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Cowboy insight: What's new with Oklahoma State since the Wildcats last saw them?

Samuel Bryant of Cowboys Ride For Free reached out to us for help in answering some questions from Arizona's end of Thursday's Arizona vs. Oklahoma State game in Stillwater, Okla. Over there, we talked about whether the UA run game could make a dent should the Cowboys' defense (theoretically) stifle the Wildcats offense and also delved a teeny bit into what the thought process is regarding the potential of OSU moving into a Pac-16. I for one say it should scare Wildcat fans ... that's just me, however.

Anyway, I asked Samuel a few questions about the Cowboys, most importantly, how things have changed (or not) since these two squads met in December. Basically, it'll come down to two of the best wide receivers in the nation, coupled with two of the most numerically prolific quarterbacks. But hey, there's defense to be played, too.
Desert Swarm: So we've got another battle of two of the best (maybe the best) wide receivers in college football with UA's Juron Criner and OSU's Justin Blackmon. Has Blackmon done anything this offseason to make himself an even more deadly option for the Cowboys?

Cowboys Ride For Free: I'm not sure he could improve upon his performance from last season, at least statistically, but I think we would be alright with him coming close to duplicating last season.  I will say that it seems that the group of receivers around him seems to have stepped up a notch. Josh Cooper who also had a great season last year will slide back into his comfy role as the #2 option out of the slot, but the biggest improvement looks to be in Tracy Moore.  Before the breakout of Blackmon last season, everyone was trying to guess who the go-to WR would be after the departure of Dez Bryant.  It was pretty universally believed that either Blackmon or Moore would be the one to breakout, and as we all know (and have the Biletnikoff trophy to prove), Blackmon ended up being the man. Well it looks like all those that thought it would be Moore may have just been a year too late.  The Junior (6'2, 233) has been a stud in the Spring Game, early scrimmages, and stepped up with 7 catches for 112 yards and a touchdown in the opener against ULL. Having him and Blackmon both running primary routes, with Cooper underneath as the check down option might make this passing attack even more deadly than last season.  This Thursday should be a good barometer of that.

AZDS: With Blackmon and quarterback Brandon Weeden back, there's no doubt this will be an offensive affair. So the key for OSU and vice versa would likely be how the defenses perform. What do you think is the strength of the Cowboy's defense and how successful can they be stopping the Wildcat's pass-happy attack?

CRFF: The strength of the defense would currently be the secondary, but we are looking for the D-Line and LB's to begin their steady improvement. Markelle Martin is an absolute stud at safety and should be a first day pick in the NFL draft, and the rest of the secondary has speed, strength, and experience to hold their own.  The front 7 is replacing 4 starters, so that is still a bit of a work in progress, however returning starting LB Shaun Lewis was the Big12's Freshman of the Year in 2010, and the 2 starting DE's, Jamie Blatnick and Richetti Jones, are seasoned veterans who can get into the backfield.  The weak spots right now are right up the middle as we are breaking in new tackles, a new MLB, and a new WLB.  With the excellent recruiting classes of late around here, the newcomers at those spots are expected to do great things, but they are relatively new and could be the focal point of the Wildcat's offensive attack.  

I don't know that they can necessarily stop the passing game of the Wildcats, but with our offense the goal is more to just slow the other team down. On the positive side for us, the Cowboy's 1st team D did hold ULL to 6 points and 177 total yards through the first 3 quarters before the backups came in and gave up some late points...of course, that was ULL.

AZDS: You all lost a 1,500-yard back in Kendall Hunter to graduation. Who is his replacement and how effective will the Oklahoma State run game be on Thursday? Or will we see both teams attempt 50+ passes?

CRFF: In the Pokes first game against ULL, they actually attempted 44 rushes to 43 passes, and that is usually the case with OSU, just the passing game receives more publicity. Joseph Randle is the primary back and he is coming off a solid 2010 season where he spelled Hunter and racked up just under 900 total yards from scrimmage. He had a nice 22 carries for 129 yards and 2 TDs last weekend before being pulled once the game got out of hand. Randle is a speedy/shifty back who is also a nice receiving threat.  Jeremy Smith is his compliment as the power-back, and he handles a lot of the short yardage duty.