Game week in Stillwater is finally upon us! We will look how each position group stacks up as OSU prepares for their matchup against Southeastern Louisiana. Let’s take a look at the offense first. I will look at each position as a whole and not just the starter.
Mason Rudolph will once again start this season as the starter for the Pokes. After sharing reps with J.W. Walsh last season, this year Mason has full reigns of the offense and it is his team to lead. This year, there is no looking over to the sidelines for #4 to take red zone reps or spark a stagnant offense, #2 will have to lead the offense regardless of situation. I believe Rudolph will make this minor transition seamlessly and will have an even better year than last year.
However, my reservations about the quarterback position do not lie with Rudolph, but with who is backing him up. According to the depth chart that came out on Wednesday, Taylor Cornelius is QB2. In the unfortunate instance that Mason gets hurt (knock on wood), there is not a quarterback with much game experience that will have to come in the game. In two games last season, Taylor went 2 of 5 for 8 yards passing in garbage time in the fourth quarter of games against UTSA and KU. Cornelius earned his spot to back up Rudolph, and I know Coach Gundy and Coach Yurcich will give him all the tools to succeed if he does come in the game.
Mason is an unquestioned leader of the team in this his second full year as the starter. Hopefully Mason can be a mentor to Taylor and help the inexperienced quarterback as much as possible. The quarterback position is a strength for the Cowboys this season.
Overall Grade: B+
Last season was the second season in a row of an inept run game for the Cowboys. Chris Carson was the team’s rusher with 517 yards. The Cowboys tried using Carson, Rennie Childs, and Raymond Taylor in different combinations in the backfield all season and was unsuccessful in finding the right combination for a solid rushing attack to compliment the excellent passing game. The majority of the successful run game came from the read option game of the Walsh Package.
It is a crowded backfield again this year, once again featuring Chris Carson and Rennie Childs. Along with them, if you follow OSU football in any capacity, you know Barry J. Sanders has been added into the mix as well. He will play his final season of eligibility as a graduate transfer. Also coming into the program this year is freshman Justice Hill. He has impressed coaches since he showed up on campus this summer and will earn playing time as a true freshman. Among these four players, the starter has not been named. According to the depth chart put out earlier last week, the starter could be Carson, Childs, or Sanders, but no definitive answer has been given. My guess is the pecking order will go Carson, Sanders, Childs, then Hill. The depth chart shows Sanders and Hill will make most of their impact in the return game on kickoff. The wild card that was not mentioned with the running backs is Jeff Carr. I imagine he will get his playing time running jet sweeps and option plays, as well as getting the occasional kickoff return.
Although there is plenty of talent in the Cowboy backfield, there is still a giant question mark on how good the ground game will be this year. It hinges on whether the offensive line has improved or not. If it has, it means a more balanced offense and trouble for opponents, and the possibility of a three-headed monster in the backfield could emerge. If not, it means another year of no ground game. I am giving a below average grade here purely from the standpoint of the unknown. I hope to be proven wrong.
Overall Grade: C+
This is by far the biggest strength for the Cowboys this season. It was the strength for the Cowboys last season as well. Returning most of the receiving corps from a year ago, Rudolph should be in sync with them all and will be a smooth start to the season.
Having the Big 12’s only returning 1000 yard receiver in James Washington returning will anchor a deep receiving corps. Even without Marcell Ateman until October, the Cowboys are still well set. Until he comes back, Chris Lacy, Austin Hays and Jhajuan Seales will take reps on the outside along with Washington. On the inside, Jalen McCleskey looks to build on his freshman year in more of an expanded role. The other slot receiver that will get a lot of reps is Dillon Stoner. The true freshman from Jenks has impressed since came in the summer, and has been raved about by his teammates and coaches. Expect to see him play the role that David Glidden played for the Cowboys the last few years. Other freshmen that will get playing time are Tyrell Alexander and walk-on Obi Obialo.
A mix of experience and youth that can make an impact right away will make for a good receiving corps. Whenever Ateman comes back healthy, he will make an immediate impact and add another dimension to the offense that already will be good. Rudolph has a good target to throw to in any down and any situation, and that has to be comforting for a QB.
Overall Grade: A
The hybrid tight end/fullback position for the Cowboys has experience once again that will help Rudolph in the passing game and help the running backs with key blocks. Seniors Blake Jarwin and Zac Veatch lead the group and have plenty of game experience. There is also depth at the position that will add to an already stacked position. Redshirt-Sophomore Keenan Brown, who was originally part of the receivers, has transitioned to the Cowboy Back position. At 6 foot 3 and 242 pounds, look for him to have an impact this season.
This is a strength for the Cowboys this season, experience is always a positive. Jarwin, Veatch, and others will provide as outlets for Rudolph in the passing game. So much focus will be put on the receivers that the Cowboy Backs will get sneaky receiving yards on key downs. This will be a good year for anyone on the receiving end of a pass from Mason Rudolph.
Overall Grade: B
Last year, the offensive line was the Achilles’ heel for the Cowboys offense. It was a very young and inexperienced line that got ripped apart at times by opposing defenses. But, the entire offensive line returns with a year of experience under their depth, and this year look to be better. Along with that, there are backups with game experience as well so there is no drop off there.
The starters from left to right go Victor Salako (Redshirt Sr), Marcus Keyes (Redshirt Fr), Brad Lundblade (Redshirt Jr), Jesse Robinson (Redshirt Jr), Zach Crabtree (Redshirt Jr). JUCO Transfer Larry Williams looks to be the backup at Left Guard and will get significant playing time there behind Keyes. OSU fans can hope that depth and experience at these positions will help the line have a better year than last year.
The success of the whole offense hinges on the offensive line having a good year. The O-Line has to make holes for the backs AND help protect Rudolph in the pocket. In order for OSU to have an even better year than last year, the offense has to be balanced and not lean so heavily on the passing game. Even with another year of experience, I still have a low grade here because of the unknown whether there will be improvement or not. Like with the running backs, I hope to be proven wrong.
Overall Grade: C
The offense is going to be a source of strength for the Cowboys this season. It will be fun to watch. If everyone can click on all cylinders, it could be one of the most high powered offenses in the country. I believe this could be one of the best offenses that OSU has had, at least since 2011. The only downfall could be if the offensive line does not perform better than last year. If that happens, then the run game will falter and the whole offense will hinge on Rudolph’s right arm, like last year. We will all see on Saturday which offense it will be.
Overall Grade: B