Oklahoma State vs. Purdue, 2013 Heart of Dallas Bowl preview: How much heart?

Richard Rowe-US PRESSWIRE

A couple of late losses sent Oklahoma State tumbling down the Big 12's bowl totem pole. Can the Cowboys summon enough motivation to get past a Purdue team that is both salty and all sorts of flawed? Noon ET, ESPNU.

5 Players To Watch

Calvin Barnett (DT, Oklahoma State, Jr.). Following the departures of two solid pass-rushing defensive ends and star safety Markelle Martin, the OSU pass defense regressed a bit from 14th to 31st in Passing S&P+ in 2012. But the run defense actually improved a bit to 22nd in Rushing S&P+, in part because of a set of active, exciting tackles. Barnett, a 300-pound junior college transfer, teamed with sophomore James Castleman and junior backups Anthony Rogers and Davidell Collins to register 68.5 tackles, 18 tackles for loss, two sacks, an interception, six passes broken up, seven hurries and a fumble recovery. Purdue's is a "pass to set up the run" offense, but the run might be there. This game might be in the hands of Purdue quarterback Robert Marve and the passing game.

Justin Gilbert (CB/KR, Oklahoma State, Jr.). In the last two seasons, Gilbert has picked off five passes and broken up 19; he is easily the most active, aggressive member of the OSU secondary, but he can make as big a difference in the return game, where he has averaged 26.7 yards per kick return and scored five touchdowns in three seasons. OSU always seems to have a stud kick returner, and Gilbert is perhaps the biggest stud of all.

Robert Marve (QB, Purdue, Sr.). Here's what I wrote about Marve after he torched Indiana to drag Purdue to bowl eligibility:

Twenty completions, 348 passing yards, four touchdowns, one ACL. Marve's 2012 story -- tore his ACL for the third time two weeks into the season, was playing again three games later, and helped to engineer a three-game winning streak to end the season and lug Purdue to bowl eligibility -- really is just incredible.

Thanks to the winning streak, and thanks to Marve's marvelous (sorry) performance against Indiana (20-for-29 passing, 12.0 yards per pass attempt), his extensive career could see one more game. Marve originally signed with Miami as part of the 2007 recruiting class, one that featured other big quarterback names like Jimmy Clausen and Ryan Mallett. When he was redshirting at Miami, Johnny Manziel was in the 10th grade. That he was able to not only limp through the season but produce at this level, at least briefly, is ridiculous. Kudos, Mr. Marve. I just hope you can walk when you're 30.

Joseph Randle (RB, Oklahoma State, Jr.). One of the steadiest backs in the country, Randle assured that OSU's offense would only regress so much after replacing quarterback Brandon Weeden and receiver Justin Blackmon and fighting through a series of tough injuries in the receiving corps in 2012. He rushed for 1,351 yards (5.3 per carry), caught 28 passes and scored 14 touchdowns. He crossed 3,000 career rushing yards in the regular season finale, and he has gone for at least 100 rushing yards in 14 games these past two seasons (he has gone over 70 yards 20 times). Despite the presence of play-making tackle Kawann Short, Purdue's run defense was pretty terrible this year (82nd in Rushing S&P+); if this is Randle's final game as a Cowboy (he is allegedly still weighing his options regarding going pro), he should make it a pretty good one.

Kawann Short (DT, Purdue, Sr.). What Purdue's defense lacks in down-to-down proficiency, it makes up for in occasional play-making ability. Corners Josh Johnson and Frankie Williams combined to pick off five passes and break up 24 more, the Boilers forced 14 fumbles, and Kawann Short was a damned wrecking ball in the middle of the defense. Short logged 14.5 tackles for loss and six sacks, broke up four passes, recovered two fumbles and blocked four kicks, more than 96 entire FBS teams did in 2012. At 6'3, 315, the fifth-year senior from East Chicago is enormous, quick and all sorts of salty. Purdue needed much more consistency than it had in 2012, but because of Short, Johnson and others, the Boilermakers were at least the fun kind of mediocre.

