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PICKS FROM JOE’S Opponent Series Review: Bye week presents interesting challenge for Oklahoma State

HCMG’s decision making ability will be on full display.

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NCAA Football: Oklahoma State at Kansas State Scott Sewell-USA TODAY Sports


The “Bye” week.

Purists will argue that a “bye” only applies in playoff-type competitions and that football seasons qualify for an “open” or “off” week.

Screw purists (unless they support something I support, then purists rock).

While all fans will note that no team has EVER lost to the “bye” week, I would argue that we should look at this with a slightly different lens, and Oklahoma State is perfectly positioned for this introspective examination.

Bye weeks, above all else, are momentum busters.

Rolling through your schedule? Not necessarily great. Stumbling through your schedule? It can’t get here soon enough. Injuries? Time to heal up.

Too early, too late, just right.

At the end of the day there are many more reasons to have the bye week than not, and the biggest revolves around the health of the team. With no breaks from the beginning of August through the end of September, a bye week in October provides precious additional days to rest and recover.

That being said, many teams get the opportunity during the bye week to reevaluate, regroup, reassess, when things might not be headed the right direction. It is often a great time to make significant changes if needed (see OU’s recent firing of Mike Stoops before the bye week even warmed up). That’s the sign of a team saying “We still have a good chance to uphold the program’s standards this season, but we need to get moving.”

This is squarely where OSU has found itself, entering a bye week after losing three of their first four conference games (to Tx Tech, Iowa State, and KState) and staring at a homecoming date with Big 12 leader Texas. In a season where streaks are being broken left and right, here are current streaks/marks standing precariously on the ledge at the mid-season break:

· 12 consecutive winning seasons

· 12 consecutive bowl games

· 12 consecutive regular seasons without a losing record

· 12 consecutive seasons with 4+ wins in conference play

It would be an understatement to say things are amiss in Stillwater.

We could wax poetic about the issues at hand. An unimaginative playbook, coupled with mistakes and uninspiring QB play have mired the once mighty Cowboy offense in mediocrity. Forty minutes of scoreless ball against Texas Tech. Ten out of 16 drives against Iowa State went for zero total yards and averaged less than four plays per drive.

Twelve points against Kansas State.

If that wasn’t enough, the defense took a nose dive in productivity following a dominating and inspiring performance against Boise State (turns out they weren’t all that). Couldn’t get off the field against Tech. Had their top repeatedly taken off by Iowa State.

Almost 300 yards rushing allowed against one dimensional Kansas State.

If ever a bye week was needed in order to reassess, to make adjustments, it is this bye week.

As we have known from prior to the season, the 2nd half of the schedule is backloaded. The remaining gauntlet looks like this:

· Texas (Homecoming)

· @ Baylor

· @ Bedlam

· West Virginia

· @ TCU

Good lord. Some services tag this as the #2 toughest remaining schedule in college football.

Every year the sustained success Gundy has brought to OSU football is highlighted. Consecutive winning seasons, bowl games, a conference title and several opportunities at others, not to mention coming within a whisker of playing for a national championship. OU continues to be a thorn in his side. The 2014 season hangs like an albatross around his neck, and the repeated dalliances with coaching vacancies resulting in a five million dollar contract haven’t sat well with many fans. All of the above has helped develop a decent portion of the fan base that loves hokey Gundy when it’s rolling but has little patience for prickly Gundy telling them we’re not going to lose our composure and we’ll keep doing the same things we’ve been doing for 14 years when the team is quite clearly not functioning well.

I’m not going to dwell on this (and yes, I’m going to dwell on this), but I would like to point out two things:

· The greatest season in Cowboy history would not have happened without a walk-on QB Gundy had nothing to do with bringing in and tried to run off;

· If not for an injury, a stupid coaching decision, and the fastest player to ever put on an OSU uni, the streak of success would have ended in 2014;

Don’t jump the shark here. I’m not saying Gundy hasn’t achieved things Oklahoma State football had never previously accomplished and I’m NOT advocating for his departure. What I AM saying is that 2010-11 would have been NOTHING like they were without the accident that was Brandon Weeden (I mean, who was going to be QB after Zac…check the rosters). As for 2014, if Daxx Garman doesn’t get pummeled against Texas there is no way you convince me Gundy burns Rudolph’s redshirt, and OSU is NOT winning Bedlam with Daxx at the helm. Also, if Bob doesn’t punt twice, chances are REALLY high that the Cowboys are NOT going 85 yards with no time outs to tie the game in the remaining 1:01 with a Freshman QB making his second start. Additionally, if ANY other player NOT as fast as Tyreek Hill catches that punt they are not likely to take that to the house.

Point being, the Gundy MO, without Lady Luck, is 9-10 win seasons when you catch a good/great college QB and a few really good skill position players, then probably a losing season as you regroup between QBs and Biletnikoff wide receivers. He’s HEAVILY biased towards system knowledge and experience over talent, ESPECIALLY when it comes to quarterbacks. He proclaimed a battered and physically limited Zac Robinson gave OSU the best chance to win Bedlam 2009 despite what we saw Weeden do the week before. He kept saying Rudolph wasn’t ready, yet when forced to play him the offense was completely transformed from the previous 5 weeks of futility. All we get now is that neither Brown nor Sanders are “ready.” Bill Haisten of the Tulsa World nailed it in this article.

I will mention something I’ve spoken of a LOT in the past.

Gundy’s roots are directly connected to his experience as a college QB at OSU. He’s spoken about how, when he got the start as a freshman because incredibly poor play by senior Ronnie Williams forced HC Pat Jones hand, he told Gundy “Your job is to get the ball to our playmakers, PERIOD.”

