=== Bulldogs battle Cowboys in 2013 season opener ===
Houston, TX (Sports Network) - The 13th-ranked Oklahoma State Cowboys kick off
the 2013 season on Saturday afternoon, as they tangle with the Mississippi
State Bulldogs at Houston's Reliant Stadium.
Mississippi State enters the new season hoping to play more like it did in the
first half of 2012 (7-0), than it did in the second (1-5). The Bulldogs
finished an even 4-4 in SEC action, and they are seeking their fourth straight
MSU is 14-2 in non-conference, regular-season games under head coach Dan
Mullen, winning each of their last 13 such encounters. Mullen has led his team
to victory in each of the previous four season openers, and with his next win
will become the first coach in school history to win 30 games in his first
It was a roller coaster of a season for Oklahoma State in 2012, the team
logging an 8-5 record, which included a 5-4 showing against the rest of the
Big 12 Conference.
Under the direction of eighth-year head coach Mike Gundy, OSU has won 67
games, and the Pokes have gone a league-best 20-5 against the rest of the Big
12 since 2009. Oklahoma State is one of only three schools from automatic-
qualifying BCS conferences to win at least nine games in each of the last four
seasons -- the other two being Alabama and Oregon.
The series between these two teams is knotted at 2-2, and this is the first
meeting since 1999 when the Bulldogs prevailed at home in a 29-11 final.
Mississippi State won more games than it lost last year, but the team averaged
just over six points per tilt more than it allowed. The squad featured a
1,000-yard rusher in LaDarius Perkins (1,024 yards, eight TDs), a quarterback
in Tyler Russell who threw for nearly 2,900 yards, 24 TDs and 10
interceptions, and a receiver in Chad Bumphis who pulled down 58 balls for 922
yards and 12 scores.
Bumphis is the only one not back for this season, and both Perkins and Russell
will try to take their respective games to the next level in an effort to get
the Bulldogs off on the right foot once again.
As for the Mississippi State defense, it ranked in the top half of the SEC in
passing yards allowed (221.8 ypg) and was particularly adept at coming up with
turnovers, tying LSU for the league lead with 33 in sporting a +16 turnover
Two areas in which the Bulldogs did not achieve a respectable level of success
was third-down conversions (.421) and sacks (18), both of which ranked them
13th in the 14-team conference.
Cameron Lawrence led the squad with 120 tackles, while Bernardrick McKinney
also went over the century mark with 102. Darius Slay logged five of the
team's 19 picks, while Preston Smith had 4.5 sacks. McKinney and Smith are
back, helping solidify a defense that hopes to show significant improvement in
the areas in which it failed to impress a season ago.
Oklahoma State utilized three quarterbacks in 2012, each of whom completed
better than 60 percent of his passes, tallied almost 4,300 yards and combined
for 34 touchdowns and 16 interceptions. Senior Clint Chelf and sophomore J.W.
Walsh are both expected to play this week, and coach Gundy likes what he has
seen in both players.
"We're going to play both guys. It hasn't changed since spring. Both
quarterbacks have improved. I don't know any other way to say it. It's the
same thing I've said for the last five months. Both guys are doing a good job.
We're glad we have them. They'll both get a chance to play."
The Cowboys are fortunate to have leading receiver Josh Stewart back after he
tallied 101 grabs for 1,210 yards and seven TDs a year ago. Charlie Moore (35
rec., 542 yards, six TDs) and Blake Jackson (30 rec., 598 yards, three TDs)
also return for another go, giving Chelf and Walsh even more weapons down the
Joseph Randle was one of the Big 12's best running backs during his time in
Stillwater, rushing for 1,417 yards and 14 TDs last season, but his departure
means the duo of Jeremy Smith and Desmond Roland will see their workload
increase after combining for 672 yards and 12 TDs in 2012.
The Cowboys' Achilles' heel last season was their inability to limit passing
yards, as foes averaged 280 ypg through the air to saddle the unit with the
110th-ranked passing defense in the nation. Glenn Spencer was promoted to
defensive coordinator during the offseason, and he will have as many as seven
players back with starting experience to implement what will surely be a more
Defensive tackles Calvin Barnett and James Castleman combined for 15 TFL last
season, and they have the talent to be one of the best interior tandems in the
Big 12. Senior linebackers Shaun Lewis and Caleb Lavey each had in excess of
50 tackles last year, while free safety Daytawion Lowe was the unit's co-
leader in stops with 75, adding a pair of picks, one fumble recovery and a
sack to his stat line. Senior Justin Gilbert has the ability to be one of the
league's best corners, and he is a standout kick returner as well.
08/28 11:41:40 ET