This weeks’ first storyline my seem redundant at this point, so I’ll try not to beat a dead horse.
An Unfortunate Turn of Events
Oklahoma State lost a game it shouldn’t have. This isn’t the first time I’ve typed out that phrase but there has been no time it has been more literally true.
Blame the team. Blame the coaches. There’s plenty to go around. But the majority of the blame falls on the officials, both those from the MAC calling the game and those Big 12 review officials sleeping next to their unused “buzzer”.
Am I as upset about a hit to the Cowboys’ potential playoff hopes?
Not as much as if I had true confidence this team would be in the conversation anyway. Is it impossible? No. But watching what we saw on the field this past week gives me serious concerns moving forward, starting with Saturday’s game against Pitt.
When Mason Rudolph was asked about if he had missed some throws post game against Central Michigan, he gave a kind of funny answer.
Reporter: "Did you miss some throws you don't normally miss?"— Pistols Firing (@pistolsguy) September 11, 2016
Mason Rudolph: "No. There was a few mistakes in there like every other game."
Let’s look at the numbers. Rudolph went 27/43 (62.8%), which is just above his season completion rate from last season (62.3%). But from the eye test, I think most of us saw something different.
We saw overthrown pass after overthrown pass at what seemed like the most inopportune times.
Here’s Rudolph from this weeks’ press conference.
“I just want to continue to lead this offense. There was a few mistakes that you make, on my game personally. So I want to correct those and be more effective in the score zone, the red zone.”
Now while I have no doubts in Mason Rudolph’s ability to lead the offense, I think we may have underestimated the increased role with the departure of J.W. Walsh, especially in the red zone.
In an albeit small sample size through two games, Rudolph’s red zone numbers come out to 4/12 (a 33.3% completion rate), two touchdowns and one interception.
Rudolph, when asked about the red zone struggles.
“I think that’s kind of been one of my focuses in the off season is making sure that we’re taking care of the ball in the red zone. You know making good decisions. I think, you know, other than that interception, we’ve been taking care of it. We’ve been effective and I’ve been making good decisions.”
On that interception in the end zone.
“...it was just kind of a funky throw and funky release by James and its something that is easily correctable and kind of a routine play for us and something we’re extremely effective at, just kind of a weird deal.”
I think as the running game continues to improve, the pressure on Rudolph will decrease, especially in short-yardage situations.
What is the key for a win against Pittsburgh?
The number one concern for Oklahoma State’s defense is stopping Pitt’s run game.
Gundy again from his weekly press conference on the challenges heading into this weekend’s matchup with Pitt.
“It will be a real challenge for us in a lot of different areas. Obviously have to stop the run they’re going to want run the football. It’s their history and coach’s history in my opinion from an outsider looking in.”
Last season the Cowboys ranked 87th in rushing yards allowed per game (186.92) and 62nd in average yards per carry allowed (4.26).
There should be improvement in that department, however, with the return of injured defensive tackle Vili Leveni and the addition of Dequinton Osborne. You also have Vincent Taylor, Motekiai Maile, Darrion Daniels and others that make the defensive tackle group the deepest on of the Cowboys’ defense.
On offense, the main focus just needs to be cleaning up mistakes and the continued improvement in the running game. For as potent as an offense as this can be, it seems like they will need to continue to lean on the defense to keep them in games.
Hopefully, the offense will hit its stride before November this season and save those unwanted reps on defense.
One of Pittsburgh’s biggest storylines for the season is the story of running back James Conner. If you haven’t seen it yet, I recommend you check out this feature from ESPN College GameDay.