GAME NOTES: Kliff Kingsbury will try to avoid the first losing streak of his career as his 15th-ranked Texas Tech Red Raiders host the No. 18 Oklahoma State Cowboys for a Big 12 Conference showdown at Jones AT&T Stadium.
Kingsbury guided Texas Tech to seven consecutive victories to begin his first season at the helm of his alma mater before the winning streak was snapped with a 38-30 defeat at Oklahoma last week. The Red Raiders are 8-0 all-time the week following a loss to the Sooners after their 49-14 rout of No. 4 West Virginia in 2012. One more victory will give the school its most regular season wins since 2009. Kingsbury is 1-1 versus ranked opponents. TTU has not defeated two Top 25 teams since 2008.
The former TTU quarterback has earned the respect of many just eight games into his promising career. Oklahoma State coasted to a 66-6 decision when these schools squared off in 2012. Coach Mike Gundy is aware of the Red Raiders' improvement under Kingsbury.
"He's done very well this year as a first-year head coach," said Gundy on this week's counterpart. "His team has played well, in my opinion. They play with energy. I haven't studied the other side of the ball like I have the defense, and they're sound in my opinion. He's young and has a lot of enthusiasm."
Gundy's Cowboys won their third game in a row last week as they coasted to a 58-27 decision at Iowa State. The win improved their Big 12 record to 3-1 on the season, which leaves them a half-game behind the 4-1 Red Raiders in the standings. OSU's only loss of the season came on the road in its conference opener when it was upset by West Virginia in Morgantown.
A victory would make OSU the first team to win three consecutive games over TTU in Lubbock since Nebraska did so in 1994, 1996 and 2000. Although the Cowboys have won four straight in the series, TTU still holds a 21-16-3 edge in rivalry's history. Gundy is 6-2 versus the Red Raiders in his career.
"You're coming back home to play against a team that's really embarrassed you the last two years, to put it bluntly," said Kingsbury. "I don't think there should be any problem with getting them motivated to play this game, and everything's out in front of them. If you want to win the Big 12, you're going to have to win the rest of the games anyway, and I think they see that."
Despite rotating a pair of freshmen signal callers under center this season, TTU has one of the top offenses in the nation with averages of 537.1 total yards and 39.8 points per game. Davis Webb and Baker Mayfield have both proven they are capable of managing TTU's pass-heavy offense that ranks third in the FBS at 412.9 ypg. While Mayfield was sidelined with a knee injury last week, Webb completed 33-of-53 pass attempts for 385 yards with two touchdowns and the same number of interceptions.
The Red Raiders committed three turnovers for the third straight game in last week's setback. Mayfield's status for this week is questionable. Sophomore quarterback Michael Brewer is also listed as questionable. Brewer was expected to be TTU's starter for its season opener before a back injury in preseason camp sent him to the sidelines.
The Red Raiders' deep and talented receiving corps has made it easier for the inexperienced passers to filter in and out. Due to the stellar play of Jace Amaro, Jakeem Grant, Eric Ward and Brad Marquez, TTU has four players ranked among the top 10 in the conference in receiving yards. Amaro has reeled in 64 receptions for a team-high 861 yards, which is the 10th best mark among FBS players and most by any tight end in the nation. Ward paced the group last week with nine catches, 106 yards and two touchdowns.
TTU ran 57 passing plays to only 22 running plays versus Oklahoma last week. DeAndre Washington paced the squad with 56 yards on 10 carries. Due to the unbalanced pass-to-run ratio, the Red Raiders net a Big-12 low 124.2 yards per game on the ground. Although both running backs are averaging less than 40 ypg, Washington and Kenny Williams share the bulk of the carries. Williams is responsible for seven of the team's 15 rushing touchdowns.
Gundy's concern on facing TTU's defense is valid as it has allowed only 379 total yards of offense and 21.1 points per outing. However, the Sooners amassed 277 of their 526 total yards on the ground versus the Red Raiders last week. TTU only registered one takeaway to give it a total of 13 on the season. It is one of just two teams in the Big 12 with a negative turnover margin. Senior linebacker Will Smith has recorded a team-best 56 tackles including 4.5 for loss and 3.5 sacks.
While TTU struggled against the run last week, Desmond Roland powered Oklahoma State past Iowa State with a career-high 219 rushing yards and four touchdowns on 26 carries. The junior tailback's outburst came after he compiled 147 yards and two touchdowns on 36 attempts through the first six games of the season.
Although the Cowboys' total offense average of 437.3 ypg is nearly 100 yards less than TTU, they are nearly as efficient at lighting up the scoreboard with 38.9 points per game. Due to the recent struggles of J.W. Walsh, Clint Chelf made his second start of the season at quarterback for OSU versus the Cyclones. Chelf contributed 85 rushing yards on nine carries, but he completed only 10- of-26 pass attempts for 78 yards with one TD and an interception. Chelf, who has completed less than 50 percent of his passes on the season, is expected to get the starting nod again this week.
Josh Stewart is OSU's most dangerous weapon and needs just 16 yards to become the seventh player in school history with 2,000 receiving yards. He leads the team with 34 receptions and 483 yards. Stewart is also ranked second nationally with 20.1 yards per punt return. Tracy Moore and Jhajuan Seales have done a solid job as complimentary pieces in the passing game.
Defensively, the Cowboys are ranked one spot better in the Big 12 in both scoring defense (19.6 ppg) and total defense (379.0 ypg). OSU is not quite as sturdy on the road though, as it has allowed 30.7 ppg outside of Stillwater. Gundy's defense will look to built on last week's strong performance against the Cyclones, who went 4-of-20 on third-down conversions, tallied only 346 total yards and gained just 3.2 yards per carry. Caleb Lavey is an all- conference caliber player at linebacker with a team-high 55 tackles in addition to 8.5 TFL, 2.5 sacks and two interceptions. Justin Gilbert could play a huge role in this matchup as he enters with four of the team's 13 interceptions.
OSU needs to figure out a way to pass the ball more effectively to have a shot at another triumph in Lubbock. The Cowboys' ability to run the ball will be a huge advantage if they manage to take an early lead or force a couple of turnovers. These Big 12 rivals are much closer in talent than they were a season ago when OSU defeated the Red Raiders by 60 points. This year's edition should be much more competitive.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Oklahoma State 41, Texas Tech 38