- Associated Press - Friday, September 9, 2016

STILLWATER, Okla. (AP) - After a dominating victory last week over Southeastern Louisiana, No. 22 Oklahoma State knows it will face a much more difficult test on Saturday against Central Michigan.

The Cowboys also faced the Chippewas last season, and rallied for a 24-13 victory on the road. Coach Mike Gundy acknowledged that experience will help get the point across to his players that this is an opponent they cannot afford to overlook.

“I don’t think there’s any question that we have respect for that league, they’re notorious for upsets,” Gundy said. “Us playing them last year and realizing that they’ve got good players, the world that they live in is pretty competitive. It helps out with preparation during the week.”

Central Michigan (1-0), from the Mid-American Conference, boasts an NFL quarterback prospect in senior Cooper Rush and a stingy defense that returned eight starters from the unit that ranked 16th in the nation last year in total defense.

Coach Mike Bonamego, whose squad opened with a 49-3 win over FCS school Presbyterian, believes his group has prepared the right way and will be ready.

“Your preparation, when you commit yourself to the process, isn’t going to be any different if you’re playing Presbyterian or Oklahoma State,” Bonamego said. “If you don’t prepare well, you can’t expect to play well, bottom line. It’s going to be a big challenge for us. I don’t see any dropoff from Oklahoma State from last year to this year. I actually think in a lot of ways, they are better.”

Some things to watch for on Saturday:

NO OFFENSE: After scoring two non-offensive touchdowns last week (one by Madre Harper on a fumble recovery just 1:45 into the contest following a punt, and another on a fumble return by cornerback Ramon Richards), Oklahoma State leads the nation with 39 such scores since 2010. The Cowboys (1-0) forced four turnovers to run their total to 179 since 2010, ranking third over that timeframe, behind just Houston and Oregon.

RUSH HOUR: Rush is highly regarded, by NFL scouts and Gundy. After a strong 2015 in which he completed 66.3 percent of his passes and ranked 14th in the nation with 3,848 yards, with 25 touchdowns and just 11 interceptions, Rush threw for 237 yards and one touchdown on 16-of-26 passing last week, along with two interceptions. “I’ve always been a big fan of the quarterback,” Gundy said. “He’s a potential NFL player. When you have a quarterback of that caliber, you certainly have the opportunity to score some points.”

SPREAD THE BALL AROUND: Oklahoma State is still sorting through its depth chart at running back, with four different backs carrying the ball at least four times in its season opener, and none more than six times. Sophomore Jeff Carr led the group with 42 yards and a touchdown on six carries, while freshman Justice Hill gained 33 on six rushes. And that’s not counting the Cowboys’ most experienced ball carrier, senior Rennie Childs, who rushed three times for 21 yards. Offensive coordinator Mike Yurcich credited running backs coach Marcus Arroyo for managing the group. “It’s not easy sharing all that playing time,” Yurcich said. “And those guys all want to be the guy, so for them to have the attitudes that they have, and unselfishness, I think you have to give coach Arroyo a lot of credit for his leadership and management of that room.”

SPREAD IT, PART 2: Central Michigan also employed a running back-by-committee approach in its opener, although Devon Spalding was the clear leader of the group, gaining 135 yards and one touchdown on 15 carries. Freshman Jonathan Ward rushed seven times for 79 yards, including a 45-yard touchdown, and Jahray Hayes ran for 43 yards and three scores on nine rushes. “All three of the backs ran very well,” Bonamego said. “I think our offensive line executed at a high level. They opened up some nice lanes for the runners.”

O-LINE EXPERIENCE: Oklahoma State returned all five of its starters from last season’s offensive line, a group that had combined for 106 career starts, the highest total in the Big 12. Still, one of the incumbents, Jesse Robinson, was beaten out for a starting role by All-American junior college transfer Larry Williams, who has taken over at right guard.

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