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Game Preview

Previewing Pitt vs. Oklahoma State

PITT AT OKLAHOMA STATE – 3:30 P.M. EST, BOONE PICKENS STADIUM, STILLWATER, OK
TV: ESPN

RADIO: 93.7 THE FAN & THE PITT IMG SPORTS NETWORK

Last Saturday, Pitt defeated Penn State 42-39 in front of the largest crowd in Pittsburgh sporting event history. Many Panther fans are still reveling in the victory over their arch-rival, and will likely continue to do so all season. At Monday’s press conference, Pat Narduzzi reminded fans that he and his team are not allotted the same time frame for celebration.

“That chapter is closed; we closed it last night. It’s over with and we’re going to move on to the next one. That’s what we do. There’s a 24-hour rule. You can have fun Saturday night and wake up in the morning with a smile. When they came in here at 4 o’clock on Sunday, they came in to work. It’s game-on again, and we started the next week.”

Now that Narduzzi has declared the Penn State chapter closed, Pitt must focus on the Oklahoma State Cowboys. The Panthers travel to Stillwater, Oklahoma Saturday to face head coach Mike Gundy and a team that holds a controversial 1-1 record. After defeating FCS opponent Southeastern Louisiana 61-7 in week one, Oklahoma State fell at home to the Central Michigan Chippewas 30-27 last weekend. Following an intentional grounding call against the Cowboys as time expired, referees granted one final play to the Chippewas with the clock reading 0:00. Central Michigan scored on that fortuitous play with a Hail Mary-to-lateral that must be seen to be believed. Game officials, the Big 12 conference, the MAC conference, and the NCAA’s coordinator of football officials have all acknowledged that the extra play should not have been awarded to Central Michigan. However, while the officiating error has been acknowledged, no changes will be made to the score or the Cowboys’ record.

On Monday, Gundy revealed that although he would like to see changes to the officiating crews overseeing Big 12 games, he still accepts the outcome.

“Honestly, they came down here and we were more talented than them and they beat us on our field. If we would have played better during the game, it would have never happened. If I was them, I would say ‘A rule is a rule.  We all bought into it. We get the win.’”

Whether their record reads 1-1 or 2-0, Oklahoma State enters Saturday with a talented and experienced offense. The Cowboys have established a reputation during Gundy’s tenure for high scoring offensive units that feature an air-raid attack. While OSU does not rank in the top 25 at the moment in total offense, nine starters return for unit that ranked 22nd in total offense and 14th in scoring in 2015. Let’s look at the players to watch for both teams when Oklahoma State has the ball:

Mason Rudolph, OSU – Since assuming the starting role in week 11 of his freshman year, Rudolph has gone 12-3 as the Cowboys’ quarterback. He has racked up 5,100 career passing yards, 31 touchdowns, and 14 interceptions. And his passing yards don’t come solely from 5-yard outs; this 6’5” 235 pound junior can throw the ball downfield. In 2015, he completed 40 passes that traveled over 20 yards, which ranked second amongst quarterbacks in Power 5 conferences. Through two games this year, Rudolph has thrown for 477 yards, 4 touchdowns, and one interception. Draft analysts, like CBS’ Dane Brugler, have already begun labeling Rudolph as a potential NFL quarterback.

Jalen McCleskey, OSU and James Washington, OSU – Pat Narduzzi labeled McCleskey and Washington as “blazers” on Monday, preparing for the speed that the duo will display this week. McCleskey, a 5’10” 188 pound sophomore, currently leads the Cowboys in receiving with 15 catches for 130 yards and 1 touchdown. Washington, a 6’0” 205 pound junior, is right behind McCleskey with 10 receptions for 103 yards and 1 touchdown. In 2015, Washington’s 53 receptions, 1,087 yards, 10 touchdowns, and four receptions over 70 yards earned second-team All-Big 12 honors.

