STORY OF THE GAME: Yurcich Gets Off The Hot Seat
Oklahoma State played by far their most complete offensive game of the season on Saturday, compiling 492 yards of total offense, with 211 through the air and 281 on the ground. The Pokes had found some success on the ground against Mississippi State and Iowa State earlier in the season, but it was nice to see them replicate those performances against a good defensive team in Lubbock.
What is most telling about OSU's offensive performance against Texas Tech is that nothing was all that different than what we've seen for most of the season from a play-calling perspective. The difference between the efficient, rhythmic offensive showing the Pokes had against the Red Raiders and the clunky, disjointed performances against West Virginia (or TCU or Kansas State for that matter), was execution.
Now, a team failing to execute can certainly be a problem rooted with the coaching staff, but I think it was more about finding the right combination of players for this team to finally have come continuity. From the offensive line to the quarterback to the running back, this team never had any consistency up until these past couple of weeks, so it really isn't all that surprising to see such a drastic difference in performance. Now that the Pokes have seemingly settled on a group of 11 guys that they feel confident in starting each week, we should see an offense that much better resembles those of years past.
So, it's time to cut Mike Yurcich some slack. Sure, this offense was performing at an unacceptable level early in the season, but attempting to live up to previous season's standards is a difficult task when you aren't sure who your best quarterback, running back or right tackle is.
Now that OSU's offense had some flow and balance to it, I don't see anybody calling for Yurcich's head despite the fact that, outside of a flea flicker and a few comeback routes, almost all of OSU's pass plays in this game had short and intermediate routes. And nobody is hammering him for calling three straight running plays off the right side when Rennie Child is bursting up a hole created by an offensive line that is finally executing their blocking schemes correctly.
And it really is that execution that has made the difference. With players on the field that had some cohesion, Yurcich's play calls were producing much better results. We saw the same inside zone, outside zone and even a stretch concept that we've seen all season long in the running game. The only new wrinkle we saw was the inclusion of additional blockers inside the box. We saw a lot more 11 personnel with a tightend closing the formation on the right side of the line and we saw Kye Staley and Jeremy Seaton both get some time in the backfield out of the pistol, with their primary responsibility being to seal the backside end.
Other than that, these were the same playcalls we've seen all year. We saw a ton of inside zone, a couple of outside runs and a lot inside zone reads/packaged plays.
Here's an outside zone run by Roland in the first quarter against TTU.
Now, compare that to the same play run against West Virginia.
The difference in execution is obvious. And if you think the difference is solely Roland replacing Smith, take a look at the first big play of the day for the Pokes in this game.
On one of the biggest plays of the game - a fourth and 1 from the three yardline when it was still 28-24 in the third - the Cowboys executed perfectly an inside zone handoff with Staley as the lead blocker.
Earlier in the game in another goal-line situation, the Cowboys called another inside zone rone. This was an example of the Cowboys using Staley to come across and seal the backside, and that ends up making the play happen for Roland as he soon as he sees the gap.
And once the Cowboys started running the ball effectively, look at the favorable matchups it creates on the outside.
In addition to their usual edge heat, the Red Raiders slide their slot corner in off of man alignment to help stop the run. This leaves a 2-on-1 advantage on the open side of the field with the safety man aligned with Stewart nearly 15 yards off the ball and Charlie Moore as the lead blocker. Tech's middle linebacker is going to have to go all the way from the right hash to the left sideline to make the play.
This was likely a packaged play call with an inside zone mixed with a bubble screen to Stewart, but once Chelf saw the alignment, he probably checked right to the bubble screen, and Stewart had some room to get right up the field.
Another one of Oklahoma State's big plays in this game came on one of those bubble screens that everybody was yelling at Yurcich about earlier in the season.
Here the Pokes run a concept called Stick Bubble. With Tech in a zone alignment, the Pokes have a natural numbers advantage to the strongside. Moore's deep crossing pattern is going to clear the safety and move the wide corner out of position a bit, and John Goodlet's stick occupies the nickelback. This is going to leave Glidden wide open on the bubble and watch how he turns it into a wheel route as Chelf progresses from his read of Moore over the middle to him on the sidelines. Jeremy Smith's cut block here did just enough to give Chelf the extra second he needed to make the throw.
Chelf also deserves credit for making a really good throw there, and he had some beauties in this game. In addition to his perfect ball on the fade to Tracy Moore in the first quarter and his tremendous throw on the flea flicker, I thought he did a great job here on a deep post to Seales.
It looks like Texas Tech is in cover-3 here, and their deep safety in the middle of the field is going to bite on Goodlet's in cutting route (even though he falls), leaving Seales wide open on his post, and Chelf makes a very strong throw.
And then there were the two biggest calls of the game by Yurcich. Let's start with his decision on 4th and goal from the one yardline in the second quarter.
