NCF Nation: Damian Davis
In some quarters, his image remains framed by his celebrated postgame outburst more than two years ago.
|Tim Heitman/US PRESSWIRE|
|Mike Gundy has the Cowboys at 6-1 despite being forced to replace some of his top playmakers.|
His Oklahoma State team entered the season with more expectations than at any time in the program’s recent history. Those hopes only grew after the team's victory over Georgia in the season opener boosted them to No. 5 in the nation.
But even after a loss to Houston in the following game that turned on two tipped passes, Gundy has persevered over a unique set of challenges unlike any he has ever faced during his coaching tenure.
The Cowboys have overcome the loss of Kendall Hunter, the 2008 Big 12 leading rusher who hasn’t played since Sept. 12 because of an ankle injury.
Dez Bryant, the program’s preseason All-American candidate at wide receiver and punt returner, played in only three games before he was ruled ineligible over his dalliance with former NFL standout Deion Sanders.
The Cowboys learned Tuesday that Bryant won’t return this season, just adding another obstacle to challenging for their first Big 12 South title.
“We hope that our plan and our scheme is far enough along that we can have some variation [in players],” Gundy told reporters. “The thing you always worry about as a coach is, ‘Is your plan for the week good enough and then can your players step up and make some plays?’
The Cowboys have done just that since the loss of Bryant and Hunter, two of their top three playmakers.
Keith Toston has emerged as a consistent producer in Hunter's featured back role, producing 606 rushing yards to rank fourth in the conference.
Bryant caught a higher percentage of his team's completions than any receiver in the conference last season. But in his absence Hubert Anyiam has become the featured receiver, leading the team with 25 receptions. Seven other players have caught at least eight passes this season as the Cowboys have become more balanced without Bryant.
Quarterback Zac Robinson has been the constant, keeping the team together despite all of the turmoil and personnel losses.
But Robinson admits that the notion of playing so well without Bryant and Hunter would have been a little stunning to him if he had considered it before the season started.
“I would have thought you were crazy,” Robinson said. “With some of the guys who are stepping up and producing for us, some started as third-string players. It’s been great to see them step up. At the beginning of the year, who would have thought they would have done this? But it’s a tribute to their hard work.”
Those personnel losses are only a start. Gundy kicked off wide receiver Damian Davis and Jeremy Broadway for breaking team rules. He also suspended fellow wide receiver Bo Bowling indefinitely this spring while he faces charges of possessing marijuana and anabolic steroids.
Projected starting tight end Jamal Mosley left the team just before the start of the season amid a police investigation that has yet to produce any results.
And Gundy’s defense has been wracked with injuries. Cornerback Perrish Cox and defensive end Jeremiah Price both have missed substantial time this season.
"At some point, you’d like to not talk about adversity and talk about the future, but that’s become a topic,” Gundy said.
Gundy's perseverance has caught the attention of Texas coach Mack Brown.
"I really admire Mike and their staff for what they've done," Brown said. "They just move forward. They don't talk about it. Anyiam has got 19 receptions the last two games, so he has stepped in for Dez.
"Keith Toston was an alternating back anyway, and he's done a great job for Kendall Hunter. I think Mike and that staff have done one of the great coaching jobs this year in the country."
The Cowboys are now 6-1 and 3-0 in the Big 12 South, a half-game behind the Longhorns. They are 14th in the latest BCS poll and have all of their goals still in front of them.
Gundy credits his team for its resiliency.
“When you have as many off-the-field distractions and injuries or things come up that we have this year, you have to have leaders other than the coaches,” Gundy said. “That’s just the chemistry of your team and they enjoy being around each other and enjoy practicing. So no matter what happens, they’ll buy in and go play hard.”
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin
STILLWATER, Okla. - Oklahoma leaned on its defense to provide a turnover and consistently field position that staked them to an early 7-3 lead after one quarter.
Those gifts have enabled the Sooners to overcome a slow start offensively that saw them produce only three first downs. It was a marked contrast from their usual fast start that has seen them score nearly 20 points per game in the first quarter in their previous average.
The Sooners took advantage of another interception - their 15th of the season - when Dominque Franks jumped a pass route on Oklahoma State's third play from scrimmage and returned it to the Oklahoma State 22.
Two plays later, DeMarco Murray raced on a 20-yard TD run to account for the game's only touchdown.
Oklahoma quarterback Sam Bradford started slowly, misfiring on his first four passes before he rebounded to hit next four passes.
And Oklahoma State running back Kendall Hunter has shown little slowness from his quadriceps, rushing on five carries for a game-high 43 yards. The Sooners have clamped down on Zac Bryant, who has been limited to only two catches. Damian Davis has emerged as Oklahoma State's leading receiver with four grabs so far.
