STILLWATER, Okla. (AP) — On paper, it looks like Oklahoma State should not encounter much trouble when hosting South Alabama on Saturday. With a much more challenging contest looming the following week against No. 20 Boise State, it might be easy for the Cowboys to overlook the Jaguars.
But Oklahoma State (1-0), which sits just outside the Top 25 poll following a dominating 58-17 victory over Missouri State in its opener, claims to be focused. The Cowboys are still adjusting to new quarterback Taylor Cornelius and adapting to the 4-2-5 defensive scheme of new defensive coordinator Jim Knowles.
"We always try to prepare for every opponent the same," said junior defensive end Jordan Brailford. "No matter who we play, we always practice hard, we always take preparation the same. We feel like we had some mistakes that we needed to correct. I think we will get better as time goes on."
Coach Mike Gundy views South Alabama (0-1), which lost 30-26 to Louisiana Tech last week, as a formidable foe.
"They're an athletic group," Gundy said of the Jaguars. "This team is more athletic than the team we just played, so it will be a better challenge."
South Alabama first-year head coach Steve Campbell knows his squad faces a difficult task.
"Oklahoma State looks like a top-five football team, with the numbers that they put up last week, regardless of the competition," Campbell said. "They started a new quarterback and all he did was go out and throw five touchdown passes. They spread the ball around, they ran it well and threw it well and pretty much scored at will. They are an outstanding offensive football team. It's a tremendous challenge for us."
Five things to watch for on Saturday:
Oklahoma State had many playmakers last week, with seven different players gaining over 40 yards of offense, so expect the ball to be distributed evenly, especially among the four capable running backs. Junior Justice Hill, who led the Big 12 with 1,467 yards rushing last season, gained 122 yards and a touchdown on 10 carries last week and will likely see limited action again to keep him fresh. Third-stringer L.D. Brown also topped 100 yards, picking up 110 and a touchdown on nine carries.
Campbell wouldn't name his starting quarterback for the game, with Cole Garvin and Evan Orth both likely to see action. Garvin started last week, completing 7 of 16 passes for 47 yards and a touchdown, along with two interceptions. Orth came on in the fourth quarter and went 4 of 6 for 44 yards while also leading the Jaguars in rushing with 74 yards on two carries. "It's tough, but there are only so many footballs to go around," Campbell said. "Evan has done a good job every time we've given him an opportunity, he prepares himself every step of the way as if he is going to be the guy. Cole did some great things early and later on, but we need to get the football moving a little quicker."
How will Cornelius do in his second career start? He made a few mistakes last week against Missouri State, but did well by completing 25 of 35 passes for 300 yards and five touchdowns and one interception. He also gained 27 yards on four rushes. "It wasn't perfect by any means," Cornelius said of his first start. "It's something to improve on, something to look at on tape and move forward."
Jaguars wide receiver Kawaan Baker made more of an impact in the running game than through the air last week, picking up 51 yards and two touchdowns on six rushes. He also registered 12 yards and another score on two receptions, tying a school record for touchdowns in a game. Baker also returned a kickoff 14 yards, so he has proven to be dangerous no matter how the ball gets in his hands.
Oklahoma State has a new-look defense, which allowed just 260 yards last week, ranking third in the Big 12 and 25th in the nation. Knowles, who spent the previous seven years as the defensive coordinator at Duke, took over in January after Glenn Spencer was fired following five years as DC and 10 years on OSU's staff.