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Assessing the Oklahoma State Unknowns Through Two Games

A few weeks ago I wrote a piece detailing most of the unknowns about the 2011 Cowboy football team and laid out the scenario of all those things not working out in the Pokes favor, resulting in a worse than expected season. Two games into the season, I thought it would be a good time to evaluate these unknowns that are now sorta-knowns and see in which direction they look to be trending.

Unknown #1 - Can Todd Monken's offense perform at the same level as Dana's?
When discussing the Holgorsen offense, three factors seem to be key: 1) Tempo 2) Run vs Pass Ratio 3) Success (yards/points per game). So let's compare these and see how Todd matches up to Dana.

2011 2010 (1st 2 games) 2010 Season
Tempo (plays per minute) 2.83 2.74 2.75
Run vs Pass ratio 43.9% 51.6% 45.8%
Total Yards 630 520.2 533
Total Points 49 53 44.2

Obviously it is a small sample size so stat comparisons are somewhat misleading, but I think it is interesting that just based on stats, Monken is running more of a stereotypical Leach/Holgo offense than Dana did.  The 2011 version of the Cowboy offense is running at a faster pace, is throwing the ball more often, and is out-gaining but not outscoring the 2010 version of the offense. Todd is out-Holgo-ing Holgo!  Of course, these are stats.  In person there is a noticeable difference in what plays are being called in what situations, and although there were 53 passes chucked up last Thursday, seeing a 7 minute clock-chewing drive in the 4th quarter when trying to protect a lead was refreshing and in stark contrast to a typical Holgo 4th quarter.  It should be noted though, that the 7 minute drive consisted of 7 passes and 6 runs.

Unknown #2 - What if The loss of Dan Bailey hurts the kicking game?
Outside of a missed 42 yarder, there has been no drop off.  Quinn is 5/6 on Field Goals with a long of 46, and is 11/11 on extra points when the snap isn't botched.  I must ask though, at this point would anyone be very comfortable if in 2 weeks Quinn is lining up for a 39-yarder in College Station with no time and a 1-point deficit showing on the scoreboard?

Unknown #3 - What if the defensive line takes a step back?
A constant barrage of pressure from the front line, six sacks, 10 tackles for loss, 74.5 rushing yards per game, and a total of 13 points given up in quarters 1-3* point to nothing but good stuff coming from the defense, and in particular from the front 4/7. Everyone on the line from the most seasoned of veterans to true freshmen like Castleman have taken steps forward that I didn't expect to see this early. Granted, the competition hasn't been outstanding, and there were plenty of series where it seemed Foles had a lot of time, but that happens and we aren't looking for them to be perfect, just better... and up to now there has been nothing to point to the D-Line taking a step back.  If anything it looks like overall they are getting more of a push than last year.
*the backups have been on the field a lot in the 4th of both games so I am leaving those out

Unknown #4 - What about those new linebackers?
This question no longer exists at the WLB spot, at all. Alex Elkins has come in and proved in two games that he not only belongs on the field, but that he is a strength of the unit. I can't remember a fanbase ever being so nervous about an injury to a guy only playing in his 2nd game.... Elkins already feels that valuable to us. Caleb Lavey on the other hand, while a nice run stopper in the middle has looked stiff and slow for much of his time on the field. He does bring plenty of size and strength to the middle and has looked nice on plays run toward him, but right now he isn't playing at the level we are used to seeing at the MLB spot. He is having problems dropping into coverage, and his pursuit isn't very impressive. Unless there is some quick improvement, when Tyler Johnson makes his return (still estimated at 3 weeks out as far as I know) there will immediately be a rotation at the position.

Unknown #5 - Will the loss of Kendall Hunter be a bigger deal than we think?
In the running game, not at all. I don't think this aspect even needs to be discussed. However, I will mention that the thing that worried me more about Kendall leaving wasn't losing his running skills, it was losing his pass blocking skills.  Kendall had a great talent for picking up blitzing LBs, and helping on linemen that beat their man.  Early on, I have seen similar performance from Joseph Randle and Jeremy Smith, and have been especially impressed with the time Randle has stayed in to block.  Also, the increased number of 2 and 3 back sets have rendered this point a little moot as the entire way the RB's pick up blitzers is a little different. We aren't seeing nearly as much of an isolated RB back there having to fend off all he can.

Those are the main ones that we can evaluate at this point, and up to now I think it is almost all positive.  This is what we need if the Pokes are to take a step forward as obviously the key to success in college football (or really in anything) is to keep the returning positives working at a high level, and have the unknown factors work out for you.  Up to now, both of these things are happening and the Pokes have put a scare into the rest of the Big 12.