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?
The Cowboys put together their best game of the season and the result was a beautiful thing - a homecoming win over a top ten team. As I mentioned last week, this marked the beginning of a crucial portion of the season (#breaking, late October and November games are important), and it’s really difficult to imagine Oklahoma State starting the stretch any better than it did on Saturday. This was a contender/pretender game for the Cowboys, and they made a strong statement to the rest of the Big 12 Conference about their place in the pecking order.
I’m not sure where this team was during the first half against Iowa State or most of the game against Kansas, but it could not have shown up at a better time. West Virginia was rolling, coming into Stillwater undefeated and looking like a team peaking after dismantling Texas Tech and TCU in consecutive weeks. The Cowboys came in having looked less than stellar over the course of the easiest three weeks of the schedule, but hit a different gear on Saturday against the Mountaineers. Let’s take a look at what we know about this team after the most impressive win of the season so far.
What We Knew
The offensive line is starting to improve, but the depth is still a huge issue. The line hasn’t looked the same since the injury to guard Larry Williams prior to the Iowa State game. In the three games since Williams went down, the Cowboys have averaged 3.3, 5.0, and 2.7 yards per carry. And that stretch of games included two of the three worst rushing defenses in the league. Justice Hill and Chris Carson both ran the ball well on Saturday and were able to get the yards the Cowboys needed the most, but the line needs to play better if the offense wants to maintain any semblance of the balance it was beginning to form. The troubling news for the Pokes is Williams was replaced by a redshirt senior in Michael Wilson and the depth beyond Wilson gets substantially shakier. It is vital that the offensive line remain healthy the rest of the way, and it will provide a nice boost if Williams is able to return to action at some point.
What We Learned
Mike Yurcich can make adjustments! Stop rolling your eyes. Look, we’ve seen the defensive game plan against this Cowboy offense - limit James Washington and make someone else produce. Against Kansas, Washington was held to one catch. One. Fortunately for the Pokes, other guys produced and it was more than enough to beat the Jayhawks. West Virginia came in with a similar plan, but a MUCH better defense with which to execute that plan. The Mountaineers rolled their coverage to Washington’s side and did everything they could to take away the deep ball, which they actually succeeding in doing. So the fact that Washington ended the game with six catches for 117 yards is absolutely a credit to Yurcich. He was more creative in getting Washington the ball and showed defensive coordinators that they’ll have to do a lot more than just avoid the types of bombs we saw against Pitt and Texas if they want to stop Washington going forward.
What We Still Don’t Know
Can the Cowboys take this show on the road? Oklahoma State looks as if its rounding into form as we head into November, but the Pokes have played six of their first eight games in the friendly confines of Boone Pickens Stadium. Their lone road game against a quality team was a solid effort but it was riddled with mistakes. As the Cowboys turn their attention to the home stretch of the season, there are three road games awaiting them. Can Gundy & Co. package the momentum this team has gained and the execution we saw on Saturday and take it with them to Manhattan, Fort Worth, and then to Norman? Can Mason Rudolph go on the road and put together numbers like he has at home throughout his career? Can the Cowboys avoid costly mistakes like those that cost them a win in Waco earlier this season? Maybe most importantly, can a defense that has produced three interceptions and two fumble recoveries over the first two road games continue to force turnovers on the road? With four games remaining, and just a single home date against Texas Tech among them, the answer may well define the 2016 season.