Over the past few weeks, I've traded emails with beat writers for each SEC team, along with Georgia's three other BCS-conference opponents to get some insider insight into what fans can expect from UGA's competition in 2009.
Each day, we'll preview two teams, culminating with a big-picture look at the SEC and a deeper look at the biggest issues facing your Georgia Bulldogs. To submit a question for the Georgia entry in Two-A-Days, send me an email with the subject line "Two-A-Days" and I'll do my best to find you an answer.
The seventh entry in the series is the Oklahoma State Cowboys.
OKLAHOMA STATE COWBOYS
Head coach: Mike Gundy (He's a man. He's 40.)
2008 Record: 9-4 (5-3 Big 12)
Total Offense: 487.69 ypg (3rd Big 12, 6th overall)
Total Defense: 405.54 ypg (8th Big 12, 93rd overall)
On the docket: Oklahoma State kicks off its season on Sept. 5 when it hosts Georgia, two years after losing to the Bulldogs in Athens.
Georgia was less than a kind host to Oklahoma State when the two teams met in Athens to start the 2007 season, and now the Cowboys have their chance at revenge. They'll be an immediate test for the Bulldogs' much maligned defense, as OSU returns a number of key starters from an offense that averaged more than 450 yards a game last year. It was Okie State's defense, however, that kept them from becoming a part of the elite in the Big XII. Might they take that step this year? And more importantly, what can UGA fans expect from their trip to Stillwater? I went to Scott Wright of The Oklahoman to find out.
David Hale: Oklahoma State's problem last year was unquestionably the defense, particularly against the pass. Only six players return from last year's unit that allowed more than 400 yards per game. What improvements -- if any -- have you seen this spring, and what will be the keys to turning around the Cowboys defense in 2009?
Scott Wright: The biggest difference is the approach of new defensive coordinator Bill Young. He brings a simplified, run-to-the-football mentality to a defense that is loaded with athletes, but struggled at times running the complex schemes of Tim Beckman. The key to improvement will be the defensive line. OSU was 107th nationally in sacks last season with 15 in 13 games because they had no interior presence to draw attention away from the ends.
The intriguing story on the defensive line is tackle Derek Burton. He played the last three years at end, but moved to DT this spring. He's listed at 285 pounds, but he must've stepped on the scales with his pads and helmet on.
DH: Georgia fans have had the luxury of watching a top-tier tailback for the past two years in Knowshon Moreno, but Oklahoma State has one of their own who will be back for another go-round this year. Tell us a little about what kind of runner Kendall Hunter is, and has this spring been any indication that he might even improve on his 1,555 yards and 16 TDs of a year ago?
SW: Hard to say if Hunter will be better based on the spring. He isn't seeing much action for a couple reasons. One is health. He underwent arthroscopic knee surgery after the regular season, and though it isn't medically necessary for him to stay out of contact drills, the Pokes are being cautious.
The second reason is the depth at tailback. Mike Gundy wants to get his other guys as much work as possible, especially the first- and second-year guys.
The Cowboys lost two starting linemen, which were a big part of the run game success last season, so finding new starters at both guard spots is a huge question mark this spring. As for style, Hunter is a 5-foot-9, 195-pound scatback with decent speed. His strength is his elusiveness. And he has good enough speed to break a long one.
DH: It was the game after Oklahoma State's loss in Athens two years ago that quarterback Zac Robinson really took over the Oklahoma State offense. While Georgia fans probably know an awful lot about some of the other top QBs in the Big XII, how good is Robinson? He's shown he's an excellent runner -- something the Bulldogs had trouble with a year ago -- but how much has he matured as a passer heading into his senior season?
SW: If it wasn't for the likes of Sam Bradford, Colt McCoy, Graham Harrell and others in the Big 12 last season, Robinson would have gained more national attention. He might be a top-20 national quarterback, but last season, he was the fourth-best in his own six-team division. Robinson ran less last season, especially early in the year, and developed into a threat as a passer. His arm looks stronger this spring and he looks more comfortable throwing the deep ball.
He had enough tools around him last year in Hunter and Dez Bryant that he didn't have to be the playmaker all the time, like he was asked to do more often as a sophomore.
DH: After seeing the team over the past month, what jumped out at you about this spring in a positive way, and what would you say are the biggest questions Oklahoma State still needs to answer before the season begins?
SW: The biggest questions are defensive line, as I mentioned above, and wide receiver. Other than Bryant, who caught 19 of Robinson's 25 TD passes last season, the Cowboys are inexperienced at receiver and tight end, with no one who has caught more than five passes in his career.
Previously, I thought the secondary was going to be a major issue. I wrote a story a week before spring practice began, saying it was the biggest problem the Cowboys had to solve before fall. But since then, I've learned that the coaches are very excited about the true sophomores who are fighting for the safety jobs.
DH: Off the topic of football a bit, but a lot of Georgia fans will probably be making their first trip to Stillwater this September. Any good recommendations for restaurants, nightlife or tourist destinations?
SW: Two locations in Stillwater that I always recommend: Hideaway Pizza and Eskimo Joe's. Hideaway is a fabulous local pizza place. I suggest the "Big Country," named for the former OSU basketball player Bryant "Big Country" Reeves. The pizza has four types of meat and three types of cheese. They have healthy stuff for those who are dieting, but if you're willing to risk a heart attack, the Big Country is the way to go.
Joe's is your typical college-town pub with decent food and great atmosphere. Pre- and postgame, it's the place to go to hang out and watch other games. I'm not sure how big wrestling is in Georgia, but the National Wrestling Hall of Fame -- college wrestling, that is, we're not talking about Rick Flair and Hulk Hogan here -- is on the OSU campus. Otherwise, there's not much in the way of tourist sites, unless fans are staying in Oklahoma City. There's the OKC Bombing Memorial downtown at the site of the federal building that was bombed by Timothy McVeigh in 1995, which is an emotional experience.
* Scott Wright is the Oklahoma State beat writer for The Oklahoman. You can read his OSU coverage HERE or check out his Cowboys blog HERE. Also, be sure to read Scott's piece on the opening of the newly renovated and expanded OSU stadium, which will debut when the Cowboys host Georgia.
Many thanks to Scott for some great info. I'm definitely looking forward to this trip in the fall.
Oh, and here's the obligatory link to Mike Gundy's "I'm a man!" speech.