Texas-Oklahoma State Preview: Scouting The Cowboy Offense

Oklahoma State has murdered every defense it has seen this season, averaging over 50 points per game and racking up just shy of 600 yards per contest. Some of that is inflated due to quality of competition, the fact that their offense runs extra snaps at pace, and their receiving corps is able to consistently physically overwhelm lesser athletes, turning an 8 yard gain into 40, but when you're dropping 70 and 61 on people without being held under 30, it's reasonable to assume you're doing things right.

They represent a huge challenge, not unlike the one posed by Oklahoma, but their personnel and preferred means of bleeding you differ. They may not have the genius spark of Dana Holgorsen concocting mad formulas and nailing co-eds at the Stillwater Hampton Inn, but Brandon Weeden is the de facto offensive coordinator and Todd Monken has been pretty useful in raising the game of the WR corps around Blackmon and running the Holgo playbook. I'm not sure there are many NFL teams who give their QB more leeway in calling his shots.

OL

Oklahoma State has a long history of overachieving and maximizing OL performance and this unit is no different. A large part of that is Joe Wickline, who is a good molder of talent and has a solid understanding of what he wants on the recruiting trail. They average 6-4.5, 305 across the board and they're a pretty cohesive, high effort unit. I like them better than OU's OL and OT Levy Adcock (6-6, 320) is a certain NFL guy. They run the ball effectively - but are in no way dominant - and are pretty good at making adjustments in-game to squelch pressure on Weeden. These guys have a high activity level and make a difference in OSU's varied and diverse screen game. If we're hoping for an OL flame-out to aid our cause, crap in one hand and wish in the other and see which one fills up first.

WR

The Poke wide receivers are the most physical spread unit in college football and aside from their obvious receiving talent, I was struck by how enthusiastically they block for each other. The Cowboys love the screen game and/or a simple flip out to a guy in trips and Blackmon, Cooper, Anyiam, and Moore seem to relish putting cornerbacks on their asses or driving them out of bounds. The Cowboys have diversified their offense substantially beyond Blackmon and they punish overplay on him pretty effectively in myriad ways. They're pretty stubborn with the screen and short passing game and if you won't stop it, they'll keep it doing pretty mercilessly. See the Aggie game.

Ball adjustment

Justin Blackmon leads the team in catches (46-534-6) and he's the biggest physical mismatch in the game. He hasn't gotten loose deep as much as he is accustomed, but that's a simple function of how teams are playing him. He goes 6-1, 215 and plays much bigger than that. Crazy strong, hands like catcher's mitts, chimpanzee arms, and powerful hips that shrug off arm tackles and shoddy tackling. His downside is a mercurial temper and a tendency to lose focus. Probably the most underrated aspect of his game is that when he and Anyiam lead for Josh Cooper as blockers, they're stronger and more physical than 80% of your secondary. The Cowboys have effectively diversified beyond Blackmon in the form of the aforementioned Josh Cooper (29-315-2), Hubert Anyiam (22-292-3, their #1 WR in '09 when Dez Bryant went out), and inside receiver Tracey Moore (16-220-2). Back up Michael Harrison is cut from the same physical cloth as Anyiam and Blackmon.

QB

Brandon Weeden turns 28 this Friday, making him older than 15 of the starting QBs in the NFL. He's older than Matt Ryan, Aaron Rodgers, Matt Stafford (by 5 years) and possibly Bart Starr. It's a big advantage, not because it makes him less likely to make mistakes, but because all of his mistakes are shrugged off. 19 year olds have existential crises when they make mistakes in front of 100,000 people; 28 year olds laugh and say,"We'll get 'em next time." A big reason for OSU's success is their relentlessness and a lot of that comes from Weeden's mental strength. They don't turtle up when a couple of series go badly - they're confident that over the course of the game, something will click and then you're done.

Physically, he's a tall, strong guy who gets the ball out quickly with accuracy. If he has any faults, it's that he may be too confident in his receiver's ability to win contested balls so he'll throw some picks. He has absolutely no scrambling ability and accounting for containment is a non-factor in this game. For that reason - as with my prediction against OU - I expect to largely shut down the Cowboy running game unless we roll out in a 4-1-6 dime or something. Not having to account for a running threat allows our DEs to crash in the running game and they're pretty good at it.

OSU converts an absurd 56% on 3rd down and that's pretty much all about Weeden's ability to deliver balls to spots and find the guy at the sticks quickly. When you're throwing at 76% accuracy overall, it's pretty clear that teams are conceding easy throws for fear of what you'll do to them downfield.

RB

Joseph Randle is a very solid all-purpose back (90-484-8td, 5.4 ypc, 17 catches) with a DB size profile (6-1, 190). The Cowboy running game is predicated on creasing you and popping a nice run while you're in pass rush mode and isn't really designed to stubbornly beat you down. Why go at 4 yards a pop when 14 is available in the passing game? They know where their bread is buttered and they use the run game primarily to enforce honesty on your fronts and punish you when your DL starts lining up in a track stance. Back-up Jeremy Smith is cut from a similar mode and I can't say I came away with a definitive impression of him. Randle can punish you out of the backfield and there's zero doubt in my mind that the Cowboys have saved some stuff for him in this game.

FB Kye Staley sees the field in limited sets and is generally there to block and catch an occasional six yard pass.

Overall

First quarter 76
Second quarter 69
Third quarter 65
Fourth quarter 47

That's OSU's scoring breakdown through five games. Notice a pattern? They're averaging 29 points a game in the first half and they tend to blow people's doors off right from the start. A good start is essential for both our defense and offense because a 2-3 touchdown Longhorn comeback isn't happening with what we've got on our OL and at QB.

On the positive side, Weeden is not a run threat, containment is not an issue for us, and we should be able to make OSU one-dimensional for reasons I explained against OU. The problem is that one dimension is what they're best at and our offense may not have the ability to match the necessary scoring pace to keep us in the game late.

Our success against their passing game depends less on one-on-one match-ups and a lot on this quote from Manny Diaz post-OU:

I thought early in the game, I think this will be important, that when we brought pressure he did a good job of finding his hots, which where they outexecuted us in their hot passing game, the guys that we needed to be jumping to make them hold onto the ball longer didn't jump. That's where we always say that defending the pass is an 11 man sport. That the coverage has to match up to the rush and then vice versa.

Yep. That's pretty much it. This really struck me when I reviewed the OU game tape because we had calls that just didn't seem to match up in our secondary with our scheme up front. Now I understand why. Fire zone defense can be maddening to watch when it's not executed well, but a lot of it is predicated on defenders playing the tendencies of an offense and making instinctive plays on the expected route. In fact, they're actually drilled to do so - they have to trust the coverage behind them and commit to the jump. If you don't jump their quick route early - particularly on 3rd down - and stand there like a statue, our blitz looks stupid and an easy 15 yard toss is candy from a baby. The problem is that this stuff takes time for young guys to learn - they need to see a lot more football - and 2 of our 3 top safeties have proven unable to make that kind of play over the course of their careers.

For that reason, I expect an Oklahoma State win and another learning experience for this team and coaching staff.

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