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Oklahoma State trying to stay focused during homecoming tragedy anniversary

(Ken Murray/Icon Sportswire)

Every school’s homecoming adds an extra bit of distraction and excitement. This year is no exception for Oklahoma State. Not only is head coach Mike Gundy one win away from reaching 100 victories in America’s brightest orange, and with the newly awarded 1945 national title trophy on display, but it was last year’s homecoming on Oct. 24 that saw a car crash leave four people dead and dozens injured. The immediate emotions reeling from that tragedy saw the Cowboys rout Kansas 58-10.

Whether that success was from playing against a winless Kansas or trying to honor the victims is up for debate. A year later, it’s hard to imagine that the first anniversary won’t be going through the players’ minds when first entering Boone Pickens Stadium. But for Gundy, it’s all about sticking to the weekly routine that’s kept his team a dark-horse Big 12 contender. If the Cowboys can wrangle 10th-ranked West Virginia, those odds will certainly increase.

“Honestly, I hadn’t thought about that side of it,” Gundy said Monday. “I would say that it’ll be a very emotional time for some of the fans and people that it affected. For us, what I’ve been told is that everything will go on as normal. There’s a lot of history and tradition here with our homecoming, and we certainly want to keep that part of the day rolling.”

While all that’s associated with homecoming is in the back of the team’s minds heading into Saturday’s matchup, it’s another type of emotion that defensive coordinator Glenn Spencer is looking for: Momentum from big plays.

“Who’s to say sometimes your execution is really good, and you make plays,” Spencer said. “Sometimes a tipped ball might go in your hands, but it’s hard to say.”

As far as matchups go, it will be interesting to see who comes out on top: the Mountaineers’ defense, which has allowed the fewest plays of 30 yards or more, or the Pokes’ offense that has the third-most plays for that yardage (and is also the only Big 12 team to have two plays over 80 yards).

It’s the classic immovable object meets the unstoppable force scenario. As long as Oklahoma State keeps up the pace of two takeaways per game, there’s strong chance the unstoppable force comes out on top, especially with Chris Carson having returned to the backfield.

“It’s a spark for our offense and it helps [fellow running back Justice Hill] at the same time,” offensive coordinator Mike Yurcich said. “It’s a good one-two punch now. It eases the stress that gets put on the back of Justice. We increase your depth and increase your health with a guy like Chris, who is back running with an attitude.”

Last week, Carson and Hill combined for 56 percent of Oklahoma State’s total offense and had four of five total touchdowns. While Kansas is the conference’s doormat, its defense is not the issue, giving a bit of hope that similar production can come against West Virginia. Though, allowing just five rushing scores this year is still a daunting task.

This week, “In Memoriam” is sure to cause a lot of talk about how emotions will play a role into making all that work, but Spencer’s thoughts sum it up best for how things will play out on the gridiron.

“This is a game, as much as people like to make it more than that. It’ll be like last year. Playing that game after that happened, it was surreal because of the circumstances. It wasn’t the same, but you have to put it into context and realize that this is a game.”

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