STILLWATER – Credit for No. 11 Oklahoma State’s impressive 3-0 start has gone to the emergence of sophomore quarterback J.W. Walsh and the strong performance of their veteran-laden defense.
Another component in the Cowboys’ success has been the play of senior running back Jeremy Smith.
Smith’s numbers don’t look all that spectacular until the touchdown category – he’s the Big 12 Conference co-leader with six rushing TDs.
He’s a key reason OSU has enjoyed success in the red zone, with 15 touchdowns on 15 trips inside the opposing 20-yard-line.
Smith will be a big part of the Cowboys’ game plan when they open Big 12 play today at West Virginia (2-2, 0-1).
“Jeremy has played well for us, he’s been a good leader,” coach Mike Gundy said. “As we progress through the season in conference play, he’ll have to carry the ball more and you’ll see him start to show up more statistically than he has in (pre-conference play).”
Typically, Smith deflects any praise toward his teammates and coaching staff.
“I can’t do it without the offensive line, J.W., and really, the coaches that call the plays,” said Smith, who totaled 371 yards and eight touchdowns last season. “My job is just to go out there and perform to the best of my ability. I can’t do that without those guys. Whenever I get in the end zone, all the credit goes to them.”
Following an impressive effort in the season-opening 21-3 victory over Mississippi State, in which he gained 103 yards on 15 rushes, Smith picked up just 34 on 12 carries against Texas-San Antonio.
On Sept. 14 against Lamar, Smith rushed for 40 yards on 10 carries, including three first-half touchdowns to lead the way in a 59-3 rout.
That leaves him with a solid 176 rushing yards, but perhaps a bit overshadowed by Walsh, who, in addition to running for 182 yards and two touchdowns, also has passed for 642 yards and five TDs.
“Jeremy has been very consistent and he works hard,” OSU first-year offensive coordinator Mike Yurcich said. “He is great on the practice field, which correlates to production on Saturdays. He works hard all through the week. He’s a great leader, he holds onto the ball really well and understands pass protection. He is a complete back.”
While Smith may be a bit under the radar, there’s little doubt the Mountaineers’ defense is well aware of what he can do.
“He’s a good back, he runs hard,” West Virginia linebacker Doug Rigg said. “He has a good build to him and he’s pretty much going to be like every Big 12 running back. He runs hard and put him in space and he’s going to make a play. So we’ve got to keep him bottled up, but at the same time be aware of everything else around us.”
The ability to run the ball or throw it keeps opposing defenses guessing and is a big asset on offense for Oklahoma State.
“Really, anybody can score in our offense, just with the talent that we have,” Smith said. “J.W. is a great quarterback, a great leader and, whatever he sees, he’s going to do the play that we’re supposed to do. If he sees something else, he’s probably not going to run that play. He’s great. He knows exactly what he’s doing, watches a lot of film, studies the opponent a lot.”
With OSU playing its third game away from home, Smith is excited to make his first trip to Morgantown.
“I keep hearing a lot of crazy stories about the fans,” Smith said of playing in Milan Puskar Stadium. “I’m ready to go down there and see if everything is true. I’ve heard they’re pretty loud and that they try to get in your head, but we’re not going to let that happen.”
Smith is confident that if the Cowboys play their game, they should be successful. They'll be playing against West Virginia coach Dana Holgorsen, who served as Smith's offensive coordinator in 2010 at OSU.
“Coach Holgorsen is a pretty good coach, West Virginia is a pretty good team, their defense is pretty nice, but this really isn't about them,” Smith said. “It's about the way we prepare, the way we go out there and take care of business.”