There were a lot of questions coming into week three for Oklahoma State, and the running back position was one of them. Between the first two games we saw some flashes from the ground game but the offensive line failed to open lanes and the tailbacks failed to make big plays consistently.
That changed Saturday against UTSA. After the Oklahoma State defense jumped on the Roadrunners early, the offense capitalized with two big runs from Chris Carson, including a 26-yard touchdown. The Cowboys were up 14-zip before throwing a single pass. That's what Mike Gundy had been looking for.
Gundy stated that he wants to see a more balanced offensive attack. They got a step closer Saturday with 217 rushing yards to 312 passing. The combined yardage for the first two games were 317 rushing yards to 680 passing. So what changed?
We heard all week from OSU's coaching staff how Central Michigan and Central Arkansas had sold out to stop the run. They had seven or eight in the box and played their safeties close to the line. That's not going to be the norm. UTSA respected the Cowboys' passing attack and Chris Carson made them pay early.
The offensive line played better as well. I'm not going to go too deep into blocking schemes and some of the changes that were made to simplify the o-line's duties. I praise the o-line on what you don't see them do. If you're not having to talk about them, that's probably a good thing. When the ball moves down the field, they're doing their job.
So let's actually talk about the running backs. Chris Carson looked pretty good, becoming the first Cowboy running back to reach 100-plus rushing in over a year. Yeah, think about that for a minute. 17 carries for 104 yards and 2 touchdowns (6.1 yards per carry). The bulk of his production came in just one half. He would have had a chance for a bigger day had it been a closer game.
He's a big athletic back who can make defenders miss and rarely loses yards. He's also patient. On more than one occasion, I saw him wait that half of a tick for the play to develop. That shows the type of instincts that separate just an athletic guy and some one who can make big plays. He seems to be getting into a rhythm, and not a game too soon.
Is he the next Barry Sanders? No. Adrian Peterson? Doubtful. Now that we're past that nonsense, I think he could be really good. And Oklahoma State needs him to be. Historically, the best OSU offenses have had that steady 1,000 yard rusher who you can hand the ball to for five or six yards when you need them. It's important to be able to control the game on the ground and it keeps the defense honest.
Behind Carson, Rennie Childs added eight carries for 49 yards and a touchdown. His stat line might have looked sexier, had the Pokes not been firmly in control at half time. I like Rennie. Oklahoma State is going to need him to be successful. He may not be the freak athlete that Carson is, but he is a dependable workhorse in the backfield. Together, they should pack a powerful one-two punch.
Jeff Carr has been intriguing so far. Saturday, he picked up eight yards on only three carries. You can tell Gundy really wants to get him out in space. It reminds me of early last season, when OSU was trying to find ways to get Tyreek Hill involved in the offense. I'm not saying he's the type of playmaker Hill was, but they've seen something in him that they think can help the team. It will be interesting to see going forward.
Probably my favorite play of the game (aside from the seven turnovers) was seeing Raymond Taylor run 58 yards for his first career touchdown. This is a guy who had been on the practice squad and has seen little playing time since walking on back in 2013. He had a pretty good line for the day as well. 3 carries for 76 yards (25.3 yards per carry) and that TD. There's a great article on Taylor in the Oklahoman here.
The running game got a much needed boost after two games where it just hadn't perform up to snuff. The tailbacks combined for 31 carries for 220 yards (7.1 yards per carry). The Cowboys are hoping to ride that momentum into Austin, as conference play starts Saturday.