While you can’t learn a ton from the shellacking OSU put on FCS-opponent Southeastern Louisiana, you can learn something.
The competition definitely looks to increase with the Chippewas of Central Michigan this Saturday. The same team that gave a rusty Cowboy team a little trouble in the first half of last year’s season opener.
Each week of the football season I’ll try to highlight three storylines of interest heading into the next game. Since this is the first one, we’ll go ahead and combine Weeks 1 and 2.
So let’s take a look.
Running Back Rotation
The biggest question for the Cowboys’ 2016 season is undoubtedly: will the running game improve and how much? The Cowboys will have to better on the ground if they want to build on their success from last year and live up to their full potential as an offense.
Five different running backs saw action in the season opener. While none really got the chance to put up big numbers, all had at least one nice play.
Chris Carson had a ten-yard touchdown on a nice spin move and had another nice-looking draw play. He also caught a pass for eight yards. Rennie Childs had a good-looking run up the sideline, going three carries for 21 yards. Carr led the team with 42 yards and added his own touchdown.
Of course, the biggest story was a running back who recorded only four carries for one total yard and a touchdown. Barry J. Sanders finally donned the orange with his Hall-of-Fame dad in attendance. Before you ask why Barry J. is such a storyline, let’s look at this:
Sanders brings something that the Cowboys ground attack has been missing as of late: the ability to make defenders miss.
Sanders also added an 18-yard reception that again showed his elusiveness and ability to break tackles.
Another note on Sanders, he set a solid block that allowed for Mason Rudolph’s first scramble-and-score pass to Jhajuan Seales. Pass protection is an underrated need at the tailback position.
Of course, newcomer Justice Hill has to be mentioned. He had six carries for 33 yards and a six-yard catch. He appears to have the every-down back potential that kept Mike Gundy from redshirting the true freshman. Plenty for Cowboy fans to be excited about moving forward.
Justin Phillips laid some heavy hits on the unfortunate Lions that crossed his path. He led the team with six tackles (four solo), a tackle for loss and a sack. The sophomore linebacker was everywhere.
Phillips and the coaching staff chose to make 2015 his redshirt year. He played several games as a true freshman the year before, including having a big part in the 2014 Bedlam win (10 tackles) that sent Oklahoma State bowling. But the foreseen depth at his position and the benefit of another year in the weight room seemed to make sense. Now expect Phillips get plenty of snaps.
Another linebacker that turned some heads Saturday was true freshman Calvin Bundage. He laid several huge hits on suspecting Lions.
Bundage, who was a big get for the Cowboys from Edmond-Santa Fe, appeared to be a good candidate for a redshirt year, but appears to have played his way on to the field.
He even got a personal lesson in the alma mater from his head coach.
Between Phillips and Bundage, the Cowboys have two big hitters who should help solidify linebacker depth for the Cowboys moving forward.
Last season Oklahoma State ranked 96th in opponent kickoff return yardage allowed with a 23.01 yard average. They also ranked No. 90 in kickoff yardage, averaging 61.02 and had only 22 touchbacks (23.40%).
Although he saved the Cowboys’ hide a couple of times with clutch field goals, Ben Grogan struggled to consistently get the ball to the back of the end zone on kickoffs.
So it was no surprise that Mike Gundy wanted to free up his senior kicker to concentrate on his place-kicking duties. He went so far as to hold open tryouts for a kickoff specialist.
The answer seemed to be on campus already. Redshirt freshman Matt Ammendola or “Philly” as his head coach calls him, looked good in the spring, handling most of the first-team reps while Ben Grogan was injured, gaining a reputation for his leg strength.
Unfortunately, Ammendola struggled in his first game as a Cowboy. Here’s Mike Gundy from his weekly press conference on Monday.
“Philly had a tough day on kickoffs. He thought we had a dome on the field that was 20 foot high and so he was trying to not hit the top of the stadium. So he had a tough day so Max came in behind him and did a nice job kicking.”
Ammendola kicked off seven times averaging 61.43 yards, but only produced two touchbacks (28.57%). He also attempted and missed one extra point.
Not exactly the debut Ammendola probably have hoped for. Hopefully the inconsistency was simply due to first-game jitters.
Freshman Max Allan kicked off three times with an average of 62.67 yards with no touchbacks and sophomore Matt Hockett kicked off once for 65 yards.