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin
Some football purists have scoffed at terms like "basketball on grass," insinuating that the action on the hardwood is tamer and less physically demanding than that on the football field.
|Julie Scheidegger/US Presswire|
|Damian Davis celebrates one of his two touchdown receptions against Missouri last Saturday.|
Skinny Oklahoma State wide receiver Damian Davis, a converted high school basketball player, may beg to differ. He's utilizing basketball strategy that has helped him quickly develop into a key receiver for the Cowboys.
The lanky 6-foot-5, 185-pound Davis provided two critical second-half touchdown receptions last week to spark the Cowboys' 28-23 upset victory over Missouri. And his 31-yard snag, owing much to his basketball instincts, was the play that put the Cowboys ahead by two scores and gave them the cushion that eventually led to one of the biggest stunners in school history.
Quarterback Zac Robinson lofted the ball high in the end zone where it was basically a rebound situation between him, teammate DeMarcus Conner and Missouri defender Hardy Ricks. Davis outjumped and outgrabbed the other players to end up with the ball.
"I just went up thinking I was grabbing a rebound," Davis said. "Fortunately, I was in the right place and came down with it. It was kind of like a fighting for rebound coming off the backboard."
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin
Here are some tidbits from around the conference that will shape how teams play their games this week.
1. Kansas: TB Angus Quigley, a third-stringer before the start of the season, has emerged as the team's most consistent rushing threat. Despite big expectations for Jake Sharp and Jocques Crawford before the season, it's been Quigley who's been the best runner. The Jayhawks need some kind of consistency rushing the ball for any kind of success against South Florida on Friday night.
2. Missouri: Coaches are hoping the return of S William Moore and LB Van Alexander will help boost their defense's production. The Tigers allowed 250 yards passing against Southeast Missouri State and surrendered 15- and 11-play drives in the first half of the game. That unit must improve before Big 12 play begins.
3. Iowa State: Look for the team to use Phillip Bates more against Iowa than in his first two games as he's backed up starting ISU QB Austen Arnaud. Bates' athleticism could give the Iowa defense some problems, particularly on option plays and other outside runs. Remember, Bates' 38-yard reception last season against the Hawkeyes was the key play in ISU's game-winning drive.
4. Oklahoma: Don't be surprised if top defensive recruit R.J. Washington gets his redshirt pulled this week. The Sooners' depth at defensive end is lagging as Frank Alexander recovers from a stab wound. And Washington has been routinely wowing coaches with his performance in practice. They believe it's about time for him to be tested in a game.
5. Oklahoma State: Despite Dez Bryant's huge game last week against Houston, look for Oklahoma State to try to develop other receiving threats this week against Missouri State. With Artrell Woods gimpy with a knee injury, players like Jeremy Broadway, Damian Davis, Josh Cooper and DeMarcus Conner need to produce to keep offenses from concentrating on Bryant.
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin
Nebraska's punishing ground attack historically has been as big a part of the Cornhuskers' storied program as Herbie Husker, sellout crowds at Memorial Stadium and Academic All-Americans.
Consider that between 1977 and 2003, Nebraska ranked at least seventh or higher every season in the national rushing rankings. That's right: seventh or better. And in 13 of those seasons the Cornhuskers led the nation in rushing.
That's why the rankings during the four seasons of Bill Callahan's tenure -- 34th, 107th, 23rd and 66th -- were so disappointing. Two of the four teams even threw the ball more than it ran. How un-Nebraskalike, even in this age of spread passing offenses.
Most observers are expecting Nebraska to more effectively run the ball this season. Some are even predicting a smash-mouth running attack keyed by an experienced offensive line and four strong I-backs led by Big 12 returning rushing leader Marlon Lucky.
Running the ball would also provide a way for new coach Bo Pelini to keep his defense off the field, dominating time of possession and lessening the time his defensive unit will have to make plays.
Senior Nebraska offensive guard Matt Slauson told the Omaha World-Herald it would be noticeable compared to his previous seasons.
"We're going to line up and smash guys, and if it works, we're going to keep doing it," Slauson told the newspaper.
Which tells me one thing. Simple dives and off-tackle smashes won't be nearly as unpopular among Nebraska fans as they might be at other places across the Big 12 this season.
And speaking of traditional, hearty fare, how about this lip-smacking collection of links this morning? It's good for what ails you.
- Former Penn State DT Phil Taylor has enrolled at Baylor and begun practicing with the team. Taylor was dismissed from the Nittany Lions after his involvement in an on-campus fight last season. Freshman K Ben Parks has won the starting job for the Bears' opener Thursday night against Wake Forest.
- Boulder Daily Camera coulumnist Neill Woelk said Colorado fans are providing a form of corporate welfare to Colorado State, buying tickets this week that weren't scarfed up by the Rams' fans.
- Colorado TE Riar Geer avoided jail Monday after his friends and family members pleaded to a judge that his role in an off-campus fight was out of character. But he'll miss the first two games of the season as he recovers from knee surgery.
- Heralded Colorado freshman TB Darrell Scott is trying to keep up with the other demands than just playing.
