Ask most Oklahoma State fans the difference between the 2015 10-win team and the (currently 2-2) 2016 team and many will say luck. Time after time, the Cowboys snatched victory from the jaws of defeat. How many of those games were decided by just one or two plays?
Forgive me for bursting your bubble, but it’s not simply a matter of luck.
This year’s team has shown two key deficiencies in these first four games that show a marked regression from last year: turning the ball over at an extremely high rate and sub par red zone efficiency.
I talked about the turnover issue in this week’s roundtable. The Pokes are on pace for 26 turnovers (assuming they play 13 games). Last year’s charmed Cowboys totaled 15 all season.
If you were able to hand-pick two turnovers that you could erase from history, the Cowboys could be 4-0, ranked in the top 15 and the clear favorite to win the league today.
The other difference between last year’s team and this year’s has a lot to do with a backup-quarterback-turned-graduate-assistant who is currently preparing for OU.
The Cowboys were fantastic in the red zone last year, largely due to J.W. Walsh’s efficiency as the goal-line and short-yardage general.
Here’s how the numbers look:
- Ranked 2nd in Big 12 in red zone efficiency
- 44/60 (91.67%)
- 66.67% of those drives resulted in touchdowns
- Currently ranked 8th in Big 12 in red zone efficiency
- 17/22 (77.27%)
- 59.09% of those drives resulted in touchdowns
So that’s a big difference.
In eight of those games in 2015, the Cowboys were perfect, scoring every time they reached the red zone. In three of those (Texas Tech, TCU, and Baylor) the Cowboys scored a touchdown every time they crossed their opponent’s 20-yard line.
That’s happened once this season when the Cowboys scored touchdowns on all three trips to Pitt’s red zone.
So how do they fix it? To Mike Gundy’s dismay, it does not appear the Cowboys have a J.W. Walsh-type option right now. The only immediate fix is Mason Rudolph’s continued improvement and more importantly the continued improvement of the running game.
Jalen McCleskey, Jeff Carr and others have been effective in reverses and sweeps so that is likely to continue in goal-line situations. Mason Rudolph is also a viable option to keep the ball. A point he made clear in last week’s play of the game.
If things get real gloomy, maybe Mike Gundy pulls a 2014 move and burns Keondre Wudtee’s red shirt and throws him into an “11-Wheeler” package. He’s number 11. Regardless, it’s an area in which Oklahoma State will need to improve.
If the 2016 Cowboys would like to compete for a Big 12 title, they will need to make their own luck.