AUSTIN, TX - OCTOBER 15: Running back Jeremy Smith #31, center, of the Oklahoma State University Cowboys is congratulated by tight end Wilson Youman #86, left, and wide receiver Justin Blackmon #81, right, after running in a second quarter touchdown against the Texas Longhorns on October 15, 2011 at Darrell K. Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium in Austin, Texas. Oklahoma State beat Texas 38-26. (Photo by Erich Schlegel/Getty Images)
At 6-0, OSU is right where we all thought they would be at this point during the season including a top five BCS ranking that is icing on the cake. I don't know if any of us would have predicted that the computers would love the Pokes as much as they currently do.
On top of that, the team is very healthy for the most part. The only two major injuries sustained have been at positions where there is enough depth to keep the ball rolling. This isn't to say that Jonathan Rush or Devin Hedgepeth aren't missed. Their experience cannot simply be replaced. But their backups do have reps under their belts and that will ultimately lead to better depth going forward.
With all that said, there are still issues that this team faces that must either be limited or eliminated in order for OSU to have the dream season we all hope they will have. How quickly this all comes about will determine whether or not the Pokes can make it to Bedlam unscathed and ready to win its first Big 12 Championship.
Click the jump for some analysis.
Stopping The Run
By now, I'm sure everyone is pulling their hair out due to some of the defensive "issues." No issue is more criticized right now than OSU's inability to stop the run at certain times. The problem here is what we knew it would be before the season even started. The linebackers are young and/or inexperienced. I thought by this time that a healthy Tyler Johnson would solve some of these problems. Unfortunately, he was sidelined with a knee injury for the majority of the games placed thus far and therefore has not had the game reps needed to become a difference maker just yet.
Back to the current situation, there are two major problems with the run defense. 1) Alex Elkins has a bunch of athleticism but not a lot of experience. 2) Caleb Lavey has experience but not enough athleticism. He especially has trouble fighting through blocks and getting to the ball carrier before he gets to the second level. Their inconsistent play hurts us the most when speedbacks get to the perimeter as Lavey doesn't have the speed and Elkins takes bad pursuit angles.
Unfortunately, this is no easy fix. Practice and game reps will help Elkins. Lavey will improve his strength and technique as well but the position itself will get much better as Tyler Johnson continues to progress behind him. Other than that, our safeties and defensive ends will need to continue to play their butts off in run support to make up for some of the present weakness in the middle.
Brandon Weeden's Temperment
Continue to cross your fingers every time he goes out on the field and gets frustrated with the lack of production. As it usually goes, his level of competitiveness is both his greatest strength and greatest weakness. It would be hard for any quarterback to go from the Kansas game (where everything the offense did, worked) to the Texas game (where they literally sold out to stop the pass).
Still, Weeden must keep himself composed. He forces at least one or two really bad balls per game (three or four during the Texas game) and somehow has gotten lucky enough to not have any picked in the last three outings.
The solution here has always been the same and has been preached by the coaches all season. Stay calm. Understand that not every drive is always going to result in a touchdown. An interception is always worse than a punt. Also, with the athletes we have at the skill positions in this offense there's always going to be a better option than a forced throw into an extremely tight window.
This is starting to concern me just a bit. It seems that in the two tough games OSU has played there has been a bit of stubbornness to Todd Monken's playcalling. Against Texas A&M, he was hell bent on running the ball in the first half. He wanted to establish the running game even when the Aggies were loading the box. It took a plea from Mike Gundy to get him to start spreading the wealth to our other playmakers. When the offense finally went that route, we all saw the tremendous results.
Fast forward to the Texas Longhorn game. This time, Monken was dead set on passing the ball even though Texas was playing the majority of the game with only three down linemen and SIX defensive backs. It should have been obvious even in the few times OSU ran the ball early on that the ground game was going to be successful all day long. Despite the evidence, though, Monken continued to air it out (including back to back incomplete streak plays to Blackmon that nearly got picked off each time). The two Jeremy Smith runs for touchdowns mimicked the success OSU had in the earlier A&M game when OSU finally adjusted their gameplan to what the defense was giving them.
The question now becomes how much longer can the offense get away with being so stubborn? I don't think this has anything to do with inexperience at playcalling. I think this is how Coach Monken is built. He has a cockiness to him which serves as an advantage and disadvantage much like Weeden's competitive drive. I think he says "I don't care if they are trying to take it away. I'm going to show them that we'll still get it done regardless." Unfortunately, this is not always the case. Only converting 2 of 12 third down attempts against Texas proved that. Coach Monken must adjust earlier and more often in upcoming games. Otherwise, more talented opposing offenses won't be so forgiving.