win of the season, a first since the 1988 campaign.

"It would mean a lot," Zac Robinson said. "Obviously our goal is to get that 10th win - it has been ever since we knew that was in sight. Playing in such a big environment like Cowboys Stadium and the magnitude of the Cotton Bowl is always a great bowl game."

It should be interesting to see which offense gets the most points on the board, as both teams are close in the scoring offense category. Ole Miss ranks 35th (30.25 points per game) while OSU chimes in at No. 37 (30.17 ppg). In past seasons, the Pokes would have been higher up in the national charts. This year's number probably seems like a disappointment, but DeMarcus Conner doesn't see it exactly the same way.

"The last couple of years we put up 50 points, 60 points a game," Conner said. "I think this year it's more balanced. Even though the offense isn't scoring as many points, we're scoring enough points and our defense has gotten better this year. They're probably why we won nine games, because our defense has gotten better this year."

On the other side of the ball, the Cowboys' improved defensive unit will be tested. The Rebels will try to trick the OSU defense with the skills of Dexter McCluster, who will likely be all over the field in a variety of looks. That's something that Andre Sexton and the sixth-ranked rush defense (87.6 yards per game) look forward to.

"I don't think they're giving us any credit for what we've done all season doing such a great job stopping the run, which is perfectly all right with me, because no matter what is said now or what was done earlier, you still have to prove it on Saturday," Sexton said. "In a way, we know that it fits our advantage because we like going against the run and we like hanging our hat on knowing that we have been successful at stopping the run all year. They're going to come in with a chip on their shoulder knowing that this is what they do good, but hey, this is what we do good too. So it's going to be settled between those white lines out there under that giant Jumbotron."

By this point, both teams know each other's tendencies pretty fairly - that's what weeks of studying the same team can do for you. To win a bowl game, a couple of new kinks must be mixed in to ensure you can edge out your opponent. So, Andrew Lewis, will that be the case today?

"Definitely," he said. "You always add wrinkles in for bowl games. You get like a whole month to study an opponent so you have to throw new things in there. I can't share that with you, but we've got a few different wrinkles."

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