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Chalk Talk: Too Little Too Late

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Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

The Oklahoma State Cowboys had a handful of bright spots in their 48-20 loss to Ole Miss last week, but all of the bright spots on offense came late in the game. One is left to wonder if that was a mere coincidence, or if there was an actual reason to the Cowboys' offensive burst once the game was comfortably put away by the Rebels. After further observation, one could notice that the Cowboys did use some very diverse plays and gadgets, yet they were all called starting late in the third quarter. Today, we will look at many of those plays and discuss why the effort was a little too late in the Cowboys' eventual defeat.

Passing Game

Late in the third quarter, the Cowboys ran a nifty play action pass with Walsh in at quarterback. Walsh faked a toss to a motioning Jalen McClesky and threw to a wheeling Chris Carson. The toss action froze the defense just long enough that, even though they weren't even worried about stopping the run, they found themselves out of position to cover Carson on the sideline. While OSU has never shown an actual toss from this, making this play action awkwardly exist by itself, it showed that the coaches had good creativity.

PA Toss

Here's what the play actually looked like:

PA Toss

This was an exceptionally well-designed play that the Cowboys used; it's one that they have tried maybe once or twice this season, but that would be it. No one is arguing that it isn't a good play, but everyone is left wondering why they called it when the game didn't matter anymore. Why would someone call a bunch of trick plays when their team is down by 35? Additionally (and more frustratingly), where were these plays three quarters ago?

If fans can remember all the way back to last year's Texas game, the Cowboys did the exact same thing when the game was already out of hand.

From Nov 17, 2014

"These were the two most successful new plays that OSU used, and they have never used these concepts in this formation before. My question is, why did it take you three and-a-half quarters and half an empty stadium to make you realize that you should maybe be using it? Why didn't you pull this out earlier, as opposed to waiting until it was almost garbage time to pull it out? Don't get me wrong, I'm grateful that they used it for a touchdown, as a shutout would have ruined me, but goodness people, get some sense of timing."

And it's not that anyone is calling for a completely revamped playbook. There are plenty of plays that the Cowboys will use occasionally that have a high percentage of success. Take the flea flicker, for example:

flea flicker

The flea flicker used to be a staple of the Cowboy offense in the Holgorsen era; it wouldn't be unusual to see them pull this play out one or two times a game. Since then, the play is occasionally used here and there, but not nearly as frequently as it once was. OSU used it once in the Sugar Bowl on the same drive of the play shown above. When the Cowboys ran it late in the third quarter, it worked, and the play got 33 yards on a completion from Walsh to Shepard.

flea flicker

One could understand the concern of running this play, as it forces the lineman to block for an extended amount of time. But they could have rolled the dice a little earlier than when they did, right?

Screen Game

The Cowboys had plays that didn't take as long to develop, as to not risk a quarterback sack. In fact, they had a good handful of plays that were meant to counter a talented pass rush. They showed another brand new play, a middle screen to cowboy back Jeremy Seaton, on the same drive of the two plays above.

Y Tunnel

The play was excellently designed; the vertical routes draw the linebackers back, allowing the tight end to slip in between them and the defensive lineman for a middle screen.

Y tunnel

The offense executed the play to perfection; Walsh dumped the ball to Seaton for 18 yards and a first down. The play set up for the Cowboys' first touchdown of the game a couple of plays later.

They also had this throwback screen that they used on the end of a drive in the fourth quarter. It had Walsh roll out with a spot route combo to the trips side and a throwback screen on the opposite side.

throwback

First of all, I would have loved to see them have a sprint out passing game without the throwback. I've been calling for it for long enough, haven't I? Alas, the only time they actually do is when they have no intent to throw to the sprint out concept.

throwback

The play didn't exactly go as well as when Ole Miss ran it in the second quarter. Boy, that was a beauty. But that was a superior play call form a superior game plan, and should be a topic for another day. This play's success (or lack thereof) digresses from the point. The play's failure isn't too frustrating -- what's frustrating is that they held onto this play until there were eight minutes left in the fourth quarter when the game was quite out of hand.

Run Game

This mentality didn't just happen in the passing game. They had some run plays that, if given the chance earlier, could have sparked something big. Plays like this triple option:

triple iz

Or this jet sweep with a motion beforehand:

shift jet

Again, it doesn't matter if the plays did or didn't work; what matters here is when they were called. Just because a play doesn't work once doesn't mean it's not a good play, and vice versa.

All of these plays are what made me feel completely perplexed as I sat in the Mercedes Benz Superdome listening to "Hotty Toddy" for the fiftieth time. By the third quarter, I had become numb to the actual score, yet this constant counterintuitive strategy kept two questions ripe in my brain. The first one was, why wait? Why would anyone wait and keep from running these plays until a possible victory became unattainable? The second question was, what if? What if they actually sprinkled these plays into their game plan throughout the first, second and early third quarters? Would it have made a difference? Would have it been all in vain? The answer to that question is something that none of us will ever know for sure -- and that's the most frustrating part.