- Iowa State will have 27 freshmen in its two-deep roster Thursday night against South Dakota State. But Des Moines Register columnist Sean Keeler writes that Iowa State coach Gene Chizik needs to choose a starting quarterback soon and stick with him.
- Kansas State list four newcomers on its starting lineup for Saturday's game against North Texas. Three are from junior colleges -- RB Keithen Valentine, CB Blair Irvin and LB Ulla Pomele - and LB Olu Hall is arrives from Virginia.
- Jeff Martin of the Kansas City Star/Wichita Eagle provides a few nuggets from Kansas State's press conference, including Coach Ron Prince uttering the word "confirmed" 14 times during a 30-minute stint at the podium.
- Kansas State officials learned that top returning receiver and punt returner Deon Murphy has an extra year of eligibility. He will be considered a junior in the upcoming season.
- Kansas has 10 freshmen and 15 sophomores in its two-deep roster, including PR Daymond Patterson as a starter.
- The Lawrence Journal-World's Matt Tait writes about Kansas rebuilding its secondary without All-American CB Aqib Talib.
- Dugan Arnett of the Lawrence Journal World wonders who would be the bigger chick magnet in downtown Lawrence -- Michael Phelps or Todd Reesing?
- Manhattan Mercury beat writer Mark Janssen breaks down the ABC's of Kansas State football.
- Dave Matter of the Columbia Tribune's Big 12 notebook leads with Florida Atlantic coach Howard Schnellenberger's comments about Texas.
- Kansas City Star college columnist Blair Kerkhoff has Oklahoma ranked No. 5 in his top 25 countdown. Kerkhoff also expects faster play and shorter games with the new clock rules.
- Missouri WR Jared Perry gave Dave Matter the quote of the day about how he hopes to impress the Illinois defense after struggling with injuries. "It's a big motivation," Perry said, "because people are just sleeping on me. So, I have to wake them up."
- Nebraska coach Bo Pelini says he's not any more excited about Saturday's game against Western Michigan than any other. "My level of excitement really isn't any different than it was last year," said Pelini, who spent the last three seasons as defensive coordinator at Louisiana State. "I treat them all the same. I think we'll be prepared come Saturday and let it all hang out. It'll be a fun time, but at the same time I've got to keep my emotions in check, as does the team."
- Lee Barfknecht of the Omaha World-Herald says that Kansas State QB Josh Freeman has provided the best quotes of the preseason -- particularly those that threw Kansas State's seniors last seasons under the bus for their lack of leadership. Barfknecht also gives his preseason Big 12 rankings.
- Omaha World-Herald columnist Tom Shatel wonders if ESPN analyst Kirk Herbstreit really likes Nebraska as much as he's saying - or if he's only try to throw a bone to his old Ohio State teammate and current Nebraska coach Bo Pelini.
- The Lincoln Journal-Star's Curt McKeever doesn't expect any suprise teams from the Big 12 because of the conference's depth at the top.
- Pelini met with the media for about two minutes Monday after an intense practice on the first day of classes. Former Nebraska coach Bill Callahan never practiced his team on the first day of classes.
- Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy will be back calling plays for the Cowboys this season after delegating that job to assistants in recent years.
- Oklahoman columnist John Rohde is expecting Saturday's Oklahoma State-Washington State game to be fun on Saturday.
- Jake Trotter of the Oklahoman writes that Oklahoma's non-conference schedule shouldn't be a liability to their national title hopes - even as the Sooners start the season Saturday against Chattanooga, a 2-9 team last season.
- Oklahoma State WR Damian Davis has been suspended for the Cowboys' opener against Washington State for an undisclosed violation of team rules.
- Oklahoma State's Kendall Hunter has set a goal of rushing for 1,000 yards this season according to Bill Haisten of the Tulsa World.
- Tulsa World columnist John Klein said that Mike Gundy should have more talent at his disposal this season than any previous season when he was Oklahoma State's head coach.
- Jimmie Tramel of the Tulsa World writes about Texas A&M's water balloon fight in his weekly Big 12 notepad, also providing a quotepad and his rankings.
- Eleven positions remain up for grabs on Texas' depth chart, heading into Saturday's game against Florida Atlantic.
- Kirk Bohls of the Austin American Statesman writes of Texas' new slogan worn on their orange wristbands: "Consistently good to be great."
- Depth at tailback could produce Texas A&M's first 1,000-yard rusher since 2003, according to Randy Riggs of the Austin American-Statesman.
- Freshman WR Jeff Fuller is listed as a starter for Texas A&M's opener. And QB Stephen McGee told the San Antonio Express-News that backup QBs Jerrod Johnson and Ryan Tannehill are "two of our four top guys" at receiver.
- Texas Tech CB Darcel McBath is determined that Eastern Washington won't sneak up on his team on Saturday night - particularly as Coach Mike Leach has repeatedly talked about Michigan's upset losos to Appalachian State last season. "I definitely don't want to make Sports Center for that," McBath told the Lubbock Avalanche-ournal. "We can't let that happen."