STILLWATER — As Brandon Yelovich warmed up shortly before Oklahoma State’s 41-24 win over Rice on Saturday, it was obvious the Owls’ kicker had been given clear instructions: Do not allow Dez Bryant or Perrish Cox to change the game with one of their patented kick returns. While Yelovich warmed up, kick after kick was either a squibber on the ground or a high pooch kick. A regular kickoff was nowhere to be seen in Yelovich’s multiple arsenal. Call it the joy of having two All-America kick returners. "It’s kind of funny to me when opposing teams come out kicking the ball all over the place,” senior OSU running back Keith Toston said. "It’s just a compliment to those guys.” After Bryant and Cox put together stellar seasons returning the ball in 2008, OSU decided to make things more difficult on opponents by putting both players back for kickoffs and punts. That strategy has forced opponents to make a decision: Kick the ball deep and give those guys a chance to do something special or do whatever it takes to keep the ball out of their hands and give OSU the ball in excellent field position. Against Georgia, the Bulldogs were confident. They kicked the ball deep, and Cox made them pay with a momentum-changing 74-yard kick return to start the third quarter. The following week against Houston, the Cougars didn’t want to kick it deep but made that mistake on one occasion. And Bryant made them pay with an 82-yard punt return for a score, which sparked a 21-point outburst in the third quarter. "(It’s) the whole cat-and-mouse game on kickoffs and punts,” Houston coach Kevin Sumlin said. "(Bryant and Cox are) the most dangerous punt return, kick return tandem in college football. We were determined not to get them the ball. We kicked it to him one time, left one out in the middle of the field, he brought it back.” Rice coach David Bailiff, having seen the "kick it to them” approach go down in flames, elected to kick away from them, no matter what it took. The Owls routinely pooch-kicked the ball and even faked, going for it on fourth down to have their quarterback quick punt. While Rice’s strategy kept the ball out of the duo’s hands on returns, it resulted in the OSU 37-yard line being the Cowboys’ averaging starting position against the Owls. And after OSU moved Cox up into position to field Rice’s pooch kicks in the second half, the Pokes had an average starting point of the 50-yard line in the final 30 minutes. "Our starting average has been the 42 (this season), which has been a tremendous advantage for flipping the field,” OSU offensive coordinator Gunter Brewer said. "If we don’t go out and do what we need to do and have to punt it, then they have to go 80 or 90 yards.” And as Toston pointed out, if the Cowboys’ offense becomes as explosive as it was last year, that makes the cat-and-mouse game that much more interesting. "When we finally get this offense rolling, we’re going to put people in position where they have to kick the ball deep and chance the (return),” he said. "Right now, they are pooching it, but we have yet to capitalize. Sooner or later, they’re going to have to kick the ball deep.” Text "Cowboys” to 65360 for your chance to win a $100 gift card to Eskimo Joe’s in Stillwater! OSU news text alerts from NewsOK sponsored by Bone and Joint Hospital.
Grambling State at OSU→When: 6 p.m. Saturday. →Where: Boone Pickens Stadium, Stillwater →TV: None →Radio: KXXY-96.1 FM