September 5, 2009

Ready to Go! Cowboys and Dawgs collide

After nine long months of waiting, the 2009 football season is finally here for Oklahoma State.

And the season opener is a big one, as the No. 9 Cowboys square off against No. 13 Georgia inside Boone Pickens Stadium for a huge matchup that has early national implications. And with ABC in town to cover the action, the stakes are that much higher. The game is set for a 2:30 p.m. Central Time start and will be shown to roughly 80 percent of the network affiliates across the country.

Aside from the fact that it's a big game between two top teams from the Big 12 and SEC, it's also the official grand opening of Boone Pickens Stadium. The atmosphere in Stillwater should be electric all day long leading up to the game.

And that grand opening will host a grand game right off the bat. While OSU is favored, it's tough to project how this game will go.

"I don't know, it could go either way," Zac Robinson said. "Both defenses have the capability of stopping both offenses and both offenses can score points, so you don't really know what to expect so we'll kind of just wait and see."

Head coach Mike Gundy, entering his fifth season as leader of the Cowboys, faces his biggest non-conference opener ever. But is it his biggest opener to be involved with?

"When we played at Nebraska a few years ago, there was a lot of anticipation at that game," Gundy said. "I think just the local buzz and maybe even more so in the state, because of the preseason ranking. I don't know what the numbers are, but it's the highest we've been ranked preseason in a long time. Because of that, there's a lot of excitement. We've had to work very hard to minimize that and try to get the players focused. We have to make sure they understand the most important thing is to prepare, practice and get ready to play the game."

Several players mentioned the 2007 outing against Georgia and how they wanted another shot at the Dawgs. Is evening the score a priority for his players?

"I wish I had an answer for that," Gundy said. "That's kind of like the revenge factor. That question got brought up some last year when we played Troy. I think each individual has to handle that differently. Myself personally, I've gone way past that. We've had so many games since then. If that's something that can help motivate a player to compete and play hard, then I'm OK with that."

Aside from avoiding the emotional distractions that come with a game like this, the biggest area for the Pokes will be how their defense fares against UGA. In his first game as defensive coordinator, OSU alum Bill Young knows everyone from media to fans will be waiting to see just how much, if at all, the Cowboy defense has improved from last year. To his credit, Young has went out of the way to make the adjustment to him from Tim Beckman easier to deal with.

"Well, you win games by not making mistakes, if that makes any sense at all," Young said. " 'More games are lost than are won' is a phrase a lot of us coaches use. The schemes are very, very similar to what we've done in the past at other places and it's just easier for me as a coach to just change terminology. Instead of calling something 'Flash' you call it 'Falcon.' It's just a name anyway. You can call it anything."

His squad goes up against a Georgia unit which lost a couple of big cogs in Matthew Stafford and Knowshon Moreno. Even so, Young knows that the test his side of the ball faces this afternoon won't be easy.

"The No. 1 goal on that list is win," Young said. "Whatever it takes, find a way to win. If they rush for 500 yard and throw for 600 and we win, then we're still okay. Now, we're not going to like it a lot, but we're sure going to be happy with the win."

His players understand how big the stakes are. First games are often rough for any college team, no matter how good they are. But this isn't a game OSU can monkey around in and expect to cruise to victory. Ugo Chinasa summed things up pretty well:

"If we don't come out there and play, we'll get embarrassed on national television."

One thing to keep in mind, Richt at Georgia is 30-4 on the road since taking over the program in 2001.

"I have heard some things about them being a great road team," Robinson said. "We expect this is going to be no different for them - they've played in big road games so they're not going to get caught up in the hype about the game and the crowd and things like that, so we know they'll be ready to go."

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