Chris Carson, OSU – Chris Carson returns for his senior season after leading the Cowboys in rushing last year. On the season, Carson has rushed for 45 yards on 12 carries with 1 touchdown. He has also added 5 receptions for 60 yards to his total yardage. The 6’1” 215 pound running back splits time with multiple players, including true freshman Justice Hill. Hill has also carried the ball twelve times, and holds the slight yardage advantage over Carson with 61 yards.

Blake Jarwin, OSU – The 6’5” 248 pound tight end does not receive many touches.  In 2015, he recorded 17 receptions for 200 yards and 2 touchdowns; and in 2016, he has 1 reception for 15 yards. Despite receiving limited targets, Jarwin’s play earned first-team All-Big 12 honors in 2015.

Barry J. Sanders, OSU – Yes, he is related to that Barry Sanders.  Barry J. Sanders may not boast incredible statistics, but the son of an NFL Hall-of-Famer and former Oklahoma State legend deserves recognition. Sanders elected to spend his senior season at his father’s alma mater following three years as a reserve running back for the Stanford Cardinals. The graduate transfer running back has 5 rushing yards, 20 receiving yards, and a 57-yard punt return on the season.

Ejuan Price, Pitt – The Cowboys’ offensive line returns 5 starters with a combined 101 career starts. To stop Mason Rudolph, Pitt’s d-line must provide pressure.  Ejuan Price leads a Panther defense that is tied for first in total sacks amongst FBS teams, and tied for sixth in total takeaways. The senior defensive end has 2.5 sacks, 3.5 tackles-for-loss, and 2 forced fumbles this year.

Tyrique Jarrett, Pitt – Mike Gundy admitted that OSU “abandoned the run a little too quickly” against Central Michigan. In fact, no running back on the Cowboys’ roster has received over 12 carries this season. Should Oklahoma State decide to run the ball against the Panthers, senior nose tackle Tyrique Jarrett will anchor a defense that held Saquon Barkley to under 100 yards.

Avonte Maddox, Pitt and Ryan Lewis, Pitt – Maddox and Lewis, Pitt’s top two corners, will be charged with mirroring the Cowboy receivers mentioned above. Both corners have been quite active early in the season: Maddox has 10 tackles, 2 sacks, and 3.5 tackles-for-loss; while Lewis has 14 tackles (a team high), 1 breakup, 1 pass defended, and his lone interception secured the victory over Penn State. Lewis’ performance last week earned the redshirt senior ACC defensive back of the week honors.

Like Pitt, OSU’s defense is tied for sixth nationally in takeaways. Their 310.5 yards-per-game rank 37th in the FBS; just 7 spots behind the Panthers. Here are the players to know when Oklahoma State is on defense:

Jordan Burton, OSU – The first name to know is the one that has been announced the most this season when Oklahoma State is on defense.  Burton, a 6’2” 215 pound senior linebacker, leads the Cowboys in tackles with 13. The 2015 AP first-team All-Big 12 honoree also has half sack on the season.

Jordan Sterns, OSU – A 2015 second-team All-Big 12 selection, Sterns is the first player under Mike Gundy to post consecutive seasons with 100 tackles. Sterns has registered 10 tackles thus far in his senior season. Currently, CBS Sports has Sterns rated as a sixth-round NFL prospect.

Vincent Taylor, OSU – In the center of the Cowboy defense line stands 6’3” 310 pound defensive tackle Vincent Taylor. Described as “one of the strongest players on the roster” by Oklahoma State’s website, Taylor is following up his strong sophomore season with impressive play. Through two games, Taylor has 7 tackles, 0.5 sacks, and 1.5 tackles-for-loss.

Jarrell Owens, OSU – In his first year as a starter, the 6’3” 270 pound redshirt sophomore leads Oklahoma State with 2 sacks, and is tied for the team lead with 3 tackles-for-loss. The Cowboys needed someone to replace Emmanuel Ogbah’s 11 sacks and 17 tackles-for-loss entering the season. Statistically, Owens has been that man so far.

