Every week this season, we’re going to take a look at the previous Saturday’s game and do our best to answer three questions about Oklahoma State football:
What did we already know about this team going into this game?
What did we learn about this team from this game?
What do we still not know after this game?
Well that was, uh, something. It’s never quite fun in Lawrence, is it? At least not inside Memorial Stadium. I am solidly of the “a 24-point road win in conference is perfectly fine, even against KU” persuasion, but sweating out a first half in which Kansas looked like the better team at times and watching Montell Cozart hang 250 on the secondary still qualifies as something short of entertaining.
Honestly, it was somewhat difficult to imagine Oklahoma State coming out of the gate strong on Saturday. It almost felt like a foregone conclusion that they would struggle early. But, in the end, the Cowboys took care of business and left Lawrence with a respectable margin of victory that TCU would take in a heartbeat. In doing so, they improved to 5-2 and now move into a critical stretch of the schedule. Let’s take a look at what we know about the Cowboys heading into the showdown with West Virginia.
What We Knew
This defense is almost entirely dependent on turnovers. This has been the case for awhile, but not since TCU last season has it been as evident as it was in Lawrence on Saturday. The Pokes gave up 454 total yards to a team averaging less than 350 yards per game coming in. They gave up 250 yards passing (to Montell Cozart!!!) and over 200 yards rushing. And they won by 24 points largely because they turned Kansas over three times. You can debate the sanity and the sustainability of the philosophy, but you really can’t debate that this is who this defense is. And this is who they’re going to be. The good news is that the Cowboys are quite good at forcing turnovers. In fact, they lead the Big 12 with 16 forced turnovers on the season and also lead the conference in turnover margin at +7. The other positive note is that there are some adjustments that can be made going forward, like coaching up Ramon Richards so he understands that the best chance of getting a turnover is to remain at least remotely close to the other team’s wide receivers.
What We Learned
Um, is there going to be a point at which we all sit down and reevaluate this whole “OSU’s defensive line is really good” thing? Is that point maybe giving up 204 yards rushing to a team that came in averaging 95? Kansas gained 6.2 yards per carry on Saturday. THAT SEEMS NOT GREAT. Look, I get that the defense was challenged with Montana Cozart slinging the ball all over the yard and all, but come on. Pitt is an excellent running team. Texas is an excellent running team. Giving up hundreds of yards to each of those teams is something you can live with. But Kansas? The Jayhawks ran for more yards against Oklahoma State than they gained on the ground against Rhode Island. Even Texas Tech bottled up the Kansas run game. This was, by far, the most disappointing aspect of the game. Inspired or not, the defensive front has to do better than that.
What We Still Don’t Know
What is the ceiling for this Oklahoma State team? I have a much better feel for their floor than for their ceiling. I know what this team looks like at its worst, but I’m really not sure I know what it looks like at its best yet. I don’t know if they’ll actually reach their ceiling, several teams never do. But I’d really like to see it. Or, at least get close enough to it to be able to visualize it. Even in their wins, the Cowboys have left us with the feeling that they can be better than that. It’s not at all abnormal to come away from a game against Kansas feeling like that wasn’t the best ball they’ve got in them, but even in the wins against Texas and Pitt, I came away feeling like there was a lot of room for growth. And, most of it is attainable growth. Not the type of room for growth we can all see in Texas Tech’s secondary, but growth that could actually happen. The Cowboys will need to climb closer to that ceiling as the degree of difficulty goes up and the margin for error goes down. I’m interested to see how much more this team has in them.