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October 1, 2013

Recon Report: UT uncertainty

The Bears had an open date last weekend and yet probably still hung 70 on somebody from their living room couches. The 16th/17th ranked Bears lead the FBS in points (69.7 per game) and passing yards (444.3 per game) and might have the only quarterback situation in the entire league that has met or exceeded expectations so far all season. Bryce Petty and his numerous offensive weapons will now gradually have the heat turned up on their schedule, starting with an improved West Virginia defense on Saturday night at 7 in Waco. Baylor's Big 12 slate starts with the 4 teams perceived to be in the lower tier of Big 12 talent, with perhaps their biggest challenge coming next week at Kansas State when Bill Snyder's Wildcasts will have revenge on their minds following Baylor's derailment of KSU's national title game hopes a year ago. Baylor safety Ahmad Dixon was arrested last week on misdemeanor assault charges. Art Briles said initially that he didn't expect Dixon to miss in time and reiterated yesterday that the situation had been addressed prior to the Louisiana Monroe game. As for Baylor versus West Virginia, last year's 70-63 Mountaineer win in Morgantown was the first-ever meeting in the series. Overall, Baylor is riding a 7-game winning streak, and Phil Bennett's defense has forced at least two turnovers in 9 of their last 10 games heading in. The Bears are 19-2 under Bennett's leadership when they get at least two turnovers.
The Cyclones finally got in the win column last Thursday with a 38-21 win at Tulsa. ISU outscored the Golden Hurricane 24-7 in the 2nd half, and enjoyed great success on the ground all night. Jeff Woody ran for three touchdowns and Co-Big 12 Offensive Player of the Week, Aaron Wimberly, erupted for 137 yards on 19 carries as ISU controlled the battle in the trenches. Conversely, Tulsa managed just 86 rushing yards and the ISU defense grabbed four takeaways in the Cyclone victory. Quarterback Sam Richardson connected on 26 of 41 passes for 255 yards and two touchdowns. He spread the ball around to ten different receiving targets, with Tad Ecby leading the way with 6 catches for 59 yards. The Cyclones will look to keep their weeknight magic alive this week when they host Texas in a nationally televised game on ESPN at 6:30. In 2011, the Cyclones shocked No. 2 Oklahoma State in Ames on a Friday night.
The 2-1 Jayhawks had an open date last weekend on the heels of their 13-10 win over Louisiana Tech. The victory snapped a 22-game losing streak to FCS opponents and this week they'll try to halt their 21-game Big 12 conference losing skid. The KU offensive line has sorely missed the three seniors that anchored one of the Big 12's best lines a year ago. How they're able to protect quarterback Jack Heaps and create running lanes for a talented stable of KU running backs against the Tech defensive front could go along way in determining their upset chances. KU will also look to get more production out of its receivers. A year after a season in which not a single receiver caught a touchdown pass, KU's receiving corps continues to be silenced. The Jayhawks top four receiving targets through the first month are comprised of three running backs and a tight end. Oklahoma transfer Justin McCay -- a former five-star recruit -- has just two catches for 12 yards and a score so far this year, but has big upside if he and Heaps can get in sync.
KSU had an open date last weekend and now has the unenviable task of traveling to Stillwater with the Cowboys coming off a loss. In our last glimpse of the Wildcats, Tyler Lockett was posting a school-record 237 receiving yards at Texas (KSU lost 31-21). John Hubert found the endzone twice the day but averaged only 3.4 yards per carry (12 carries for 41 yards) against a Texas defense desperate to not get gashed again. Conversely, the Wildcat D gave up 141 yards and two scores to Jonathan Gray. Now they'll face and Oklahoma State team that got just 1 rushing yard out of Jeremy Smith last week, and a shaky peformance from QB JW Walsh. KSU's defense is clearly not the same in 2013, having to start the year with nine new starters on that side of the ball. They now face the offenses of Oklahoma State and Baylor in back to back weeks, a trying stretch for any defense. As for the series with Oklahoma State, the Cowboys hold a 36-23 all-time edge and have gone 19-8 against KSU in Stillwater. Saturday's 2:30 kickoff features the last two Big 12 Champions and yet both clubs are off to 0-1 conference starts this year.
The 4-0 Sooners snapped a 7-game losing skid versus Notre Dame on Saturday with a 35-21 win in South Bend. It was just OU's 2nd win in 11 all-time meetings with the Irish. While Blake Bell turned in another impressive performance, it was the Sooner Defense that grabbed control of this game early. OU picked off Notre Dame QB Tommy Rees twice in the first three minutes -- including a 24 yard interception return by Corey Nelson just 49 seconds into the game. Shortly after another Rees INT, Damien Williams scored from 11 yards out to make it 14-0 OU at 12:15 mark in the first quarter. While the Irish would cut it to 7 twice and to 6 points (27-21) early in the 4th quarter, Blake Bell insured the early lead created by the defense would never be lost. His second career start wasn't as prolific as his first but Bell was very efficient in a hostile environment. He connected on 22-30 passes for 232 yards and 2 touchdowns, with zero interceptions. He was also OU's second-leading rush (behind Brennan Clay's 77 yards) with 12 carries for 59 yards. With the win, OU climbed to 10th and 11th in the two major polls and now will face 2-2 TCU in Norman on Saturday night at six. Bob Stoops says Monday he doesn't expect any "look ahead" factor with the Oklahoma/Texas game coming up next week. He said he expects to get that question from the media every year and yet it the "look ahead" scenario almost never bites his team. OU has lost just twice before the Texas game in his tenure (1999 at Notre Dame and 2007 at Colorado).
