Ho boy. It may be fall, but the Cowboys look like they’re already headed for summer school. After seven games, Oklahoma State is sitting at 4-3 overall and 1-3 in the Big XII. That record, however, fails to accurately encapsulate how feckless the team has looked in those three losses: (1) a 41-17 annihilation by Texas Tech; (2) a 48-42 gut punch from Iowa State, behind a third-string quarterback and second-string running back; (3) and a 31-12 paddling from:
Even the most optimistic Oklahomans have to admit that this season has failed to live up to the promise of last year’s 10 win team (10-3, 6-3 Big XII) that beat three ranked teams and punctuated the season with an impressive almost-New-Years-Day bowl victory. But what about the individual units? Let’s take a brief look, beginning with the offense:
Quarterback Taylor Cornelius: C-
Best game: Missouri State (25 for 35, 300 yards, 5 touchdowns, 1 interception)
Worst games: Texas Tech (18 for 38, 258 yards, 1 touchdown, 1 interception)
Kansas State (17 for 35, 184 yards, 0 touchdowns, 2 interceptions)
What else do you expect from a fifth-year walk on? Despite a talented receiving corps and arguably the best running back in the Big XII, Cornelius has managed a completion percentage of just 59%, a low number in today’s short-passing, offense-friendly systems (compare that to Texas Tech freshman quarterback Alan Bowman’s 96.3%). Although he has reached or exceed 300 yards passing in three of Oklahoma State’s seven games, Cornelius’ 8 interceptions have often come at particularly inopportune times. Cornelius’ effort should not be questioned, but his inexperience and lack of touch set a definite ceiling for what this team can achieve.
Offensive Coordinator Mike Yurcich B-
Although critics may argue that some of his stats have been padded in games against Missouri State, South Alabama, and Kansas, the Cowboys have also been able to score on sound defenses (44 on Boise State) and good defenses (42 on Iowa State) alike.
Through October 18, 2018, the Cowboys find themselves 12th in NCAA FBS total offense ratings, averaging a 493.0 yards per game, a brisk 6.77 yards per play, en route to 33 touchdowns. Given the turnover at wide receiver and quarterback, give Little Mike credit for those stats.
Why don’t we throw to the backs? Why isn’t there more Chuba Hubbard? Is there a happy medium between under utilizing Justice Hill and running him into the ground? Why does the team seem to struggle with third down conversions in big games? What exactly was going on in that Kansas State game?
After Texas Tech’s impressive 17-14 game against TCU, maybe the Cowboy’s 17 point output in that 41-17 loss isn’t as bad as we all thought. Tech can haz defense?
Wide Receivers B++
Tyron Johnson, 20 receptions, 399 yards, 3 touchdowns
Dillon Stoner, 16 receptions, 215 yards, 1 touchdown
Tylan Wallace, 40 receptions, 718 yards, 4 touchdowns
Landon Wolf, 16 receptions, 220 yards, 2 touchdowns
Jelani Woods, 5 receptions, 89 yards, 1 touchdown
Jalen McCleskey, 15 receptions, 155 yards, 2 touchdowns (4 games)
This team falls just short of an A due to the sad news that Jalen McCleskey, one of the great receivers in Oklahoma State history in his brief tenure (6th in receptions, 9th in touchdown receptions) announced his intention to redshirt and transfer, presumably due to a lack of targets from quarterback Taylor Cornelius.
That being said, it’s not hard to see why, given the crowded and talented field. Led by the electrifying Tylan Wallace, this unit has amassed some gaudy numbers, particularly in the Missouri State, Kansas, and Iowa State games. If only there were more footballs to go around.
Tight End: Incomplete
Wait . . . what tight end?
Offensive Line: B
See: Hill, Justice
Although the conference’s best back gets the lion’s share of the credit, the Cowboy line has been able to open holes and give Hill opportunities to run up the middle, between the tackles, and late in games.
See: Wide Receivers
Protecting an inexperienced quarterback, the offensive line has been able to afford Cornelius enough time to spread the ball around and post three games of four or more touchdowns.
It’s not just that this line has allowed 18 sacks on the season, it’s when they’ve occurred, primarily in conference play. Taylor Cornelius was running for his life against Iowa State (4 sacks) and Texas Tech (3) sacks. The line also failed to give Justice Hill room to breathe – much less run – in the 31-12 loss to Kansas State (11 carries for 41 yards, none longer than 7 yards).
Justice Hill, 112 carries, 684 yards, 7 touchdowns
Chuba Hubbard, 26 carries, 184 yards, 2 touchdowns
J.D. King, 33 yards, 135 yards, 0 touchdowns
Although King has failed to shine as a short yardage back, Chuba has shown great promise. Justice Hill has been, well, Justice Hill. Look at this three-game stretch:
Boise State: 15 carries, 123 yards, 1 touchdown
Texas Tech: 12 carries, 111 yards, 1 touchdown
Kansas: 31 carries, 189 yards, 1 touchdown
Hill has looked human in his last two games, averaging 2.8 yards per carry against Iowa State and 3.7 yards per carry against Kansas State, this is likely a product of teams loading the box on first and third downs and daring Cornelius to beat them. Sometimes Corndog is able to deliver a big throw to receivers in single coverage. Often times he’s not. Opposing teams know that stopping Hill is tantamount to stopping Oklahoma State. Most of the time though, he still gets it done. Expect him to bounce back after the bye week and post 80 yards or more against the Texas Longhorns defense.
What does the team need to get things up to a passing grade?
- More Chuba Hubbard – Stop using Chuba as a returner and start seeing him as the x-factor and offensive weapon he is. Use him as an A-back. Put him in motion. Line him up at wide receiver. Give him screens. Give him draws. Make teams game plan against him.
- Play Spencer Sanders and Shaun Taylor – Thank Cornelius for his work ethic (walking on to the team) and leadership during a transition year. But with the Big XII title race off the table, it’s time to see what the Cowboys have in their two young freshman quarterbacks from Texas.
- More run/pass option – Cornelius has proven himself to be a capable, if unspectacular runner, marked by his 16 carries for 41 yards and two touchdowns in a 44-21 win over Boise State that was more important than his yards per carry might suggest. Cornelius has broken off runs of 32 (Missouri State), 34 (South Alabama), 48 (Iowa State) and 26 (Kansas State) yards, earning the respect of linebackers.
- Find ways to get J.D. King and Justice Hill on the field at the same time.
- Throw to the running backs – Am I in A Beautiful Mind? Can people hear me? Does the coaching staff have NFL ticket? Look at how Todd Gurley, Melvin Gordon and Le’Veon Bell (assuming he ever plays again) are used! Getting your best players in space is a good thing!
Just as I had to re-adjust expectations in high school, this team should know now that it’s not going to be the valedictorian. It’s time to buckle down and try to get to a bowl eligible, passing grade. At four wins, the Cowboys only need two wins to put them in contention for postseason play, but the remaining schedule may make that difficult:
10/27: vs. No. 7 Texas
11/3: @ Baylor
11/10: @ No. 9 Oklahoma
11/17: vs. No. 13 West Virginia
11/24: @ TCU
Only Baylor appears to be a probable win, although West Virginia and TCU have seen their stocks plummet drastically in recent weeks. If the Cowboys can keep one eye on the present – with more wrinkles on offense – and one eye on the future – developing the quarterback(s) of the future – they may be able to bring these grades up.