A few thoughts on what to expect from an Oklahoma State team that's playing a different variety of football from the offensive awesomeness and defensive OKedness that propelled them to the rarefied air of BCS bowls and forced me to actually take Mike Gundy seriously, despite his country gigolo hair and the alarming number of players on his roster that learn via Dexter Manley's books-on-tape series and electric shocks. This 8-1 Cowboy squad is built around good defense, strong special teams, and an offense that they hope will continue to improve with more reps and continuity.
Like us, they've been shielded from the best teams the Big 12 has to offer. Such as they are. Their sole loss was to WVU in Morgantown, a game in which their defense played well, but erratic play from their now benched QB JW Walsh (threw a pick 6, sub 50% completions) hamstrung their offense. Three turnovers and two missed field goals didn't help the Cowboy cause either.
I'm starting with this oft-ignored unit for a reason. One, in hopes that the Bellmont internet police may see this and notify our coaches that special teams exist. Two, because OSU has excellent special teams. Their punt and kick return teams are stout and if you're a fan of prop bets, OSU to score a non-offensive touchdown on Saturday would be a pretty good one. They have six on the year so far. CB Justin Gilbert has brought back a kick off, they've scored twice on punt returns (even though it was Josh Stewart, who may miss this game), and they cover punts and kicks well.
Except for field goal kicker. Oklahoma State's guy is 8 of 14 on the year, he's had two kicks blocked, and he has hit exactly one field goal over 40 yards. Does this mean that Oklahoma State will probably have to win the game on a 45 yard field goal attempt in overtime? Yes, that's exactly what it means. AND HE GONNA MISS IT.
Needs More Bourbon did a nice job in offering his primer. Read it. You'll get to see the ninth most egregious pick play ever recorded in human history.
Here's my two cents...
Not the slick OSU offense of yesteryear. I see a lot of Clint Chelf staring at WRs mouthing,"Dude, what are you doing?" and OL milling around while a RB gets hit at the line of scrimmage. The near certainty of elite OL coach Joe Wickline producing a good running game and OSU finding a NFL RB to hand the ball off to every year has been cast into doubt. The Cowboys top three running backs are averaging 4.2 yards per carry combined (230 carries for 958 yards) though they do have 20 touchdowns so far. This touchdown statistic tells me that they're making CLUTCH, WINNING runs. SCORING RUNS. GRITTY FOURTH QUARTER RUNS. Sorry, I was briefly possessed by a TV color analyst...
Is it that the OL is disappointing? Does Desmond Roland stink? Or is this an indication of a broader offensive malaise? I think more the latter. OSU's running game excelled so well in years past because their passing game guaranteed honest fronts and defenses tended to choose the slower poison. Wickline then destroyed those fronts with beautiful zone blocking schemes from well-developed OL and their quality RBs had their way. By the time defenses adjusted, OSU had already found their running groove. Similarly, their OL almost never allowed negative plays.
I'm not sure Desmond Roland is a NFL runner, I think Wickline's raw material is weaker this year, but the biggest difference is that I don't see Justin Blackmon or Dez Bryant running around outside with a NFL QB like Brandon Weeden throwing to them. I almost had you on the Brandon Weeden a NFL QB thing. Good college QB though. Who doesn't see massive upside in a 28 year old rookie??!?!?
Anyway, here's some proof: in 2011, Jeremy Smith ran for 646 yards at 7.1 yards per pop and 9 touchdowns as Joseph Randle's understudy, a small cog in a dominant OSU offense. So far this year, he's averaging 3.5 yards per carry as Desmond Roland's understudy, surrounded by a markedly weaker supporting cast. Is he half the man he used to be? Nah. He's doing exactly what most RBs do - performing at the level that his environment allows.
With respect to that passing game, JW Walsh was benched for being an inconsistent turnover factory in favor of Clint Chelf. Chelf has been...borderline OK? Which in this year's Big 12, gives him a shot at All-League. He has the same passing efficiency rating as Case McCoy and he's only completed 50% of his throws. The OSU line has protected their QBs fairly well all year, but they haven't seen our DL yet either.
The Cowboy WRs will miss Josh Stewart immensely if he's not able to play and that leaves them with a bunch of physically talented guys who have a penchant for drops and running the wrong routes. Watch for big Tracy Moore on 3rd down.
It's not that OSU's offense is bad. But nothing comes easy for them.
Once you adjust for pace and properly value forced turnovers, this is a Top 10 or 15 defense nationally, surrendering only 4.7 yards per play. They do play a lot of zone, which is somewhat encouraging,given my belief in the Case Rules. However, they may be good enough to render my recommendations moot - this secondary is the best we've seen this year and their zone isn't passive - they're allowing their LBs and CBs to jump routes, bait receivers, and generally aggress in ways that Bill Young didn't always sign off on. If McCoy doesn't stay disciplined, it'll get ugly. If he does, he can do just fine helping us to move the sticks and putting the burden on our run game.
OSU's CBs are a potential problem for us. Senior CB Justin Gilbert spent much of his career as an athletically talented relative underachiever who tended to drift in and out of football games depending on his interest level. That's not longer the case. He has four interceptions on the year and he's probably the most dangerous DB in the league. His partner-in- crime Kevin Peterson has proven to an emerging star. He's a sophomore though, so he may be had by veterans like Shipley and Davis.
The OSU LBs have been great in getting their pass drops, with 6 interceptions between Caleb Lavey and Shaun Lewis. Lavey is probably the best MLB in the Big 12, by performance, if not talent, while Lewis is pretty much what we were hoping Peter Jinkens will become. Undersized, can cover receivers when needed, good at blitzing, a good spread LB.
OSU's run D is strong up the middle, featuring DTs Castleman and Barnett, both strong, stocky guys who are active inside and don't allow much easy between the tackles. That doesn't bode well for us, particularly with Gray out.
Oklahoma State is far from perfect on defense though. First, they don't exert great base pass rush pressure. Undersized DE Tyler Johnson is their best pass rusher (4 sacks on the year), but we may welcome his presence on the field in the run game. If they need guaranteed pressure, they typically have to bring some heat. If Estelle plays, I don't see them getting to McCoy without playing some games up front.
Second, they've been poor against the option. They seem to struggle with assignments and their DEs lack the size to hold the edge. I'm not sure how that helps Texas, since Case won't be confused with Tommie Frazier, but running off tackle seems like the first logical probe. Tyrone Swoopes might have a role if we'd gotten him more game experience.
I'm expecting a tough game for both offenses.