STILLWATER, OK - SEPTEMBER 8: Running back Joseph Randle #1 of the Oklahoma State Cowboys shakes a tackle from defensive tackle Sione Tuihalamaka #91 of the Arizona Wildcats during the second half on September 8, 2011 at Boone Pickens Stadium in Stillwater, Oklahoma. Oklahoma State defeated Arizona 37-14. (Photo by Brett Deering/Getty Images)
Arizona fans probably feel adequately acquainted with the Oklahoma State football team. After all, Saturday's meeting will be the third between the two since December 2010. That will mark three times more than the Wildcats have seen conference partners Cal or Washington State over the same time span.
1) I'll start with the obvious. Brandon Weeden is gone and so is Justin Blackmon. Who is replacing them and what is the outlook for leadership at the quarterback and the receiver positions?
Replacing Weeden is true freshman Wes Lunt. Lunt enrolled last spring, and won the job during the spring camp. As far as replacing Blackmon, I don't really know who will show up. There are several players who could be "that guy", Charlie Moore, Tracey Moore, CJ Curry, but this year I feel like we will spread the ball around more. I believe it was the 2009 season we lost Dez after two games to some "indiscretions", and we spread the love to eight different receivers. I think it will be more like that (though, with much higher numbers, that year we only averaged 135 passing yards a game). As far as a leader, I think the team already looks to Lunt. He's been "the guy" all through the summer fall camp, so I think they'll respond to him (I hope).
2) Joseph Randle torched Arizona for 220 total yards (121 rushing and 99 receiving) last year. Still only a junior, is there anything new about him we should know after a breakout season last year?
Nothing new about Joe Randle, he's a stud. What is new, is he has friends. Desmond Roland and Jeremy Smith will be sharing snaps with Randle this year, and that trio just rolled up 250 yards and 8 TD's against Savannah State. I don't expect near that this weekend (or, probably, ever again for that matter), but they are a formidable group.
3) Everyone talks about Oklahoma State's offense, but what do they do well on defense so well? What players should Arizona fans keep an eye out for?
Defensively, we are stout at cornerback (possibly best in the conference), pretty good at safety (though thin), strong at linebacker, and young on the line. JUCO transfer Calvin Barnett should be a stud, Christian Littlehead (assuming he doesn't get arrested again) will be good, and he's only a sophomore. Broderick Brown and Justin Gilbert are a great CB tandem, with Brown especially good a run support. Last year we lived by the turnover, and were good at getting them (44 total). I'm not sure we'll get quite that high this year, but our defensive coaches emphasize turn overs, so I suspect we'll get quite a few this year. Our biggest weakness last year was against the run, so it will be interesting to see if your offense runs more this weekend.
4) The Cowboys didn't get much run out of their first string players in the 84-0 blowout against Savannah State last week. Do you think that helps them or hurts them against the Wildcats?
I don't know that SSU hurt us, but they didn't help us much. I think, if anything, it gave Lunt a chance to play "for real", against live opponents. But he only threw 11 passes, so basically this week is our first game, really. This group of players is used to winning, and are good at winning on the road. I suspect they will respond well to the challenge, and it should be a good game.
5) If Arizona would have any chance of stealing this one, what do you think is the perfect formula for that to happen? Or is there no way you could see OSU losing?
Of course Zona has a chance of winning, just look at our game against Iowa State last year. I think, if anything, this game will be more competitive than the last two meetings, given all the circumstances. It's a late start, on the road, in the desert, against a team that's hungry to beat us. Also, we have a true freshman quarterback making his first road start (and really, first true game start), questions at defensive line, questions at receiver, and our defensive coordinator won't make the trip. I think we win, but yes, yes indeed the Wildcats could beat us.
- Though SSU is a difficult opponent against which to judge a performance, what is the early assessment of Wes Lunt?
He's going to be better than freshman are probably supposed to be but here's the problem...OSU is coming off two years of the best quarterback in its history (by far) so that's going to be his measuring stick. If he was coming in after Donovan Woods or somebody like that, people would be handing him the keys to the city (heck, some are trying to do that right now) but I think it's important to temper expectations and look to the running game to shoulder the load.
- At Pac-12 Media Day, Rich Rodriguez told me Joseph Randle is as good as any running back in college football. How realistic is a Randle Heisman campaign, playing in an offense known to air it out?
I was thinking about this after the Savannah State game. I actually think it's pretty realistic because of how much Lunt is going to check down. Randle isn't going to lead the country in rushing yards (because backup Jeremy Smith is every bit as good) but I wouldn't put 30 total TDs out of his reach. Is he going to win the Heisman? I doubt it, best case scenario he back doors his way into being a finalist in early December.
- What facet of the game must OSU dominate to leave Tucson with a win?
This sounds weird because it's one thing OSU has been really solid at the last decade or so, but I'm worried about special teams. The advantage of having a great kickoff guy has been negated and our punt returns right now inspire the opposite of confidence in me. If OSU takes care of business there I think they have too many horses (desert joke!) for Arizona to deal with.
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