He put Chelf under center with Seaton and Staley aligned to the strong side slight back off the line. The playcall appears to be PA Boot FB Flood, with Seaton, acting as a tight end and Staley flooding the playside. A nice chip block from Roland allows Chelf to get a good angle on the throw, and with the Tech defense biting on Staley's flat route, Seaton's creates separation on the corner/out route and scores a big TD.
And now for the play that will surely be remembered as the Choo Choo train's Heisman moment.
The great mystery with this play is whether or not there was a read involved or if it was a run all the way. The receivers don't fire off to block and run a quick outs combination and if Chelf read zone I suppose he could have thrown the ball. The issue there would have been Tech's edge pressure, and Chelf decides to take off up the field at just the right time to avoid the initial tackler. With the Red Raiders' safeties underestimating the wheels of the Choo Choo train, he had an easy path to the endzone.
It may be just one game, but it appears clear that offense is back on the right track after a subpar start to the season. And given the similarities between the gameplan and the playcalling in this dominate win over Texas Tech and some of our previous games this season, I think we can conclude that most of jumped the shark on Yurcich. Because the early season struggles had more to do with sorting out personnel issues than it did with Yurcich fooling around with Legos up on the press box.
RENNIE CHILDS IS OUR NEXT GREAT RB
After bursting onto the scene against TCU, freshman running back Rennie Childs didn't have any impact on the outcome of the Iowa State game, carrying the ball just two times for -1 yard. Many of us believed that the little spurt he had against TCU, in which he turned the tide for the offense and scored the game-sealing TD, would have earned him the starting job, but it was instead junior Desmond Roland that earned feature back honors after that game.
While there's no reason to complain about the job Roland has done these past two weeks (51 carries, 315 yards, 5.5 yards per carry and seven touchdowns), there's also no reason we can't look forward at what we have in Childs, because I believe he's well suited to become the next great running back to come out of Oklahoma State.
If you watch the runs by Roland and Smith above, you'll notice some positive traits. Smith runs with power and has a little speed while Roland has great vision and is a nice one-cut back. Childs has all of that stuff in his game. He has incredible leg drive that allows him to power through runs even with defenders on him, he's got nice vision and has demonstrated the ability to cut it back and, most importantly, he has an extra gear that he can reach that neither Smith nor Roland comes even close to.
Here's one of the inside zone runs we saw many times on Saturday with Jeremy Seaton sealing the backside.
The play ends up being blocked perfectly, with a hole opened right in the middle of the line. Watch how fast Childs turns this into a big play.
Now, part of that is Texas Tech not tackling properly, but any time it takes five defenders to eventually bring you down, you're probably got some elite skills as a running back. It's so fun watching Childs burst through the hole and burn defenders that are trying to stop him with arm tackles.
On the same drive, the Pokes run a similar inside zone run, although this one is with 10 personnel out of the pistol with no fullback. It's a zone read and the play is blocked pretty well again.
But watch how Childs decides to cutback towards the open side of the field.
Childs is the personification of that sound you hear when you fast forward a cassette tape. He's a blur. Once he gets the ball he turns on the jets and reaches a top speed that is rare for a running back, particularly one that also packs a powerful punch.
It's clear that Roland will be the starter for the rest of the season unless his production takes a step back, but with Roland being a junior, I think Gundy and Yurcich will have a tough decision to make on who to start at tailback between Roland and Childs next season. Here's to hoping that those two are the subjects of our debates about who should start next season rather than the quarterbacks.
GLENN SPENCER HAS EARNED HIS PROMOTION AND THEN SOME
I thought Spencer did an awesome job calling the game. He used the Psycho a little less than he did against TCU but busted it out when he needed to and he did a great job mixing man and zone coverages. Dropping Shaun Lewis to the deep middle of the field on his first half interception is what made the play there, as Davis Webb had no reason to believe he'd be in that spot. Caleb Lavey's second half interception showcased a nice playcall with even better instincts, as he passed off Jace Amaro's seam route to play the short middle.
I also love how Spencer decided to go with man coverage on Amaro for most of the game, refusing to compromise the defense by doubling him and opening up weaknesses elsewhere (I only saw bracket coverage a couple of times and they came on three-man routes, so nobody was running free). Amaro lit it up to the tune of 174 yards and 15 catches, but he's the best tight end in the country and Texas Tech threw the ball 71 times. That's nice quite as bad as the 237 yards and three touchdowns that Michael Crabtree once put up on OSU (also in a loss).
I thought Lyndell Johnson, a former linebacker converted to safety that played nickel and dime in this game and was manned up against Amaro for most of the night, did a pretty good job. He had one good break on the ball to break up the pass and generally didn't let Amaro get anything after the catch. It was the same two pass concepts - the drag and the quick out - that Amaro killed OSU on for most of the night, but he only got free for a huge gain once.
It's also worth noting that OSU's coverage on Amaro could have improved if Kevin Peterson was healthy. With Peterson on the outside, it would have allowed Tyler Patmon to cover Amaro, and Patmon has proven to be a very good cover corner with great instincts. OSU has a legit trio of cornerbacks right now and stud safeties in Shamiel Gary (who we need to be healthy for the final three games of the season) and Daytawion Lowe. It's a shame four of these guys will be gone next season.
