September 14, 2007

Friday Night Lights

While the Friday Night Lights of Oklahoma high school football will burn bright, Oklahoma State's football team will be down in southern Alabama tonight taking on a program that has burned the Big 12 at their home in the past.

No one in this region can forget the shocking loss the Missouri Tigers experienced on their trip to Troy in 2004. In that game, the Trojans set a trap for Mizzou. It was the home opener of their newly-renovated Home Gallery Stadium and the entire school was amped to have a big-name school at their place. The end result was a 24-14 victory for Troy and a message that the Trojans weren't the typical small-name program.

Since then, they've managed to uphold that message, becoming a tough out for any team, anywhere. In the past two weeks, Troy has played well against both Arkansas and Florida. Now they get another big-time home game, this time against the Cowboys. And - like the Mizzou game - the Trojans get to play them in front of a national television audience. Will lightning strike twice? Who knows, but Troy will get their shot starting at 7 p.m. on ESPN2.

For the Cowboys (1-1), this is a potential trap game. Two weeks after the big contest at Georgia. One week before Big 12 play starts against Texas Tech. This is a game that can be overlooked, given Troy's lack of "name" status.

But the Cowboys know better.

"Every year, Troy plays a couple of big teams," defensive end Marque Fountain said. "A couple of years, they've beaten big teams or have come close. So we know they have some big athletes down there and have players that can make plays down there. But we're going to prepare like we did last week and we're going to go down there and be ready to try and win this ballgame."

Head coach Mike Gundy has spoken of Troy (0-2) this week like they're the second coming of Rockne's Irish. While some of it has just been the typical coach-talk, the former Midwest City Bomber has been adamant all week about just how good this program is. And with a bad loss and a win over a below-average team behind them, Gundy says his Pokes aren't overlooking anyone right now, even with Tech coming to Stillwater next week.

"In the situation we are in right now, it is not hard for us to prepare for this game, because we are very aware of the ability that they have and the speed that they have on their offense and their quarterback play," Gundy said. "Our players will be able to stay focused. I think maybe if you were in the situation where you are ranked really high in the conference and you go down there, then you could lose a little more focus, but we are not having a problem with going down there and staying focused because we are aware of what this team is capable of."

And make no mistake, this team is capable. Unlike most smaller Division I-A schools, Troy just doesn't collect big checks and go through the motions on the field. They play to win. Head coach Larry Blakeney sums it up best:

"We haven't been playing the four sisters of the poor out here," Blakeney said, referring to his team's non-conference schedule, which features Arkansas, Florida, the Pokes and Georgia later in the season. For Troy, this is a chance to exact some revenge over another BCS school after taking tough losses in Fayetteville and Gainesville the past two weeks.

"We plan to be more aggressive on offense rather than having to play catch-up all the time," said quarterback Omar Haugabook, who is listed as probable on the Trojans injury report with a sore thumb. "In the second half against Florida, we just came out a bit more aggressive. We wanted to keep fighting, not give up."

The offense lives and dies with the 6-2, 220-pound QB. Linebacker Patrick Lavine says the Cowboy D realizes that and will try to shut him down.

"Their quarterback is real good," Lavine said. "That is a person that we are going to have to stop on offense and if we are able to stop him - which I feel we are - then we will win the game."

Andre Sexton says the key for the defense is to limit long drives from the Trojans and just stay off the field.

"We've got to get off the field and give our offense the ball," Sexton said. "They're so high-powered. They started off slow (against Florida Atlantic), but when you keep giving them chances, they're going to get in a rhythm and they're going to do things because we have so many playmakers. So we just have to get the ball in their hands."

If the first two games Troy has played in are any indication, the scoreboard could need light bulb replacement after the game. The Trojan's defense is dressing up as Swiss Cheese for Halloween, while the offense is going as the Bogeyman. In short, the defense is leaky and the offense can scare you.

And that's not lost on the Pokes, who want to avoid losing another non-conference road game just before getting to the Big 12 slate.

"To me it's a game that we have to win, because we are getting ready to play here and we need as much confidence as we can going into the Big 12," tailback Keith Toston said. "Troy is a great team. They have a lot of athletes. It's a game we need to win as a team."

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