Oklahoma St. looking to bounce back vs. Pitt
STILLWATER, Okla. (AP) – Oklahoma State is glad to move on to its next game after the disappointment of losing a 30-27 stunner to Central Michigan last week on an untimed final play that officials admitted they never should have awarded.
At home Saturday against Pittsburgh, the Cowboys (1-1), who fell out of the Top 25, will face another difficult opponent that’s off to a 2-0 start.
“We’re looking forward to getting back to work,” OSU coach Mike Gundy said. “The players’ attitudes were really good. A good football team will be in here Saturday. We’ve felt like they’re a team that should be ranked in the top 25 with what they have. It will be a real challenge for us in a lot of different areas.”
Pitt is coming off a thrilling 42-39 win over Penn State last week, in which it built a big early lead and held off a furious fourth-quarter comeback attempt.
Coach Pat Narduzzi isn’t concerned with how Oklahoma State will respond, just with ensuring that his guys dial up the same intensity they did last week for a big rivalry contest.
“I’m not worried about (Oklahoma State’s) mindset, I only worry about our mindset,” Narduzzi said. “I would guess they are going to be pretty upset and angry. Our job as coaches is to make sure that we are all up for the game. We’re going to treat it just like we did last week. I told the team this is a big game because it’s our next game. We’re going to be excited for this one.”
Five things to watch for on Saturday:
1. RUNNING ON EMPTY: One focus for Oklahoma State this week is to get the running game back on track. After gaining just 50 yards on 26 total carries last week, with running backs carrying the ball just 15 times while quarterback Mason Rudolph threw it 44, the Cowboys are hoping for a more balanced attack that includes more success on the ground. “We have to find a way to move the ball on the ground some, in order to set up everything else we do,” Gundy said. “We’ve got to continue to get better at it. We abandoned the run too early in the last game.”
2. CONNER’S BACK: Pitt junior running back James Conner is in fine form after missing nearly all of last season recovering from a serious knee injury and Hodgkin lymphoma. He leads the potent Pitt running game, gaining 117 yards and a touchdown on 22 carries last week, while also leading all Panther receivers with four catches for 29 yards and another score. “A great story, and a good player,” Gundy said of Conner. “It’s pretty amazing, when you watch him, to think that he’s gone through that.”
3. CENTURY MARK: Oklahoma State sophomore receiver Jalen McCleskey enjoyed a career game against Central Michigan last week, catching 11 passes for 103 yards and a touchdown, the first time this season a Cowboy hit 100 yards receiving. His previous personal bests were five receptions and 58 yards. He also returned two punts for 36 yards. “They were trying to take away our outside guys and he did a great job of stepping up and moving us down the field,” Rudolph said of McCleskey.
4. RETURN TO SENDER: Sophomore Quadree Henderson has been a dangerous weapon for Pittsburgh as a kick returner, leading the nation with a 53.5-yard average on kick returns. He had a 96-yard return for a touchdown in the opener against Villanova and then took off on an 84-yarder in the fourth quarter last week against Penn State that set up what became the game-winning touchdown. Henderson has also thrived as a receiver, catching seven passes for 82 yards and a touchdown, while also rushing four times for 58 yards.
5. TURNOVER BATTLE: Both teams have been among the NCAA’s best at creating turnovers so far this season. The Cowboys lead the nation with five fumble recoveries and are tied for sixth with six total turnovers, along with Pitt, who has recovered four fumbles and pulled down two interceptions. Panther linebacker Mike Caprara, who pounced on two of those fumbles last week against Penn State, ranks second in the nation in recoveries.