James Conner, Pitt – Conner has received the most attention of any Panther in the past year for multiple reasons, and that is unlikely to change anytime soon. He is Pitt’s leading rusher with 170 yards and 2 touchdowns on 39 carries; and he has also displayed ability as a receiver, adding 7 receptions for 45 yards and another 2 touchdowns to his stat sheet.

Quadree Henderson, Pitt– Through two games, Quadree Henderson has emerged as a versatile playmaker for Pitt’s offense. The 5’8” receiver has 7 receptions for 82 yards and a touchdown; while adding 4 rushes for 58 yards on the ground, including a 38 yard run against the Nittany Lions last week. His athleticism is also on display when the Panthers are returning kickoffs. Henderson currently leads the FBS in kickoff return average with 53.5 per attempt.

Nate Peterman, Pitt – Should the Panthers fall behind to the air raid attack of Oklahoma State, Peterman may need to shoulder a heavier load than he has thus far in 2016. Against Penn State, Peterman completed 11 of 15 passes for 91 yards, 3 touchdowns, and 1 interception. Currently, the Panthers rank 99th nationally in passing yards-per-game.

Here is a look at how the two teams compare:

TEAM STATS

PITT OKLAHOMA STATE
  PITT OPPONENTS OK ST OPPONENTS
POINTS SCORED 70 46 88 37
Points Per Game 35.0 23.0 44.0 18.5
FIRST DOWNS 36 34 46 35
Rushing 16 10 12 12
Passing 17 20 31 19
Penalty 3 4 3 4
RUSHING YARDAGE 427 127 194 154
Yards Gained Rushing 473 230 265 267
Yards Lost Rushing 46 103 71 113
Rushing Attempts 90 64 64 72
Average Yards Per Rush 4.7 2.0 3.0 2.1
Average Yards Per Game 213.5 63.5 97.0 77.0
Rushing Touchdowns 4 4 4 1
PASSING YARDAGE 266 451 541 467
Comp-Att-Int 30-48-1 40-67-2 79-53-1 56-34-1
Average Yards Per Pass 5.5 6.7 6.85 8.34
Average Yards Per Catch 8.9 11.3 10.21 13.74
Average Yards Per Game 133.0 225.5 270.0 233.5
Passing Touchdowns 5 1 5 4
TOTAL OFFENSE 693 578 735 621
Total Plays 138 131 143 128
Average Yards Per Play 5.0 4.4 5.1 4.9
Average Yards Per Game 346.5 289.0 367.5 310.5
KICK RETURNS – YARDS – TDS 5-216 9-166 2-20 12-207
PUNT RETURNS – YARDS – TDS 5-59 5-74 4-96 3-9
INTERCEPTION – RETURN YARDS 2-0 1-8 1-(-1) 1-0
KICK RETURN AVERAGE 43.2 18.4 10.0 17.25
PUNT RETURN AVERAGE 11.8 14.8 24.0 3.0
INTERCEPTION RETURN AVERAGE 0.0 8.0 -1.0 0.0
FUMBLES – FUMBLES LOST 3-2 7-4 2-1 8-5
PENALTIES – YARDS 13-119 11-90 9-95 11-107
Average Per Game 59.5 45.0 47.5 53.5
PUNTS – YARDS 11-467 14-587 9-357 13-514
Average Yards Per Punt 42.5 41.9 39.67 39.54
Net Yards Per Punt 33.9 36.3 38.67 38.85
TIME OF POSSESSION PER GAME 32:36 27:24 55:26 1:04:34
3rd-DOWN CONVERSIONS 10/27 6/26 7/23 9/27
3rd-Down Percentage 37% 23% 30.43% 33.33%
4th-Down CONVERSIONS 0/0 1/3 1/2 0/3
4th Down Percentage 0% 33% 50.0% 0.0%
SACKS BY – YARDS 10-91 1-16 6-48 7-48
TOUCHDOWNS SCORED 10 6 11 5
FIELD GOALS/ATTEMPTS 0/3 1/1 4/4 1/2
RED-ZONE TOUCHDOWNS/ATTEMPTS 9/10 4/5 7/12 2/4

