You could argue that the Oklahoma State Cowboys were disrespected in the Week 3 version of the AP Poll. The media seems to have yet to recognize the Pokes as a legitimate threat to the Oklahoma Sooners in the Big 12.
Oklahoma State has their best chance to prove themselves in non-conference play this week when they face the Pittsburgh Panthers. Even though Pitt did not compete much in their Week 2 matchup with the Penn State Nittany Lions, they are still a quality opponent.
Penn State ended up defeating Pitt, 33-14. Moreover, the Panthers never really had a chance in the game after Penn State jumped out to a 14-0 lead in the first quarter. The Nittany Lions never looked back and locked up the 19-point victory behind a big effort from junior running back Saquon Barkley.
The spread puts the Pokes as a 13.5 point favorite over Pitt. Following a near-upset from FCS opponent Youngstown State and a huge loss against Penn State, that seems a little too close for the point spread.
1. Establish the ground game early
Penn State took advantage of a Pitt defense that experienced a few losses last year. Redshirt freshman Keyshon Camp and redshirt junior Shane Roy are two defensive tackles that Oklahoma State can attack on the ground. Camp and Roy totaled only one tackle combined in Week 2.
Sophomore running back Justice Hill had a quite performance against the South Alabama Jaguars. He ran for 27 yards on 11 carries and struggled to consistently find running room. True freshman running back J.D. King led the Cowboys in rushing yards last week with 64 yards on eight carries.
Barkley exposed the Pitt defense. He racked up more than 130 total yards and two touchdowns. Barkley also showed the big play ability he possesses and the fact that Pitt has trouble defending home run plays.
If Mason Rudolph can open up the Pitt defense early in the game and stop them from stacking the box, Hill could run wild. Getting an early advantage over the Pitt defense is key to walking away with a big win.
2. Force Max Browne to turn the ball over
Former USC transfer quarterback Max Browne is showing that him hitting the bench last year in favor of Sam Darnold was no fluke. Browne threw for just 138 yards with zero touchdowns and two interceptions. Grant Haley and Troy Apke both got their hands on the football to force Pitt turnovers.
Brown will get the start in Week 3. Oklahoma State does not possess the same ability to generate turnovers as Penn State, but Mike Gundy and defensive coordinator Glenn Spencer know how to piece together an efficient defense.
Something the Pokes did not do last year against Pitt was force quarterback Nathan Peterman to throw more interceptions than touchdowns. Peterman did not have a great stat line against Oklahoma State last year but he nearly did enough for Pitt to get out of Stillwater with a victory.
Pitt’s main weapon is their ground game. Running back Qadree Ollison takes over for star rusher James Conner. Ollison has racked up more than 185 rushing yards and two touchdowns. Quadree Henderson is also a big weapon that Pitt head coach Pat Narduzzi can call on.
Penn State was able to keep the Pitt rushing attack in check, for the most part. Oklahoma State needs to keep Ollison and Henderson from completely taking over the game. Both players can be game breakers.
This game is Oklahoma State’s to lose. The front seven played well against South Alabama and Tulsa. However, Pitt’s run game is on another level. They’ll have to step up to slow down the Pitt ground attack.