The 12th-ranked Oklahoma State Cowboys will try and put the threat of a potential NCAA investigation on the back burner on Saturday night when they host the Lamar Cardinals at Boone Pickens Stadium.
Lamar opened its season with a bang by destroying Oklahoma Panhandle State at home, 75-0. The Cardinals challenged themselves with a difficult non- conference road matchup at Louisiana Tech last Saturday, fighting hard for four quarters before falling, 27-14.
Oklahoma State began the season ranked No. 13 in the country and managed to creep up one spot in recent weeks after two strong wins. In a neutral-field contest to open the season against a formidable Mississippi State squad, the Cowboys earned a 21-3 victory. They were on their way to a blowout win last week against Texas-San Antonio before the Roadrunners responded with a flurry of points late. Still, OSU escaped with a 56-35 triumph.
Earlier this week, Sports Illustrated reported that several Oklahoma State football players apparently received improper benefits dating back to 2001. Although an NCAA investigation appears imminent, head coach Mike Gundy is concentrating on what's happening on the field for the time being.
"There won't be any further comment from me concerning this issue," Gundy told the media on Monday. "I will say that we -- our staff and myself -- are focused on our team doing the right things. I'm very proud about what we've accomplished here, on and off the field."
This contest marks the first-ever meeting between these two schools on the football field.
Although Lamar's offensive output against Louisiana Tech last week was lackluster at best, the explosion of points in the opener still allows it to own an outstanding scoring offense (44.5 ppg), as well as total offense (488.5 ypg).
Quarterback Caleb Berry is off to a fast start, completing 62.5 percent of his passes for 528 yards, tossing seven touchdown passes against only one interception.
The Cardinals strike a good balance between the pass (69 plays) and run (88 plays). Payton Ploch is the top rusher with 105 yards and a touchdown, while Kade Harrington has 88 yards and a pair of scores. Berry has the ability to take off and run as well (77 yards).
Jordan Edwards is the top playmaker in the receiving corps, logging seven receptions for 164 yards and three touchdowns. Mark Roberts has just three receptions, but they've all resulted in big plays as he has amassed 112 yards.
The Lamar defense (13.5 ppg, 309.5 ypg) put forth a solid effort against a strong Louisiana Tech offense, holding the Bulldogs (FBS's top scoring offense in 2012 with 51.5 ppg) to just 27 points.
The front seven has done its job creating pressure, with Jesse Dickson (13 tackles, 4.0 TFL, 2.5 sacks) and Mark Murrill (3.5 TFL) the standouts. Tyrus McGlothen leads the unit with 17 total stops.
Oklahoma State's offense moved the ball at will against UTSA last week, racking up more than 600 yards to up its season averages to 38.5 points and 518.5 yards per game.
J.W. Walsh was named the Big 12 Conference Player of the Week after his record-setting performance versus UTSA. Not only did he throw for 326 yards and four touchdowns, but he completed 24-of-27 passes, and his single-game completion percentage (.889) set a new school record.
"J.W. has an uncanny ability to put aside pain and fatigue," Gundy said. "The greatest asset he has going is his ability to lead. He's improved in the throwing game and certainly has the ability to run. As a coaching staff we couldn't be more proud of him."
In addition to throwing for 461 yards, Walsh is the team's leading rusher with 137 yards, adding two more touchdowns on the ground. Jeremy Smith is the featured back and has turned 27 carries in 136 yards and a pair of scores.
The Cowboys have no shortage of receiving threats, as Josh Stewart (nine rec., 136 yards, TD), Jhajuan Seales (eight rec., 101 yards, TD), Charlie Moore (seven rec., 61 yards, TD), Brandon Sheperd (four rec., 73 yards, TD) and Blake Jackson (four rec., 82 yards, TD) are all off to impressive starts.
In the high-flying Big 12, it's important to possess a defense that can stop the opponent from time to time. The Cowboys appear to have a solid unit (19.0 ypg), but they took their foot off the gas late in their last game, allowing UTSA to score 28 fourth-quarter points.
Caleb Lewis leads the team in total tackles (15), tackles for loss (4.0) and sacks (1.5). Tyler Johnson and Calvin Barnett also have 4.0 TFL, and the squad leads the league and ranks ninth nationally with four interceptions.