INDIVIDUAL STATS

Passing:

COMP ATT YDS TD INT PCT AVG/G
PITT
Peterman, Nate 30 47 266 5 1 63.8% 133.0
OK ST
Rudolph, Mason 45 68 477 4 1 66.18% 238.50

Rushing:

CAR YDS AVG TD LONG
PITT
Conner, James 39 170 4.4 2 24
Ollison, Qadree 16 66 4.1 0 18
Henderson, Quadree 4 58 14.5 0 38
Aston, George 4 14 3.5 2 13
OK ST
Hill, Justice 12 61 5.1 0 17
Carson, Chris 12 45 3.8 1 12
Carr, Jeff 6 42 7.0 1 26
Cornelius, Taylor 6 28 4.7 1 15

Receiving:

REC YDS TD AVG LONG
PITT
Orndoff, Scott 9 83 1 9.2 19
Henderson, Quadree 7 82 1 11.7 24
Conner, James 7 45 2 6.4 12
Weah, Jester 4 38 1 9.5 16
OK ST
McCleskey, Jalen 15 130 1 8.7 28
Washington, James 10 103 1 10.3 32
Seales, Jhajuan 6 95 2 15.8 24
Carson, Chris 5 60 0 12.0 18

Defense:

SOLO TOTAL TFL FF FR INT SACKS
PITT
Lewis, Ryan 13 14 0.0 0 0 1 0.0
Whitehead, Jordan 10 13 1.5 0 1 0 0.0
Webb, Terrish 11 11 0.0 0 0 1 0.0
Maddox, Avonte 7 10 3.5 0 0 0 2.0
Idowu, Oluwaseun 6 9 0.0 1 0 0 0.0
Soto, Shakir 5 6 2.0 0 0 0 1.0
Price, Ejuan 4 5 3.5 2 0 0 2.5
OK ST
Burton, Jordan 6 13 0.5 0 0 0 0.5
Sterns, Jordan 7 10 1.0 0 0 0 0
Richards, Ramon 6 9 0.0 0 0 1 0
Averette, Devante 4 7 1.0 1 2 0 0
Webber, Tralund 4 5 2.0 0 0 0 1.0
Owens, Jarrell 3 4 3.0 0 0 0 2.0

OSU enters Saturday with no injuries to expected starters/contributors. Unfortunately, Pitt cannot say the same. Following the game Saturday, coach Narduzzi revealed that defensive end Dewayne Hendrix and linebacker Elijah Zeise will both miss the remainder of the season due to injuries sustained in Pitt’s opener. Dontez Ford will require surgery following a broken collar bone suffered last weekend, as reported by KDKA’s Rich Walsh. Also, Coach Narduzzi mentioned that “there is a chance” freshman Damar Hamlin will play this season, though no details have emerged regarding the status of his nagging injury.

The game will be aired at 3:30pm this weekend on ESPN, and can be heard on 93.7 The Fan. For local fans planning on going out for the game, Pittsburgh Sports Now will be hosting its first “Watch Party” at Cupka’s Café 2 in Pittsburgh’s Southside. There will be giveaways, along with food and drink specials.  As always, Pittsburgh Sports Now’s writers will also provide updates and in-game observations via Twitter on Saturday.

When examining trends, the Cowboys have fared fairly well in recent years when facing opponents similar to Pitt. Oklahoma State holds a 22-5 record in their last 27 non-conference games, and a 46-6 record in their last 52 games versus unranked opponents. Pitt meets both of those criteria, although the Central Michigan Chippewas did last week, as well. And while the Cowboys are also the betting favorite in Saturday’s clash, Pat Narduzzi will look to defy the odds by having his team come out with the same fervor as last weekend.

“We have 10 guaranteed opportunities left and 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 last night this is a big game because it’s our next game. We’re going to be excited for this one.”

Pitt fans will be excited, too.

Sandy Schall, Coldwell Banker

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