STILLWATER — Nebraska's blackshirt defense is gearing up for Oklahoma State's offense. When the two teams meet at Boone Pickens Stadium on Saturday afternoon at 2:30, the Huskers defensive gameplan is likely to focus on stopping Cowboys running back Kendall Hunter and receiver Justin Blackmon.
Enter the "X factor."
OSU freshman running back Joseph Randle has proven to be an integral part of the Big 12's top scoring offense. In just six college games, the Wichita, Kan., native has progressed to the point offensive coordinator Dana Holgorsen makes getting him involved a priority.
"We've said from the beginning we are looking for some other guys," Holgorsen said. "It doesn't matter what position, it's about getting the ball in their hands and we can get it in his hands a lot of different ways. We've found him as probably our third guy."
Randle ranks third on the team in all-purpose yards per game (86.5) behind Blackmon (161.7) and Hunter (159.3). Against Texas Tech last Saturday, Randle had 17 carries for 95 yards and one touchdown. He added three receptions for 44 yards in the Pokes' 34-17 win.
"He's dynamic," quarterback Brandon Weeden said. "He's one of those guys we've tried everything we could to get the ball in his hands."
Randle's combination of versatility, toughness and football I.Q. has allowed him to seamlessly transfer into Big 12 football. Randle is so talented and versatile that Holgorsen had serious preseason conversations about moving him to receiver and head coach Mike Gundy compared him to NFL Hall of Fame running back Thurman Thomas, OSU's all-time leading rusher.
"He's not as shifty as Thurman was at this point in his career," Gundy said. "But Thurman was smart, Thurman was tough, Thurman could block and was a good receiver. So Joe reminds me a lot of him."
Randle made an impression on the Cowboys coaching staff from Day 1. Early in the Pokes' preseason camp, he was one of the biggest surprises and it became clear he could help make Holgorsen's attack more explosive.
With two brothers who played college football and strong family support, Randle was more prepared for college football than most true freshmen.
"He was kind of premade when he showed up here," Gundy said.
And in six games he's gone from pleasant surprise to a core member of OSU's offensive attack who could be the "X factor" in Saturday's contest against a Cornhusker defense which ranks No. 9 nationally in total defense (274.33 yards per game)
"He's a great running back who can catch the ball out of the backfield," Blackmon said. "He will be a factor in this game."
A CUP OF JOE
Here's a look at some of the highlights of Joseph Randle this season:
* Randle opens the game alongside Kendall Hunter and Brandon Weeden on OSU's first offensive snap of the season against Washington State.
* OSU opens its 65-28 win over Tulsa with a 16-yard swing pass to Randle on the first offensive play of the game. Randle led the Cowboys in rushing against the Golden Hurricane with 12 carries for 72 yards.
* Randle scores his first career touchdown on a 38-yard reception against Texas A&M.
* In his first road game as a collegian at Louisiana-Lafayette, Randle makes several key plays including four catches for 43 yards while finishing with 108 all-purpose yards.
* Against Texas Tech, Randle narrowly misses his first 100-yard rushing game with 17 carries for 95 yards and one touchdown.
* Through six games, Randle is OSU's second-leading rusher, third-leading receiver and ranks third behind Justin Blackmon and Kendall Hunter in all-purpose yardage.