And I suppose my weekly mention how incredible the duo of Shaun Lewis and Caleb Lavey is can go here. They are really, really good at football. Lavey is incredibly good at diagnosing plays at the snap and filling his gap and Lewis has shown similar ability in the run game in addition to covering a lot of ground as a pass defender. Also a shame we won't get to see these two guys suit up anymore after this season, and I'm not sure who is going to be able to replace their production anytime soon.
TO-DO LIST: TAKE THE BLINDERS OFF CHELF
Hate to include negative thoughts after such a huge win, but Chelf had a couple of head-scratching moments in this one. It appears as if he doesn't read the field very well, if at all, most of the time. Part of the allure of the air raid offense is that it simplifies the game for quarterbacks and relies more heavily on their ability to read a defense before the snap and making box counts than it does on their ability to read coverage post-snap. Unfortunately for Chelf, there were a few plays in this game where he seemed to predetermine his target based on alignment, leading to some poor decisions and even a pair of turnovers.
Early in the game on third and eight, Yurcich called one of the staples of the air raid: Shallow cross. Here it is X shallow cross as Charlie Moore will drag across the formation from the weakside. The other receivers will run an assortment of routes down the field to clearout the zone defenders. With the Red Raiders bringing edge pressure, Moore is going to be wide open, yet Chelf doesn't appear to look at him. Instead it looks like he's trying to throw to a dig down the field. Simply looking down at Moore here would have resulted in a first down.
The Pokes ran almost the exact same play later on in the first half, only this time out of 10 personnel with Roland staying in to pass protect. It's X shallow cross with Moore dragging again. The difference this time is that the Red Raiders are in man coverage.
Given that Texas Tech has the inside angle covered with safety help over the top, I have to think Chelf read two deep safety before the snap and thought the middle of the field would be open. If he was making a post-snap read there and still decided to throw the ball, that's rough. Moore is wide open crossing the field and Josh Stewart's deep curl from the slot also appears to be open.
Chelf's first pick also appeared to be the result of him seeing some pre-snap and deciding what would be open.
With Texas Tech showing edge pressure, Chelf thought that Marcel Ateman had one-on-one coverage on his out route to the weakside. That's the correct pre-snap diagnosis, but it is not very often that you see a QB send the RB in motion - very common in spread offenses - and not have his first read be to that side of the field. The Pokes have their flanker running a go (or a vertical concept past the sticks) and a nice route combination of Stewart on a stick and Roland on the swing. It's a 3-on-2 scenario to the wide side of the field with the advantage in OSU's favor.
But the Red Raiders bluff-and-bail, faking the edge heat and sending their outside linebacker (Pete Robertson) into a curl/flat zone, putting him perfect position to pick off Chelf's pass. The fact that a pair of linemen get up the field right away makes me think the swing pass was intended (would be a legal backwards pass and therefore no penalty for having linemen down the field). I could be wrong and the intention could have always been to hit Ateman, but I think Chelf should have used his eyes and read that drop by Robertson before putting it right between his numbers.
As I talked about before, Chelf made some really good throws in this game, but he still has some lapses in his decision making. If Oklahoma State is going to win the Big 12 Championship this season, they'll need Chelf to get a little bit better at diagnosing what the defense is giving him after the ball is snapped.
WEEKLY JOSH STEWART DOING RIDICULOUS THINGS GIF
TWEET OF THE WEEK
Heard #NFL scouts keep going to OK St + leaving impressed w DE Tyler Johnson. Former LB, they like his athleticism, ability to handle tempo.— Teddy Mitrosilis (@TMitrosilis) October 24, 2013
Johnson is one of the more underrated players on our defense. He's a versatile guy that has great speed as an edge rusher and could be used as a joker in the right scheme (we saw OSU do this against TCU when he dropped off the line into coverage). He may be a third day guy right now because he's a bit older (when did OSU become the go-to place for former baseball players that want to play football) and he doesn't have a ton of tape (or numbers due to the spread offenses), but I think he could functional well as a rotational guy at the next level.
PLAY OF THE WEEK
I love that Jhajuan Seales has become our designated flea flicker wide receiver.
QUESTION OF THE WEEK: Does Mike Yurcich read Cowboys Ride For Free?
The Pokes ran the same stretch play for Stewart one play later and it was gobbled up in the backfield. If we can add some versatility to that package - counter runs, draws, screens, wheel routes - it may be worth using more in the future.
ROBERT WHETSELL'S WEEKLY DIAMOND WATCH
I'm not sure who wanted to see a diamond more during this game, Robert or this woman.
Sadly, neither got their wish.
LOOKING AHEAD: KANSAS
Tyler Patmon's Win-Loss Record At Kansas: 6-30
Tyler Patmon's Win-Loss Record At Oklahoma State: 7-1