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OSU vs. UCF: Three Storylines to Watch for the Cowboys’ Trip to Orlando

The Big 12’s Co-Offensive Players of the Week will square off in Orlando.



[Devin Wilber/PFB]

Fresh off a historic Bedlam win, the No. 15 Cowboys buckled themselves into the driver’s seat to Arlington. All that’s left for OSU are road games at UCF and Houston and a home finale against BYU. Take care of business and the Cowboys are in the title game.

OSU needs to beat three teams with losing records to get to the Big 12 title game, and that starts with UCF on Saturday. Here are three things to keep an eye on as the Pokes square off with the Knights.

1. Ollie Gordon vs. RJ Harvey

The reigning Big 12 Offensive Player(s) of the Week will try to outdo each other on Saturday.

Ollie Gordon II earned his fourth-straight such honor for his 138-yard, two-TD performance in Bedlam. His Co-Honoree, RJ Harvey, was on the weekly bill for the first time thanks to his 164-yard, three-score performance in UCF’s win over Cincinnati.

While Gordon has stolen the headlines as the nation’s leading rusher and now a dark horse Heisman candidate, Harvey boasts the Big 12’s top rushing offense on the whole. The Knights’ 227 yards per game ranks fourth in the FBS. On the other hand, OSU is 11th in the league in rushing defense (allowing 168 per game), while UCF ranks dead last. The Knights are giving up nearly 212 yards of turf per game. That’s good (or bad) for 130th out of 133 FBS teams.

So both teams are accustomed to running down the throats of opposing defenses, and both of these defenses have struggled to slow down ground attacks. It sets up for another big output from Patient Zero, but the Pokes will have the task of slowing down Harvey.

2. UCF Gets after QBs, Bowman Avoids Capture (Something’s Gotta Give)

The Knights are tied for second in sacks in the Big 12, one total sack behind Texas. Oklahoma States is third-best in the league at allowing sacks. What’s going to give?

OSU has allowed just 10 sacks this season and six of those were during that nonconference QB carousel period. Against Big 12 teams, Alan Bowman was sacked once against Iowa State and once against Kansas. That’s it. Conversely, UCF has registered a sack in every game this year, with multiple sacks six times. The Knights are coming off a four-sack performance against Cincy.

Since Bowman took over the reins of the offense and the offensive line settled in, OSU has been sacked only twice. Credit the big men in the trenches, but there’s also plenty to say about Bowman and those sideline dump-offs that got fans’ eyes to rolling earlier in the year.

But the Pokes’ O-line has not faced a pair of edge rushers like they will this week in defensive ends Tre’Mon Morris-Brash and Malachi Lawrence. The duo ranks second and third, respectively, in the league in sacks. They each registered 1.5 last weekend. Morris-Brash also leads the league with 16.5 tackles for loss while Lawrence has eight of his own.

OSU has been the league’s best offense since in Big 12 play and a big reason for that is a) Number Zero and b) Bowman’s ability to avoid pressure and take what defenses give him. But if the Knights can find inroads into the Cowboys’ backfield — like they have against everyone — it could throw the Cowboys off of their offensive game.

3. Who’s Gonna Take it Back?

The Cowboys come in tied for third in the league, having forced 15 turnovers in nine games. The Knights, apparently more noble than Cowboys, are tied for last place in the conference, stealing just one possession per game through nine.

To their credit, the Pokes have been less careless with the ball since Big 12 play started and are also tied for third, having coughed it up only 10 times in nine games. The Knights , conversely, have committed 15 turnovers, one shy of the league leader Texas Tech.

The Cowboys are 0-2 this season when losing the turnover battle (they were -2 against South Bama and Iowa State) but average a +1.3 in their seven wins. During their five-game skid to start Big 12 play, the Knights lost the turnover battle four times and averaged -1 per game.

This is not groundbreaking stuff, but the point I’m making is that the Cowboys have given themselves breathing room by being one of the better teams at forcing turnovers and by not shooting themselves in the foot too often. If the Cowboys want to avoid stumbling down the stretch, with so much on the line, they’ll need to continue to win the battle for extra possessions.



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