STILLWATER — Jason Ray knows the Cotton Bowl well. And he knows Oklahoma State's opponent, Missouri, even better.
The first-year Cowboy receivers coach played at Missouri and, coincidentally, ended his career in the 2008 Cotton Bowl, where the Tigers routed Arkansas 38-7.
Ray recently talked to The Oklahoman about matching up against his former team, how the Tiger offense compares to the one he played in and his favorite Cotton Bowl memories.
What was your first reaction when you found out Missouri would be your Cotton Bowl opponent?
“I was excited. It was one of the scenarios that I think a lot of people had already brought up before it was even announced, so I was kind of prepared for it. In some ways, ready for it to be made official, really. Once I heard it was gonna be Cotton Bowl and (Missouri's) name was in the mix and that we would be matched up against them, (I thought) it's ironic, it's a coincidence. But it will be fun. It will be exciting.”
How many people do you still know in that program?
“That entire staff is pretty much there that I played under. Obviously with Coach (Gary) Pinkel, I was his third recruiting class. From the strength staff to the medical personnel to the training staff, all those people are still there. The equipment staff. I was there in the spring hanging out, got a chance to talk to Coach Pinkel and Andy Hill, who was my receivers coach at the time, he's now coaching quarterbacks. Don Barnes, saw him, he's the equipment manager. So a lot of familiar names, a lot of familiar faces. It will be interesting to see everybody, especially at a bowl site where you've got some time and there's functions where both teams are there. It will be good. I bet Coach (Josh) Henson (Missouri's offensive coordinator who played and coached at OSU) has some similar sentiments in that way, too.”
How similar is Missouri's offense compared to when you played there?
“I think with Coach Henson there, he was adding a different twist to it and things like that. I haven't watched them offensively at all, and the (defensive staff) hasn't really asked me for my opinion on them at this moment as we prepare. I'd have to watch them to kind of see if they're doing a lot of the same things. I know that they're still an empty team. I think that's what they want their base to be. But right now I'm focused on watching the defense and seeing what those guys are doing and getting the game plan together. So from an offensive standpoint, I'd just have to watch them, watch a couple games and kind of see what they're doing. I know they play fast, they play with tempo and they've got a lot of good talent out there.”
Do you expect the defensive staff to ever ask you to take a look at the offense?
“I think they're gonna probably let me handle what I need to do. Those guys have been doing a great job all season. Coach (Glenn) Spencer and his defensive staff, they've done an unbelievable job with the defense. Our defensive players are hard-nosed and they fly around, so I think those guys are gonna be well-suited in their preparation and things like that. So I think they'll probably just kind of let me get my job done on the offensive side of the ball and take care of what I need to take care of.”
How would you describe a Gary Pinkel-coached team?
“Very disciplined. Very, very disciplined. Stressing turnover margin, protecting the football, getting the ball out from a defensive standpoint and playing with poise. I think those are things he stressed to me as a player — being very disciplined, (having) no excuses and being tough. If you get knocked down, you get up. Those are the things that were instilled in me as a player, so I'm sure he hasn't changed much in that way. You're gonna play tough football, and Coach Pinkel's gonna be tough on them with attention to detail in what all those kids do. They're gonna be held accountable.”
Do you have a favorite memory from the 2008 Cotton Bowl, your last game as a player?
“Just overall, the whole week was great. I think the Cotton Bowl did a great job. As a player, it was one of the best bowls I was ever associated with and fortunate enough to play in. And we went to four in my career there. Memory on the field? Probably just different players that I played with, different teammates. They made a lot of great plays and I had an opportunity to play with a lot of great guys, whether it was Chase Daniel or Tony Temple or William Moore, different guys like that. I just remember walking off the field and feeling like my college career was satisfying.”