December 28, 2007

Gimme a break

TEMPE, Ariz. - With 2008 just around the corner, Thanksgiving seems like it was light years ago.

If that's the case, so was Oklahoma State's last game. Seems hard to believe, but the Bedlam contest against Oklahoma in Norman on Nov. 24 was the last time the Cowboys took to the field in 2007.

On Monday, the Pokes will finally hit the field again after a 36-day layoff when they compete in the Insight Bowl against Indiana. Those long breaks before bowl games always seem to have mixed results. For some teams, it allows them to overcome injuries and re-focus. For others, the break makes them stale and rusty. It's almost impossible to predict how a long break can affect a team. While the Cowboys might worry about that long break, they probably like the fact that the Hoosiers will be coming off a 43-day vacation from active football. Their last game was a victory over Purdue on Nov. 17.

So just what can you do about keeping your team sharp while on a break of that size?

"I don't know if anybody has the answer to that,"said head coach Mike Gundy, speaking to the media after his team's third bowl practice in Arizona on Friday. "That's always going to be a concern for a coach. Ten days ago, we had a light scrimmage where we scrimmaged for 15 or 20 plays, did some special teams live, just to get them back into it. That's always an issue.

"But what are you going to do? You play a bowl game and it is usually four or five weeks after the games. All players should be ready to go. Hopefully, they'll pick it up fast in the first quarter. That's the thing you always worry about is not getting started until the second quarter."

At least the team is practicing together again, which helps takes the edge off. Gundy said today's practice was another solid outing and added that the team is very enthusiastic about everything related to this bowl game.

"The players are stating to sense that the game is getting closer," Gundy said. "They've enjoyed practice and being around each other for another week. Practices are already scripted. Sometimes we have to make some minor adjustments back home due to weather or if we feel like their legs are little more fatigued than we anticipated."

Of course, these trips are more than just practices for another game. They're also rewards for a solid season. Gundy said the team is really enjoying its stay in Arizona - and the gifts that come with it.

"They enjoy the sweats and the shirts," Gundy said. "They got an Xbox 360, which is really nice. They get a watch. They get rings. They are having a team dinner tonight. We also have a very nice hospitality room back at the hotel. There are four swimming pools at the resort. They went to a place yesterday where they got to play games.

"That's the good thing about bowls, you get to spend a lot of time together. I have my wife and three sons here. It's an opportunity for me to be in a nice place and spend time with them. Me and the coaches spend a number of hours each day in preparation, but we also get two or three hours a day to spend with our families, which is more than we get on a normal basis. The Insight Bowl committee has done a great job."

While these bowl trips are a vacation for the team, it's also still a business trip. To that end, the Pokes' main focus is the IU game on Monday. Gundy said that the Hoosier offense compares to what OSU has done in the past.

"Very similar to what we did here with Donovan Woods several years ago," Gundy said. "We would run the football effectively. They are running it differently obviously with their quarterback (Kellen Lewis). They've been very productive. And defensively, I don't think they get enough credit. Defensively, they are in the right spot."

Gundy said this IU club is a good one. He also said that since this is the school's first bowl game in 14 years, they are going to be up for the game.

"They're hungry and they are excited about being here," Gundy said. "I think our players understand the importance of that. There is really a difference that is excited about being in a bowl and a team that is just going through the motions. As a coaching staff, the only thing you can do is make them aware of it. And then see how they practice. We've been pleased with the practices."

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