As Usual, Cowboys Loaded at Skilled Positions

Vernand Morency

Oklahoma State has strong history of running backs and junior Vernand Morency is keeping the tradition alive. Morency has been the go-to player for the Cowboys this year, but their other skilled position players are beginning to step up. Dave Biddle has more in today's report.

Ohio State faced a lot of balanced offenses this season. Teams that could run and pass with near equal effectiveness.

However, in the Alamo Bowl matchup against Oklahoma State, the Buckeyes will go up against an excellent running team, but a team that struggles in the passing game.

So far in 2004, Oklahoma State is ranked:

* No. 45 nationally in total offense with 389.1 yards per game.

* No. 8 nationally in rushing offense with 245 yards per game.

* No. 111 nationally in passing offense with 144.1 yards per game.

* No. 15 in scoring offense with 34.6 points per game.

Obviously, the Cowboys are among the best rushing teams in the nation, and the worst passing teams (there are 117 teams in Division I).

The first thought is that this plays right into the hands of Ohio State's defense. The Buckeyes pride themselves on stopping the run and are willing to give up some passing yards if they can make a team one-dimensional.

However, although they are built to stop the run, the Buckeyes' defense has been fairly balanced so far this season. The entire unit improved throughout the year and this is how Ohio State currently ranks on a national scale:

* No. 37 in total defense, allowing 336.2 yards per game.

* No. 36 in rushing defense, allowing 128.7 yards per game.

* No. 52 in pass defense, allowing 207.5 yards per game.

* No. 21 in scoring defense, allowing 19.3 points per game.

Therefore, the Buckeyes aren't completely shutting down the run like they did in 2002 and 2003, but they are more consistent against the pass.

Morency keeps tradition alive

Oklahoma State is led by junior tailback Vernand Morency (5-10, 215).

As a sophomore in 2003, despite playing behind first-team All-Big 12 selection Tatum Bell, Morency finished with 918 rushing yards and six touchdowns, and was named third-team All-Big 12.

Bell rushed for 1,286 yards and 16 touchdowns last year and was a 2004 second round draft pick by the Denver Broncos.

Bell's departure opened the door for Morency to become the featured back this season and he more than made the most of the opportunity. He finished the regular season with 1,496 yards (5.8 per carry) and 12 touchdowns.

Morency, a bruiser with deceptive speed, is the latest in a long line of great Oklahoma State running backs. He is attempting to become the sixth RB at the school to surpass 1,500 rushing yards in a season.

He would join: Terry Miller (1,541 yards in 1976; 1,680 yards in 1977), Earnest Anderson (1,877 yards in 1982), Thurman Thomas (1,553 yards in 1985; 1,613 yards in 1987), Barry Sanders (2,628 yards in 1988) and Gerald Hudson (1,642 yards in 1990). Sanders won the Heisman Trophy in '88 and still holds the NCAA record for most rushing yards in a season.

That's quite a tradition of running backs at the "other" OSU.

One major difference between Morency and his predecessors is that he is not much of a receiver out of the backfield. Thus far this season, he has just five receptions for 101 yards and one touchdown.

Ohio State will be geared up to stop him, so it will be interesting to see how effective he will be Wednesday night.

Woods steps in for Fields

Josh Fields was Oklahoma State's starting quarterback for three seasons (2001-03) and while he was there, the Cowboys were equally dangerous throwing and running the football.

However, redshirt freshman Donovan Woods (6-2, 215) took over the QB controls this year and he is still developing as a passer. This year, he has basically been asked to hand the ball off to Morency, run a little bit himself, and occasionally try and burn teams with a deep pass.

Woods finished the regular season 82 of 153 passing (53.6) for 1,491 yards. He has 13 touchdowns, just four interceptions and owns a very good 158.26 efficiency rating.

So, although he doesn't throw it much, you have to keep an eye on him. He started to throw the ball more towards the end of the season and has gained confidence. The Cowboys will definitely take a couple shots deep to keep the Buckeyes honest.

Woods has also rushed for 364 yards (3.3 per carry) and 10 touchdowns. He will carry the ball on called quarterback runs (options, sweeps, draws), and he likes to scramble when passing plays breaks down.

Down the road, he has the potential to be a very good college quarterback. Ohio State fans have to hope that the Alamo Bowl is not his coming out party.

Woods family influence

The top receiver for the Cowboys is D'Juan Woods (6-1, 195, So.). He is the older brother of Donovan Woods, and the younger brother of former Oklahoma State wide receiver Rashaun Woods.

Rashaun Woods, a 2004 first round draft pick by the San Francisco 49ers, is the Big 12 career record holder in receptions (293), receiving yards (4,414) and receiving touchdowns (42).

D'Juan Woods hasn't exactly picked up where his older brother left off, simply because Oklahoma State isn't passing the ball nearly as much this year. But D'Juan Woods still made plenty of big plays this season and capped the regular season with 29 receptions for 650 yards (22.4) and six touchdowns.

Many schools have brothers that decide to play together in college. But few families have been as productive as the Woods brothers at OSU.

Big, experienced O-line

The Cowboys have a good offensive line, led by three seniors.

The starters include: left tackle Corey Hilliard (6-5, 300, So.), left guard Corey Curtis (6-4, 290, Jr.), center Chris Akin (6-2, 300, Sr.), right guard Sam Mayes (6-3, 330, Sr.), right tackle Kellen Davis (6-5, 290, Jr.), and tight end (Billy Bajema, 6-5, 265, Sr.).

Mayes is a four-year starter, while Akin and Bajema are three-year starters. Overall, the O-line has obviously established itself as a good run blocking line. The average size for the starters is 6-4, 296 and the Cowboys have been able to run effectively against each team they've played this season.

They've struggled picking up blitz packages this season, so it will be interesting to see how much Ohio State decides to send extra defenders (on run and/or pass blitzes) to try and confuse the Oklahoma State offensive linemen.

* We will examine Ohio State's defense tomorrow and how the Buckeyes might plan on attacking the Cowboys' offense.

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