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AFTER FURTHER REVIEW: They don't ask how...

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It may be a little smoke and mirrors, but it's OUR smoke and mirrors.

Ben Queen-USA TODAY Sports

We knew Oklahoma State would start with two road games in the first three conference matchups, and both were in venues we considered potential issues for the Cowboys.

If I had told you that OSU's combined offensive stat line in Austin and Morgantown would be...

  • Passing...46-79 (58.2 percent) for 520 yards (6.6 YPA/11.3 YPC)
  • Rushing...84-237 (2.8 YPC)
  • As many turnovers as touchdowns, six each, and two of those resulted in defensive touchdowns
  • 13 punts
I think most of you would have bet the house on starting Big 12 play 1-2.

And low and behold, we all would have lost big, because there is another half to that equation, and Glenn Spencer is in control of the calculator.
  • Passing allowed...27-54 (50%) for 305 (5.6 YPA/11.3 YPC)
  • Rushing allowed...103-427 (4.1 YPC)
  • More turnovers taken than touchdowns allowed (5:4) and one of those was a defensive score
  • 14 punts
Call it "smoke and mirrors," or whatever you want, but OSU is 3-0 in conference play, and staring at 4-0 going into a Halloween trip to Lubbock.

This last trip to the halls of Danaville was a continuation of heart attack city. The passing game sputtered and spewed against a relentless pass rush and stout WVU secondary. The running game was predictably MIA (until they needed to show up). The Cowboy defense faced 107 plays. Thanks to Mountaineer turnovers, the Cowboys raced out to a lead that we knew would not last, as the offense showed no signs of being able to repeatedly sustain drives. The defense, while playing well, was bound to give up something facing that much time on the field. When it mattered, however, the warriors showed up on both sides of the ball.

For me, and I think for many fans, this game turned on three offensive plays.

Play No. 1 - Rudolph 40-yard run

The situation: third down, 10 yards to go on the Cowboys' 32 yard line. 10:30 left in the third quarter, OSU 17, WVU 9.
West Virginia came out firing, marching to a touchdown on their opening drive of the second half. On cue, Rudolph delivers late on a very deep out to Ateman, which is undercut and intercepted by the Mountaineers near midfield. OSU's defense bowed up, however, forcing a three and out. The resulting punt pins the Cowboys inside their own 20. A generous PI penalty on WVU gave OSU a little breathing room, but a first down run for no gain (common theme) and an incompletion left a third and long for Rudolph and Company. As has been the case many times this season, our boys converted, however it was Mason's legs doing the work, as he broke contain and galloped 40 yards. Childs would grind out another 13 yards (longest gain by a RB since a 13 yarder by Carson against Texas) before another WV penalty moved things along. Walsh would assume what has become his regular role as goal line closer, hitting Blake Jarwin for the touchdown, however the missed PAT (due to a mishandled snap) would prove troublesome a little later on.

Play No. 2 - Childs catch and run for 31 yards

The situation: Second down, 10 yards to go on the Cowboys' 15 yard line. 9:47 remaining in the game, OSU 23, WVU 19
Since their last score, OSU's offense produced an interception and two 3 and outs. While playing valiantly, the defense was starting to leak oil. The Cowboys went with some misdirection (a reverse) on first down, but WVU was on it for no gain. Rudolph dropped back to pass on the next play, but when protection broke down (a common theme), he was able to break contain long enough to dump it short to Childs, who got away from a jersey tackle and scampered 31 yards, putting OSU near midfield. The Cowboys would go three and out with this next first down, but that play flipped the field in a moment where our guys needed some relief. The resulting interception on WVU's next possession would give OSU the ball at the Mountaineers' 11 yard line. While settling for only a field goal (more on this in a bit), it still put the Cowboys in a position not to lose in regulation at a time when it didn't look good for the boys in orange.

Play No. 3 - Childs seven yard run

The situation: First down, 10 yards to go on the Cowboys' 25 yard line. First play of overtime. OSU 26, WVU 26.
I know most folks want the ball second in OT, but I happen to think this was a good thing for the Cowboys, and it demonstrated clearly that, if OSU wants to have success running the ball, they need to give it to people who can test the edges. Rennie Childs took a handoff and, when the right side of the line was predictably stuffed, sprinted right and delivered what might be the most important stiff arm this season, escaping and fending off two WV defenders to get the edge and create second and short. Gundy would call on his closer, who would deliver in dramatic fashion, hesitating before hitting the slightest of openings for a touchdown on fourth and goal. After giving up some initial yards, the defense stiffened and held, handing the Cowboys another gut-wrenching victory.

So here we are, 6-0 and 3-0 in Big 12 play, having survived two of the three questionable road trips. What is the state of the team?

Defensive Depth

We are seeing the fruits of focus by Gundy on defensive recruiting. There have been several key injuries (Levini, Simmons, Peterson), but they just roll out another body and keep going. The front four, led by Ogbah, in my book are the best in the conference, and the future NFL first rounder is wreaking havoc every series of every game. The linebackers, while now missing Ryan Simmons, plugged in Chad Whitener and didn't miss a beat. Jordan Burton has been as advertised. The secondary has been pretty good, but WV was really the first test against a team with the ability to throw successfully, albeit not on the level of TCU, Baylor, or Tech. With Peterson out, transfer Michael Hunter performed well, as did Ashton Lampkin. Tre Flowers and Jordan Sterm have become quite the safety combo. The general, however, is Glenn Spencer, and if this run continues, keeping him in the family is going to be virtually impossible, depending on his aspirations. Joe Bob Clements will also be tough to keep in house, as the level of OSU's defensive line play has skyrocketed since his arrival from KState.

