After the first six games of 2017, Oklahoma State is 5-1, ranked 10th in the country and is right in the thick of playoff and Big 12 title contention. Four of their six games have been over by halftime and the other two have come right down to the wire in the fourth quarter. In some ways, the Cowboys are who we thought they were: absolutely dynamic on offense and “bend but don’t break” on defense...
Upon closer examination, this team is dynamite in some areas and severely lacking in others. Let’s breakdown what the cowboys are doing well and where they can improve over the final six games.
Where they have shined:
Oh man, where to start? This offense is breathtakingly good, and maybe even the best in Mike Gundy’s tenure as head coach. Mason Rudolph leads the nation in passing and is on pace for 50 total TDs this season, James Washington and Marcell Ateman each have at least 100 receiving yards in the last four games, and Justice Hill is the Big 12’s leading rusher. There are so many ways to spin OSU’s success on this side of the ball and equally as many metrics to back it up.
Yards Per Game: 611 - First in the country
Points Per Game: 48.8 - Second in the country
Total Offensive Efficiency: 95.4 - Second in the country
This isn’t a dink and dunk type of offense either, chewing up clock and taking 15 plays to get down the field. This is the most explosive offense in the country, reeling off big play after big play. They’ve become must-watch TV.
Plays over 20+ yards: 51 - First in the country
Plays over 30+ yards: 31 - First in the country
Plays over 40+ yards: 19 - First in the country
Plays over 50+ yards: 10 - Third in the country
Plays over 60+ yards: 8 - First in the country
Not convinced by the stats? Watch for yourself
So yeah...not much to complain about here.
Where they can improve
It’s hard to critique an offense that is second in points and leads the nation in total yards per game, but if there is one area in need of improvement, it’s redzone efficiency.
This was most evident in a 41-34 victory at Texas Tech where OSU drove the ball a whopping 10 times into the Texas Tech redzone but only converted five for touchdowns. To make matters worse they missed two chip shot fields goals and threw a 95 yard pick six. A seven point victory could have easily been a three touchdown stroll if the Cowboys had just been AVERAGE in the redzone.
On the season, the Pokes come away with points just 84% of the time after they get past an opponents 20 yard line. Think that doesn’t sound too bad? Well it’s good for 60th in the country, just behind Appalachian State and just ahead of Fresno State...
Looking even closer, OSU converts only 63% of redzone drives for touchdowns. For such an explosive and dynamic offense, this number has to improve if OSU has its sights on on a Big 12 championship and birth in the playoff.
Where they have been solid:
Limiting the big play.
Let me start off by saying this. Oklahoma States’s defense does not need to be great. With the offensive firepower and efficiency on that side of the ball, OSU can be very successful this season with just a middle of the road defense.
So far, OSU’s defense is holding opponents to just 4.8 yards per play, good for 24th in the country and well below last season’s average of 5.9 ypp. They also rank 32nd in redzone touchdown defense, allowing a touchdown just 47.83 percent of the time when opponents get past the 20 yard line. ESPN ranks OSU as having the 34th most efficient defense in the country, ranking third in the Big 12.
Overall, this defense is predicated on limiting the big play, and it’s actually doing that at a very high level. OSU has only given up SIX plays that have gone for 30+ yards - good for FOURTH in the country.
This is “bend but don’t break” at its finest, and is probably the main statistic that keeps Glenn Spencer sleeping easy at night.
Where they can improve
Look, I understand why the defensive scheme is focused the way it is. It’s designed to not give up big plays and given the talent available, we do it quite well. While this team succeeds in not giving up the home run, too often they allow opposing teams to keep drives alive and chew up clock, keeping #2, #28, and #5 watching helplessly from sideline.
To be blunt, OSU flat out STINKS on third down. The more I dove into the stats, the worse it got. Here are some examples:
113th in third down defense, allowing teams to convert 45 percent of the time
109th in rushing defense, when opponents face 3rd, 1-3 to go. Opponents have converted 15/16 attempts for first downs.
121st in rushing defense, when opponents face 3rd, 10+ to go.
129th in passing defense, when opponents face 3rd, 10+ to go. Teams have converted 50 percent (!) of the time when passing with more than ten yards to go!
Need I say more? These numbers have to improve the rest of this season and especially over this next three-game stretch.
Another area for improvement? Turnovers.
Over the past six seasons, OSU has finished top ten in turnover margin four times and three times in the top five. So far in 2017, the cowboys are 59th in the country with 11 takeaways and have given the ball back 11 times as well.
Under Glenn Spencer, OSU’s defenses have taken pride in being opportunistic, they need to get back to this identity.
Where they have been good
This will be quick..
- Punt Coverage - OSU is First in the nation in punt return yards allowed. Just ONE return for -3 yards all season long. That is fantastic and almost not believable.
- Kickoff Coverage - The Cowboys are 11th in the country in kickoff return yards allowed. Opponents average a return of just under 17 yards.
Aaaand thats about all we have going for us.
Where They can improve
- Kicking - Matt Amendola is currently nine for thirteen on the season at make rate of about 69 percent (nice). This is 75th in the country well below where OSU’s kicking has been in the past. Even worse? It’s the type of kicks we’re missing. None more crucial than the 19 and 22 yard misses against Texas Tech.
I don’t know the solution to the kicking game going forward, but I think we can expect Mike Gundy to take his chances on more fourth and shorts from here on out.
- Punt Returns - OSU is 119th in the country in opponent punting average per game and averages only 3.5 yards a return on eight punts (108th).
Our return game has turned into a nightmare seemingly in one season. We have only caught eight punts this year (!)...which means the majority of the time the return man, Jalen McCleskey, just avoids the catch all together.
Not to pile on, but McCleskey has now muffed twice on punt returns this season and was pulled off the unit after his most recent fumble against Baylor. Jalen is a great talent for us at WR but his decision making in the return game has been extremely poor. I will be surprised if he fields another punt for the rest of the season.
Overall, the bad drastically out weighs the good in special teams production. It’s very uncharacteristic for a Mike Gundy team to be so outclassed on special teams like this and it’s holding this team back from reaching it’s full potential.
Per ESPN’s efficiency ratings, Oklahoma State has the LEAST efficient Special Teams unit in the country. 130 out of 130. Dead last.
In all, there is a lot to like about this team and there’s reason be confident in their chances going forward. With Mason Rudolph behind center, this offense gives them a chance to compete no matter who they play, but it’s the improvement in the redzone, third-down defense, and kicking game that will prove to be the difference going forward.
Oklahoma State has proved they can hang with any team in the country on any given day. But can they stay out of their own way? That remains to be seen.