The 2015 Oklahoma State football season was exciting to say the least. We saw comebacks, head scratching moments and nail biting finishes before the Cowboys seemingly ran out of gas down the stretch. Now the hopefully healthy and rested Pokes look forward to a Sugar Bowl matchup with Ole Miss.
I thought it would be fun and hopefully a little enlightening to do series comparing the 2015 team to the best of the last five teams that called Stillwater home. Since the start of the 2010 season, the Cowboys are 58-19. That season marked the sixth under head coach Mike Gundy and started the most successful stretch in program history. Today we'll look at the passing game and how it fairs against those previous five teams.
Offensively, Oklahoma State has the reputation of an up tempo spread team that puts up points in bunches. A big part of this reputation is due to the 2010 and 2011 seasons headlined by the likes of Brandon Weeden, Justin Blackmon and running backs Kendall Hunter and Joseph Randle. That 2011 team in particular was the pinnacle offensively, averaging 599.1 yard per game (third nationally), was second in scoring offense at 48.7 points per game and second in passing at 387.2 yards per game. Of course we all know what happened with that team. They went 12-1 including a Fiesta Bowl win.
So how does this year's team match up against some of those high powered units in the last five years? Well first off the 2015 Cowboys are ninth in the nation in scoring offense with 41.2 points per game. Obviously not quite up there with the 2011 team. In fact, that is third worst in this stretch, ahead of only the 2013 team at 39.1 points per game and the abysmal 2014 offense that averaged only 27.6 point per game.
We know the issues that hampered last year's team: poor offensive line play and "average" QB play, as Gundy would put it. The offensive line has improved. Albeit not to the standard we're used to seeing from the Pokes. You just have to hope it will continue its upward trend. Aside from the last two games, pass blocking was actually not bad thanks to the use of the "Cowboy Back" to help keep Rudolph clean. Then Blake Jarwin and Jeremy Seaton get injured and haven't played since the trip to Ames.
What happens the next game? Mason Rudolph gets destroyed by Baylor and the injury that he sustained kept him out of Bedlam. I know what you're going to say. Just don't.
A Tale of Two Quarterbacks
So how did the '15 passing attack fair in comparison? Well this year's team is ranked seventh nationally in passing offense at 357.3 yards per game and sixth in "long passing plays". This is a stat that ranks teams by the amount of 10+ yard passes and also keeps track of 20+, 30+ and 40+ etc yard passes. Interestingly, this team was first nationally in passing plays of 70 yards or more with five. We know Rudolph can sling it and he's got some speedy receivers.
As far as team pass rating the '15 Pokes were second in our list with a 159.88 team passer rating behind only the (you guessed it) 2011 team where Brandon Weeden had them at a 160.82 rating. Rudolph has thrown for 3,591 yards for 299.3 per game with 21 touchdowns and 9 interceptions with a passer rating of 152.41. J.W. Walsh has thrown for 663 yards and 13 touchdowns and one interception with a rating of 203.65.
In 2010 and 2011 Brandon Weeden still gets the edge. Once again in 2011 he had his career year with 4,727 yards 37 touchdowns and 13 interceptions with a rating of 159.78 and threw it over 43 times a game.
Since we are dealing with a two quarterback system, let's do a little fuzzy math here. If you combine Rudolph and Walsh's numbers you get 4,254 yards, 34 touchdowns and 10 interceptions. That's three less touchdowns and three less interceptions. It's actually just shy of Weeden's junior year in 2010 when he threw 4,277 yards, 34 touchdowns and 13 interceptions.
The 2015 team gave away the fewest fumbles (four) and threw the fewest interceptions (10) of any team in this stretch. Turnovers seemed to be a problem early in the season, culminating with Rudolph's three pick game in Morgantown. In the last six games, however, Mason threw 12 touchdowns to only two interceptions.
Someone's Got to Go Get It
The other side to this equation in the playmaking ability of elite receivers. Oklahoma State has had a few of them over the years. Obviously the star in this study is going to be the two time Biletnikoff award winner Justin Blackmon.
While it's obvious that there's no one on the roster with comparable numbers to Blackmon, James Washington and David Glidden formed a duo that was behind only Blackmon and Josh Cooper in production.
In 2010, Blackmon and Cooper combined for 2,518 yards and 25 touchdowns (1,782 yards and 20 touchdowns were Blackmon). In 2011 they combined for 2,237 yards and 21 touchdowns (again 1,522 and 18 touchdowns were you know who).
Washington is sitting at 1,077 yards and 10 touchdowns with an average of 20.71 yards per catch. Glidden has 807 yards and three touchdowns on 15.23 yards per catch. That's a combined 1,884 yards and 13 touchdowns through one less game.
Both still have an opportunity to add to their years as well. They will have to. If Oklahoma State wins the Sugar Bowl it will be because Mason Rudolph is back to his old self and the Cowboys are able to stretch the field for some big plays.
When you look at this team compared to the those from '10 and '11 the one glaring deficiency is going to be no surprise to anyone reading this. They have had no run game to compliment the passing game. They've made it pretty far without it with the use of reverses and sweeps, but you can only go so far without any push up front.
Both of those teams had a 1,000+ rusher and another back pitch in at least 400 yards. In 2011, Joseph Randle gained 1,216 yards and the second string back Jeremy Smith had 646 yards. Smith's numbers would be good for 142 more than 2015's rushing leader Chris Carson.
Again, these numbers are not complete. This team still has one more game to play. But it's unlikely they get the running game completely figured out with a couple extra weeks of practice. Going into next season, the Pokes will have to come up with a more effective way of running the ball. If they do, this offense could go back to looking nearly unstoppable.