The preseason pick to win the league stubbed its toe in a major way in its big 12 opener, as No. 11 Oklahoma State was upset 30-21 in Morgantown by a previously 2-2 Mountaineers team. Despite an early 73-yard TD connection to Josh Stewart (one of 3 passing TDs on the day), JW Walsh struggled at West Virginia. The Cowboy QB completed just 20 of 47 passes and tossed two interceptions. He also got little help from the run game as Jeremy Smith was bottled up all day (15 carries, 1 yard). It wasn't all on Walsh and Smith though. There were receiver drops, horribly short punts, a missed 23 yard FG that could have tied the game in the fourth and 10 penalties for 96 yards. With the loss, OSU fell to 20th and 21st in the two major polls and was knocked from atop its perch in any Big 12 power poll you can find. While Mike Gundy has plenty to clean up before this weekend's home date with Kansas State, those looking to remove Oklahoma State from the conference front-runners conversation entirely, might want to hit the pause button. OSU may be clearly perceived as a notch below Oklahoma and Baylor right now, but remember both of those teams have play at Oklahoma State at the end of the season in back to back weeks, meaning the Big 12 title could still go through Stillwater.
The Horned Frogs improved to 2-2 with a 48-17 win over SMU on Saturday, although they didn't exactly look like world beaters in the process. Playing at home in Fort Worth, TCU actually trailed 10-7 at the half and it was a 17-10 TCU lead entering the fourth quarter before the Frogs outscored the Mustangs 31-7 in the final quarter. QB Trevon Boykin had to endure some boos from the home crowd after a 7-16 first half, but got it rolling in the second half with five straight scoring drives as he hit on 7 of his final 9 pass attempts. The TCU defense provided a huge spark as well forcing five turnovers (including 4 Garrett Gilbert INTs) and holding SMU to just 292 total yards. Strong safety Sam Carter -- a team captain -- had his best game of the year, grabbing two interceptions (including a 66-yard pick-6) and forcing a fumble. He wound up earning National and Big 12 Defensive Player of the Week honors. With the win, TCU retained the Iron Skillet trophy for the 2nd straight year and is now 11-2 in the series under Gary Patterson. The reigning Big 12 Defensive player of the year, Davonte Fields, missed the game with a foot injury. Now the Frogs head to Norman to face No. 11 Oklahoma on Saturday at 6. Oklahoma leads the all-time series 8-4.
The Longhorns had an open date last weekend before a short week this week in preparation for Thursday's road trip to Ames to face the 1-2 Cyclones. Even on a weekend when they sat idle, there was more Mack Brown criticism -- this time coming from a Texas legend. UT icon Earl Campbell told a Houston TV station on Sunday, "Nobody likes to get fired or leave a job, but things happen. "I'd go on record and say yes, I think it's time (for Mack to go)." Brown was obviously disappointed by the comments but said Campbell would "always be welcomed at our school." Brown is still preaching to his players that a major turnaround is possible, especially after their home win over Kansas State. One factor that will certainly help is the return of Daje Johnson. The sophomore is one of UT's best playmakers and has been sidelined with an ankle injury suffered against BYU. He's back practicing this week and expects to play Thursday. David Ash is still day-to-day with his head injury and also questionable is receiver Mike Davis, who is nursing an ankle injury. As for UT vs. Iowa State, Texas leads the all-time series 9-1 and drubbed the Cyclones a year ago 33-7 in Austin.
There is hope in Morgantown, after all. Saturday's 30-21 stunner over No. 11 Oklahoma State was just what Dana Holgorsen and the Mountaineers needed after being embarrassed the week before (37-0 to Maryland in Baltimore). Florida State-transfer Clint Trickett started in place of the injured Ford Childress (pectoral) and helped spark the Mountaineers to their biggest home win as a member of the Big 12 conference. Trickett completed 24-50 passes for 309 yards, a touchdown and 2 interceptions. He injured his shoulder in the fourth quarter and came out briefly but later returned. Holgorsen said Monday that he'll wait for updates on the Childress' pectoral muscle and Trickett's shoulder before announcing a starter for the Baylor game. Charles Sims continued to impress en route to Co-Big 12 Offensive Player of the Week Honors. The Houston-transfer was West Virginia's leading rusher (18 carries, 60 yards and a touchdown) and receiver (5 catches, 82 yards). The Mountaineers defense picked off JW Walsh three times, including a pick-6 by Ishmael Banks. West Virginia travels to Waco this Saturday for a 7 pm kickoff at No. 17 Baylor.

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