Once again Oklahoma State squeezed out a win. After three straight nail-biters against conference opponents, the Pokes are now 6-0 for the year. Before we get into the offensive line play, OSU fans should celebrate a tough win on the road that I personally didn't expect them to get.
That being said, what is going on with this offense? How may first down rushes are we going to see go for one yard or less? It's been a glaring weakness for Oklahoma State all season. The interior line is getting stood up and pushed back constantly and there are no running lanes to speak of.
The lack of an effective run game has put the offense in way too many third down and long situations. To their merit, Rudolph and his receivers have actually been pretty good at converting them so far. But when you run for no gain or lose yardage consistently on first down, you're putting the offense, as whole, in a hole. Defenses are also starting to pick up on this. They aren't selling out to stop the run like CMU or Central Arkansas. They're just stopping the run. Now they can play back their safeties which puts more pressure on the passing game and results in interceptions, as we saw on Saturday.
I had previously stated that the line was better at pass protection, but they haven't been great. Mason Rudolph had his worst game as a Cowboy in Morgantown. 20/40 for 218 yards, zero touchdowns and three interceptions. He was also sacked in the end zone for a safety. Some of that is on Rudolph, but he didn't have the protection he needed consistently. Incidentally, that sack happened because center Brad Lundblade got slung to the side by WVU tackle Kyle Rose. Rudolph didn't see him coming.
The offensive line has struggled for several reasons. A lot of it started a couple years ago. It's been well documented that Joe Wickline left the team in a bad spot personnel wise. They have not recruited well and it shows. There were some additions this season, namely former UAB starting LT Victor Salako. But it's the guards and center that continue to look outmatched.
Last year the line was depleted and young. The front allowed Daxx Garman to get sacked at an ungodly rate. Then Zach Crabtree came back from injury and they shuffled some guys around. Paul Lewis was moved from center to guard and Jesse Robinson was given a starting role. Freshman walk-on Brad Lundblade was inserted as the starting center. It seemed to work. They seemed to be an improved unit the last three games.
So you would think that, with some new faces, some experience and an offseason of work, the Cowboys' line would be at least moderately improved this season. Plus, you have new offensive line coach Greg Adkins bringing years of NFL and college experience. Problem solved, right? I guess not.
Now, I don't think any of us expected to see an o-line like the one Brandon Weeden played behind. When he had time to sip his tea and go "eenie meenie miney... Blackmon". That would not be realistic. But I didn't expect to still be having these issues half way through the season.
I hate to just sit hear and beat up on this group. Truth is, for the most part they are still young and inexperienced. Crabtree and Salako are solid on the edges and you hope that the guys inside improve, or that the coaches make changes if they are needed. (They do practice against the best front seven in the conference.)
It wasn't all bad on Saturday night. In overtime, the Cowboys were suddenly able to move down the field. Due to different block schemes, per Gundy, Rennie Childs was able to get a couple chunks of yardage to get OSU in scoring position. It was the best rushing possession of the game.
OSU is undefeated going into a bye week followed by a visit from the Lawrence JV team. That gives you essentially three weeks to tweek some things, make some progress. It's on the coaching staff to make what changes need to be made. Whether it's personnel shuffling or blocking schemes or play calling, or a combination of the three.
Oklahoma State has a good QB and a ton of good receivers. I believe Carson and Childs to be quality running backs and this defense might be the best Gundy's ever had. They have a schedule that brings OU, TCU and Baylor to Stillwater. The question is whether their offensive line can improve enough to let them reach their full potential. Time will tell and a bye week could not have come at a better time.