In 1987, there is no question in my mind that Barry Sanders, as a sophomore should have started ahead of senior Thurman Thomas. Tough call, right? But, despite how good Thomas was, Sanders was still CLEARLY the more talented player. If you are going to play to win, you play the most talented players. Even Barry Switzer, in a famous quote regarding prep for Bedlam, acknowledged that Sanders was on another level, and that was during his FRESHMAN season.

Fast forward to 2018.

Justice Hill is a really good college RB, one of the best ever at Oklahoma State. If Barry was a freshman behind Hill what chance do you think he would have of seeing the field? I say very limited. You might see him on special teams. Extend that to QB play. Mason Rudolph was CLEARLY more talented than Daxx Garman, or even Walsh, but yet he didn’t play because Gundy pronounced he wasn’t ready. He often talked about “staying in his box” or “staying in his lane” when discussing Mason Rudolph’s exploits.

Here’s the problem with that….

System knowledge is good and experience can’t be replaced, but relatively speaking if you continually coach talent to “stay in its lane,” then you eventually override talent’s ability to make good things happen when the “lane” is not open for business. Think McDonald’s drive thru. If the line is too long, “talent” will park and go inside. If “talent” can’t get out of the car, it will find someone to handle it for them. “Talent” finds a way when the usual path is blocked. Gundy would have us come back to the drive thru with greater effort or execution, or try to find a different drive thru with a shorter line even if that meant driving around for another hour.

Most successful college football programs revolve around a QB that has talents that fit the system, as well as the talent necessary to make plays when the system breaks down.

Where does that leave us? The past 2014 season and the current 2018 season, where “talent” isn’t ready yet.

In the meantime we’ve watched two other programs at or below OSU’s recruiting level roll out freshman QBs with success when things went sideways, and in both cases breathing new life into the season. You gotta have guys in the pipeline every year AND be ready to play them, even if you don’t think they are 100% “ready”, or you run the risk of being exactly where OSU is right now, with Gundy hanging on to redshirts because he’s trying to build system knowledge and go into 2019 with two viable QBs. If Dru Brown burns his eligibility, Gundy has zilch behind Spencer Sanders, as well as the possibility of coaching turnover.

Where does this leave me as we work through the bye week and prep for Texas?

Prepare yourselves, because I’m confident NOTHING looks drastically different when Homecoming hits town. It actually doesn’t have to. Maybe we get some formation/play design changes, but no new QB.

I think the real “point of no return” is Baylor the following week. The game in Waco and the final game at TCU are the two games OSU has a fighting chance to win. Bedlam and West Virginia are more like a puncher’s chance right now. Remember, a player can participate in up to four games and retain the redshirt. Baylor means four games remaining, not counting a bowl game. As far as I’m concerned, you only have four guaranteed games left, so you need to coach for that.

If you don’t think the Texas defense will destroy our offensive front then you haven’t been watching. Why roll out the new guys only to get them demolished before they get their feet wet? Take your lumps, maybe you get lucky because Texas isn’t all that dynamic offensively (neither was Kansas State). After that I would think Gundy would WANT to see how the other two respond to game situations. He spoke a gazillion times about not knowing how Corn Dog would react when the lights came on for real. It would give everyone a REALLY clear picture of where the team is headed going into spring. I can hear Gundy worrying about one or both being injured, but this is football. Players get hurt. The experience would be too valuable, much like Rudolph in 2014, and Gundy can both keep the year of eligibility and get the playing time that is so important if he holds out just one more game.

The counter argument for this was stated brilliantly on the Tape Don’t Lie podcast hosted by Adam Lunt and Michael Gift. Skip to about the one hour mark where they both basically call me idiot (indirectly of course) for having this opinion on the redshirt situation. While I agree with their initial point that you play to win now because you still have potentially 6 games remaining, my departure is this...the ONLY thing you are playing for this season is a bowl game (and that is a huge “if”) and hopefully momentum going into 2019. Big 12 title possibilities went bye bye a long time ago. Any remote outside chance would involve running the table, and this team isn’t doing that. As I stated above, throwing a new fish in the big pond against arguably the best and most physical defense in the Big 12 is not my idea of putting a freshman QB, if we are talking about Sanders, into the best position to succeed. Roll Brown out if you want, but with the remaining schedule and only a bowl game as a reward, why not wait one more game and at least retain the possibility of Brown being available in 2019 and Sanders playing through 2022? Is winning against Texas more important than the potential extra year of playing time and a viable backup next year at THIS point in the season? If you were gonna burn redshirts that should have started several games ago, IMO. You can definitely argue both points intelligently.

My hope for these two weeks is that both Sanders and Brown get reps with the ones, let TC take his lumps with Texas (and he’s a warrior for doing it), then roll out the unknown at Baylor where the defense isn’t so scary. It’s not in Gundy’s wheelhouse to roll out a new guy for the first time in Bedlam (and I’m totally on board with that). Worst case is that you see new faces for West Virginia regardless of team’s record.

Screw system knowledge and experience…if neither of these guys is talented enough to be on the field now, I would have some concerns about the QB position going into 2019. As Carson Cunningham pointed out in this tweet, it’s time to see what’s in the cupboard.

The win or loss to the bye week is what happens AFTER. Make key changes and right the ship, it’s a win. Don’t adapt, or make the wrong choices, and the bye week is victorious.

As for the potential of a losing season, I’ve accepted that this is the world we live in with HCMG. Gonna happen now and again and, with a little luck, OSU avoids the losing season in the down year and competes for something special in the good years. Thanks to Gundy, Holder, and Boone, the good years have become the norm.

Here’s hoping the bye week looks like a win when we end the 2018 season.