December 31, 2012

OSU kicker ready for Purdue duo; more notes

DALLAS - Quinn Sharp is aware of the potency of those he'll be kicking off to on Tuesday.

The Oklahoma State specialist has seen enough film on Purdue returnees Raheem Mostert and Akeem Hunt to know that the Boilermakers are a threat.

"They have that track speed, that burst ability to make that big play, those momentum plays," Sharp said Monday, at the press conference the day before Purdue faces OSU in the Heart of Dallas Bowl. "So you have to be on your toes and you have to be prepared in your assignments."

Sharp is a weapon himself. A two-time Big 12 special teams player-of-the-year, Sharp holds three roles for the Cowboys: place-kicker, punter and kickoff specialist. Sharp, a three-time All-American, is the nation's top punter in average yardage, at 45.8, has hit 25-of-31 field goals, including all 17 inside 40 yards, and puts nearly 70-percent of his kickoff into the end zone.

Sharp's 71 touchbacks lead the country, a position he's held the last three seasons. That'd be the easiest way to keep the ball out of Mostert's and Hunt's hands.

And that'd be a good idea. Although Mostert was injured during the middle of the season - he hurt his PCL during the Wisconsin game - he still averaged nearly 27 yards in limited returns. Mostert had a 50-plus yarder in his return vs. Indiana, and scored a TD a year ago. And Hunt averaged more than 22 this season, including a 100-yarder for a touchdown vs. Ohio State.

"We're always trying to get a touchback, it helps the team out if you have that opportunity," Sharp said. "When the weather is colder or it's raining, the ball doesn't pop as well off your foot. But if I have the opportunity to I'm going to try to keep it out of their hands."

For as good as OSU's special teams has been this season, largely led by Sharp, the Cowboys have had breakdowns too. They gave up two kick returns for touchdowns, and allowed one on a punt return too.

"Those are momentum plays," Sharp said. "There's a lot of games we lost this year by a touchdown or less, and I'm pretty sure in each of those we had a big special teams play given up on our part. Those are things you look at, and big parts of the game."

Establishing the run
Oklahoma State can win when it turns one-dimensional because its passing attack - and running too - has the potential to be deadly.

It did that last season, beating Stanford in the Fiesta Bowl mainly through the air.

But the Cowboys would rather not have to do that, and with good reason. In junior Joseph Randle, they have an All-Big 12 running back, one of the best in the country, who gained more than 1,350 yards this season.

And they want to get him the ball.

"I'm not comfortable with not running the ball," OSU coach Mike Gundy said. "I would like to be able to have a balanced attack. I think that's pretty much common knowledge over what would be five or six years at Oklahoma State, or maybe further back than that.

"And at times, the run game does not work as well as you want it to, and Purdue's big guys up front could have an effect on that. The two guys they have playing inside (Kawann Short and Bruce Gaston) are wide and they are physical, and so they have to be handled the best that we can. And if not, you have to throw it some. But I think that we certainly would like to be able to run the ball and gives you the best chance for success."

There's little doubt Oklahoma State's offense has been successful this season, no matter what it's done. The Cowboys rank in the top five nationally in both scoring offense, averaging nearly 45 yards per game, and yardage, averaging about 550.

"I don't think they've played a team like ours on offense," said Randle, a versatile back in OSU's versatile offense. "So we'll see how that works out for them.

"Our offense is so balanced that it's hard so say that if we don't run the ball good we're going to lose. They know that if they don't put enough people in the box, we're going to run the ball all day long. And if you take one away, we'll try to use the other one."

But Oklahoma State is aware that the Boilermakers will likely try to slow the Cowboys' running game.

"They're a team that can really stuff the run," offensive lineman Lane Taylor said. "In the Big Ten, that's the main thing they do and that's what they're built to do."

Happy to be here?
When Oklahoma State fell to the Heart of Dallas Bowl, there was some rumblings of disgruntled Cowboys.

After finishing in a tie for third in the Big 12, they had reason to think they'd go higher in the bowl peaking order. But it didn't work out that way.

Now, though, players are saying the right things, and appear to be ready for their opportunity to play Purdue Tuesday.

"We have so many guys on this team who just like playing football," Randle said. "That's really what we are. The other stuff we don't care about too much; we just love football and it's what we do."

But Gundy, speaking in general terms, says motivation can play a role in bowl outcomes.

"I think there's teams, just in my history of coaching in bowl games, that are not as motivated and it really comes down to that: that the players have to decide that the game is important, and we tried to stress that," he said.

What to expect?
Purdue's used three different quarterbacks this season, and had two offensive play-callers.

Its offense has looked good at times, and dismal at others; its been run-oriented, then switched to focusing on the passing game; its tried to throw deep, then abandoned that goal.

In other words, it's been a bit all over the place.

Cowboy defensive lineman Cooper Bassett, a team captain, says they've had so much time to prepare that they've watched a bit of everything from the Boilers. But, he says, OSU zoned in on film from Purdue's last three games of the season.

"We wanted to see every little wrinkle of the offense," Bassett said. "But we did focus a lot on the Indiana and Iowa games, when they were really clicking on offense, because that's the team we have to prepare for."

Bassett called Purdue "explosive" and said the Boilers were atypical of a Big Ten offense.

"Kind of the stigma a lot of people have is that Big Ten football is kind of slow football, three yards and a cloud of dust," he said. "But Purdue has the ability to give it to their running backs and run you over, but they have a lot of speed on the perimeter. They have playmakers at wideout and running backs have the speed to get on the edge and make you look silly.

"(Robert) Marve has done a great job of running that offense. It's going to be a big test for us because we are going to have to bow up in the middle to stop the run, but at the same time we have to use our speed on the edge."

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