4 Reasons To Watch

1. OSU is still fun. The Cowboys fell to 7-5 in 2012, but at 1-3 in one-possession games, they were about as close to 9-3 as 6-6. Plus, they still averaged 549 yards and 45 points per game serious turnover and a revolving door of injured quarterbacks. They are going to score points, gain yards, and probably allow quite a few points and yards in the process, as well. And against a Purdue team that makes quite a few big plays and allows even more, there should be some fireworks.

2. Purdue has nothing to lose. The Boilermakers' head coach, Danny Hope, got them to 6-6 with a three-game winning streak to end the season, then was fired anyway. They are big underdogs, they are playing under an interim coach (receivers coach Patrick Higgins) before former Kent State head man Darrell Hazell takes over, and they have absolutely nothing to lose. Already a fiery, erratic team, the Boilers could be even more so, and they could either pull a spectacular upset or go down in spectacular flames. Either one will be watchable.

3. Robert Marve is a man. For all the reasons upon which I elaborated above. He has made all future ACL injury sufferers look a little weak for sitting out to recover, and he has put up pretty good stats as well: 1,522 passing yards, a 66 percent completion rate, 13 touchdowns, and three interceptions. And he will even tuck and run occasionally. Call it stupid, call it inspirational ... it is pretty impressive one way or the other.

4. Bonus football. Bonus football!

3 Key Factors

1. Can Purdue keep OSU off-schedule? At the start of the 2012 season, true freshman Wes Lunt was OSU's starting quarterback. Then J.W. Walsh took over when Lunt got hurt. Then Clint Chelf took over when Walsh got hurt and played well enough to fend off Lunt for the starting job late in the season (and in the Heart of Dallas Bowl).

Through all of the turnover, OSU has predictably struggled to convert passing downs at too high a rate. Passing downs are in many ways quarterback downs, and the Cowboys rank just 52nd in Passing Downs S&P+. But they rank 16th on standard downs, capable of handing repeatedly to Randle, leaning on possession receiver Josh Stewart (1,158 yards, 8.9 per target, 74 percent catch rate), or spreading the ball around to any number of targets. On first downs, or on second- or third-and-short, the world is OSU's oyster. Can Purdue knock the 'Pokes off-schedule?

2. Can Purdue keep the heat off of Marve? OSU's run defense is stout, and Purdue's run game has been ultra-shaky in 2012. Purdue's chances will likely rest in Marve's hands; being that he is not exactly the most mobile quarterback in the world at this point, and being that OSU still has quite a bit of coverage skill and athleticism in the secondary, can the Boilers keep Marve upright long enough to throw to one of his three primary targets (Antavian Edison, O.J. Ross, Gary Bush)?

3. OSU vs. Motivation. Heading into the final minute of the Bedlam battle on November 24 in Norman, Oklahoma State led Oklahoma, 45-38. The Cowboys had shot out to a 14-0 lead and led by as many as 11 late in the third quarter. But the Sooners tied the game with four seconds left, then won in overtime. Instead of moving to 8-3 and looking at a potentially lofty bowl bid, the 'Pokes finished the season by also losing to Baylor and tumbling to the Heart of Dallas Bowl against a 6-6 team with an interim coach. On paper, OSU is by far the better team, but this late fall could make for a serious motivation gap, especially considering OSU is facing a Purdue team with quite a few impact seniors (Marve, Short, Edison, Josh Johnson, longtime running back Ralph Bolden, etc.) dressing out for the last time. Does OSU bring enough intensity to the table to maintain its statistical advantage?

2 Predictions

F/+ Pick: Oklahoma State by 26.7.
Bill's Pick: Oklahoma State by 12. I see the Cowboys getting blitzed early and eventually recovering.

1 Shutdown Fullback

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