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Arizona-Oklahoma State: Points aplenty needed to beat the Cowboys

Mike Stoops argues a call in last season's Alamo Bowl against Oklahoma State. Photo by Matt Strasen-US PRESSWIRE

Mike Stoops has faced seven top-10 teams on the road during his tenure as the Arizona Wildcats head coach, and here are the gory numbers:

Arizona lost all seven meetings by a combined score of 291-119.

Only one of the games — a 20-13 loss to 10th-ranked USC in 2007 — was within 18 points.

That was the only time in the seven meetings that Arizona held its opponent to less than 42 points.

So, that’s a good place to start.

The Wildcats will play at ninth-ranked Oklahoma State tonight on ESPN, and if you’re hoping for an Arizona upset against the high-powered Cowboys, it could very well be that UA will need to score at least 43 points.

And do it without star receiver Juron Criner.

Perhaps the numbers from past matchups don’t mean a hill of beans, but that doesn’t change the fact that this is a tall mountain for the Wildcats, who lost to the Cowboys 36-10 in last season’s Alamo Bowl and who are about two-touchdown underdogs tonight.

“I’ve always liked being the underdog,” said Arizona quarterback Nick Foles. “Eventually you want to be on top, but whatever the role is, you have to embrace it.”

Oklahoma State lost All-Big 12 running back Kendall Hunter and offensive coordinator Dana Holgorsen from last season’s team, but, in a stroke of bad luck for the Wildcats, the pitch-and-catch combination of Brandon Weeden and Justin Blackmon decided to skip the NFL Draft and return to school.

“Everybody is going to have to play well in the secondary,” Stoops said. “This quarterback is a big-time player.”

Same goes for Blackmon, the 2010 winner of the Biletnikoff Award as the nation’s top receiver. He has had 100 yards receiving in 13 consecutive games.

After the Wildcats beat NAU last week — a game in which they allowed the Lumberjacks to complete 16 consecutive passes — defensive coordinator Tim Kish said he would tighten up the coverage, bring the defensive backs closer to the line of scrimmage.

“You see teams try different things (against Blackmon),” said secondary coach Ryan Walters. “They play off of him, get someone underneath and on top of him, play him aggressive. He’s going to get his yards. He’s a great athlete. Has great hands. He’s a powerful runner.

“But our guys have gone against a great receiver every day in practice. They should be confident in their ability.”

Thing is, the Arizona defensive backs didn’t go against that great receiver in practice this week, because Criner was out with an undisclosed illness. Arizona has several good targets for Foles — whose 412 passing yards last week was tops in the nation — but Criner is the only one who can be considered great.

“You have to have players step up all the time,” Stoops said. “If someone else is called upon, we expect them to do the same things Juron does.”

The Oklahoma State secondary won’t have starting free safety Johnny Thomas, who was declared ineligible earlier this week. Thomas had one of three interceptions against Foles in the Alamo Bowl. The Cowboys returned one of those interceptions for a touchdown, part of an early-game festival of mistakes for the Wildcats, who trailed 23-7 a few minutes into the second quarter.

“I think it was one of my worst games,” Foles said. “I made a couple of mistakes with my reads. I have had a long time to think about it.”

It’s definitely been a long time since Arizona beat a top-10 team on the road. It last happened on Oct. 17, 1992, when the Cats knocked off eighth-ranked Stanford 21-6.

“It’s hard to beat anybody on the road,” Stoops said. “Certainly, this is a great challenge, but we look at it as an opportunity to show what kind of program we have too.”

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