OFFENSIVE LINE IS OFFENSIVE

Is it possible that this bunch is worse than last season? Despite the likely answer to this question, the issue I have here is the same one we experienced last year, and it has nothing to do with the players.

Why aren't we seeing more imaginative play calling in regards to the running game? Given that this unit couldn't open a hole through a wet paper towel, it is clear that when Walsh is in the game, things change. Why do things change? Because now the defense has to account for a distinct possibility that forces them to protect multiple parts of the field. When Rudolph is in, chances are it's a dive/off tackle type of running play. No zone read with him, he's not keeping it. The reverses are predictable, and the jet sweep somehow gets lost in the pile of playing calling papers. Without effective blocking at the point of attack, OSU needs to find a group of running plays that gets the runner to at least the line of scrimmage unmolested, so that a player with the ability to do so (Childs/Carr/Taylor) can then make a play with their legs. I love Carson, but he is obviously hurt, and it's not like he's juking anyone when healthy. It's almost as if the offensive coaches are refusing to work with the talent they have in this particular moment.

MASON RUDOLPH IS THE TRUTH AND THE TRUTH SOMETIMES HURTS.

Remember your parents telling you this? Well OSU is living it. While he started his career with 3 very solid games on the road, his last two performances, while not complete disasters, were pretty close. If you look just at points produced, he's only +7 (3 touchdowns for, one pick-six and one fumble return touchdown against). He 's got TWICE as many turnovers as touchdowns (6-to-3). Yet OSU keeps winning. But at other moments, he's borderline brilliant, directing long drives and converting third and long like he's cutting cake with a brand new Ginsu. I'm a firm believer in the Reindeer, and the offense is much more open with him running the show, but it's hard to remember that he's just a sophomore trying to survive behind a sieve of an offensive line. I want the truth, and I can handle it. He's growing before our very eyes, and if he survives, we will get TWO more years of him. I'm all for that. What we don't realize, and what we don't want to think about, is how much we are going to miss J.W. Walsh and his ability to run with the football. Let's hope they figure out their goal line/short yardage schemes by the time he leaves.

UNTIL THE OFFENSIVE LINE IS OPENING HOLES, WE NEED ELUSIVENESS AT RB

As mentioned above, Carson is not healthy, and his injury is of the variety that slows him down. It was obvious against WVU, as he had several openings through which he lumbered so slowly that the opportunities vanished. Until he is 100 percent, and the offense has figured out how to block, Childs, Carr, or Taylor need to get the carries. Since starting conference play, the RB's don't have a run longer than 13 yards, and the two longest runs from scrimmage are owned by the General (16 Yards) and the Reindeer (the above mentioned 40 yards). Please figure out something different, people.

SPECIAL TEAMS IS, WELL, SPECIAL

It's the kind of special that stirs your emotions, or gives you ulcers, take your pick. Zach Sinor has been tremendous as a true freshman, and Grogan has hit three game winners in the last eight wins. PAT's, however, and punt returns, have become adventures we prefer not to watch. Whether it's a mishandled snap, or a bad snap, or the blockers doing belly flops, or Grogan topping it into the line, extra points are not so guaranteed anymore. I actually flinched watching the one after the overtime touchdown against WV. As for punt returns, I'm not so flinchy, but a LOT of the fan base is, as Jalen McClesky has muffed a number of catches. He has been solid for the most part, rarely getting any room to maneuver, and often catching in traffic. I'm ok with this, as he offers the ability to make a play, and as we've seen as recently as last season, the ability to make a play in the return game can CHANGE A SEASON.

IT IS OBVIOUS THAT MIKE YURCICH'S LEASH IS ABOUT 1/3 AS LONG AS HOLGORSEN'S OR MONKEN'S

Therefore, whatever you think about his play calling, give it a rest. This is Gundy's offense. He has guided the recruiting (Cowboy Backs and defense) and has stated quite clearly that he is the one opting for conservative decisions. Here's my issue with this...

Being conservative doesn't mean you can't be creative.

When the defense gave the offense a HUGE gift late in the game, I completely understand not wanting to take much of a chance, given how the night had gone so far. So, fine, don't throw the ball, but at least make an attempt to catch the defense over-pursuing, or get a playmaker in space. Gundy chose neither, then bizarrely puts Rudolph back in the game for a pass to the wide flat that, given the moment, was probably the riskiest play imaginable. A defender jumps the route, or Glidden puts it on the ground, and it's six the other way. If you're going to throw it in that moment, WHY NOT THROW A FADE TO ATEMAN? I don't know, I'm just spit-balling here....


Say what you want, OSU is 6-0 for just the sixth time in school history (and the fourth in the Gundy Era). I know we're not supposed to do this, but put the notch in the belt for Kansas.

Seriously.

That WILL be 7-0 for only the 4th time, and three under Gundy. The first time in the history of the program that the team has gone 10 consecutive seasons without a losing record in any one season. We need to understand that, despite the fair complaints we lodge, we are experiencing what feels like a once in a lifetime period of football success for the Cowboys.

Thank you Les Miles.
Thank you Mike Holder.
Thank you Boone Pickens.
And most of all, thank you Mike Gundy. I forgave you your three interceptions in 1988 Bedlam a long time ago.

Now please find a running game.

GO POKES!!!