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October 31, 2013

Ask the Expert: Oklahoma State

To get the inside scoop on Oklahoma State, we went to an expert on Cowboy football -- Jeff Johnson with OStateIllustrated.com -- with questions about OSU and Saturday's game in Lubbock.

How important is it to get the passing game back on track if Oklahoma State wants to win in Lubbock?
JJ: "I don't know that you can overstate how important it is. Just like any other team out there, other teams are going to want to force you to be one-dimensional and become very beatable very quick. I think that's something that Oklahoma State has dealt with so far this year, but they haven't played anybody that can really make them pay for it. I think that's a big key this weekend, going into this game."

Looking at all the quarterbacks -- Clint Chelf, J.W. Walsh, Davis Webb, Baker Mayfield -- that have started for these two teams this season, which would you pick if you wanted to win a football game?
JJ: "You know, I haven't watched enough Tech this year to say. The little bit I've seen, they're doing a very good job in the area where Oklahoma State has been deficient, and that's throwing the football. So that might point towards one of the Tech guys.

"Among the Oklahoma State guys, it's a tough call. It's the reason Mike Gundy is wondering whether Chelf's the guy he's going with going forward, which is kind of what he said after the Iowa State game, but turn around to Monday at his media luncheon he said they're both going to play, we just don't know exactly what that plan is going to be. So in a way, I think that kind of highlights the issue I think Oklahoma State has been dealing with so far this year. They've got some similarities, but they're also different in some key areas. What's going to work best for this team, this offense, hasn't really been apparent up to this point."

Do you expect a similar kind of performance from Desmond Roland heading into this game compared to his last outing against Iowa State?
JJ: "That would be hard to call. That's really the first extended look we've gotten at Desmond Roland in his career. He's been a third-stringer up until this year behind Joseph Randle and Jeremy Smith, but it looks like he maybe has taken over as the starter in front of Smith after last week. The previous week, Smith started, had a key fumble, didn't see him the rest of that game against TCU, and then barely played at all against Iowa State. To repeat a 200-yard plus rushing performance, that's not something at this point that I would expect out of Desmond Roland."

How do you think the Oklahoma State defense will fare against Texas Tech's offense, which is running close to 90 plays per game?
JJ: "That's one of the more interesting storylines of the game to me. The Oklahoma State defense this year, I'm going to stop short of saying they're a great defense or an excellent defense, but they've been very, very good all season long. The flipside to that is they haven't faced one of the top offenses in the conference or in the country, so you could take the results that they've had so far -- they effectively shut down TCU, K-State, Iowa State, but those aren't the top offenses that they're going to see.

"They've definitely got a big test coming up this weekend and have something to prove, I think, against Texas Tech. Basically they can step up and have a game like they've had all season long against one of those top-level offenses."

Who do you see as the X-factor of this game?
JJ: "Defensively, for Oklahoma State, I'd probably go with the guys up the middle. You talk about defensive tackle Calvin Barnett. He's not having a massive year statistically, but he has been pretty dominant. He's commanding double teams, he's freeing up lanes so other guys can get a pass rush, his play up front has allowed Caleb Lavey, the middle linebacker who's having a fantastic year, so those guys, and then going further on back into the back seven, the safety Shamiel Gary is a guy who's really come along after a real average season last year. As a strong safety, he's played really well this year. And then Daytawion Lowe is a guy that's been around for several years. The combination of that up the middle facing that Texas Tech run game, pass game, pass coverage, particularly the safeties, obviously, those are the guys I'd go with."

Best-case scenario?
JJ: "I think the best-case scenario is pretty simple for Oklahoma State, it's whatever scenario allows them to get out of Lubbock on a Saturday night with a checkmark in the win column. Not an easy place to play, particularly at night, it's going to be a hyped-up crowd with both teams coming in with just one loss. Oklahoma State kind of dominating the series the last three-four years. It's a recipe for a big-game atmosphere, and I think if you're Mike Gundy, if you walk out of there with a 3-2 win, you're perfectly happy."

JJ: "Worst-case scenario is that the Oklahoma State offense doesn't get on track. They've shown some flashes throughout the season this year. The defense, what they've done so far this year, if they struggle, if it was maybe fool's gold a little bit, I think those two combinations would be the worst case."

Final prediction?
JJ: "It's funny, I've covered so many of these Texas Tech-Oklahoma State matchups over the last decade or so, and every time I think you go in expecting it to be a shootout. Sometimes that is materialized, sometimes it's been a blowout in one direction or another, and then we've seen some that just really weren't shootouts at all, it was the complete opposite. So it's a little hard to read.

"I would tend to say we're looking at maybe a shootout or a tight game otherwise, or Texas Tech will win by a healthy margin. It's a tough place to play, Tech has kind of got things rolling. Oklahoma State, while they've got a lot of talent, has some areas that haven't been up to speed, I guess would be a way to say it, to this point in the season.

"As far as the score prediction, I'd probably have to favor Tech in this game. I know the line's tight, I definitely think either team could end up winning the game, but just given the questions that are out there for Oklahoma State and the fact that it is a game in Lubbock, Texas Tech would be my pick."

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