As you all know by now, Jalen McCleskey has decided to transfer from Oklahoma State.
“He did not feel good about us getting the ball to him,” said Coach Gundy at his press conference Monday. “He had mentioned it earlier, but you look at it from my standpoint: We can’t control who touches the ball all the time, especially at the wide receiver position.”
It was a shocking announcement on Monday morning, and so far, the gut punch feel of it has yet to fully subside.
But now that we’ve had a few days to fully digest the news, there are a few points I think are worth making.
This is the new norm.
It’s certainly not something we expected to happen to Oklahoma State; having a top-10 all-time receiver announce four games into his senior season that he’s quitting the team so he can go play for someone else next year.
But that’s what happened, and OSU isn’t the only school dealing with it.
Every player has different reasons for leaving their team, for McCleskey it wasn’t enough touches. But what they all have in common is this; power. That’s what the new NCAA redshirt rule gave them; the power to leave four games into a season if they don’t like the direction things are going.
While I believe the players having a bit more power is a good thing, there is the concern that this could quickly get out of hand.
Gundy: "This new rule, with how liberal it is to just get up and walk out, will show its ugly face in the future." Says NCAA needs to tinker with it a little bit. #OKState— Cameron Jourdan (@Cam_Jourdan) September 24, 2018
Gundy could be right, this could be the ugly side of a rule intended to benefit players. We could see even more players transferring each year than we already do. Graduate transfers started as a small thing, now it’s common place. What’s to say we won’t see every team dealing with players leaving within the first four weeks of a season within a couple of years?
But I think that’s too much of a scare factor to say the rule is a bad one or broken. It’s just something else coaches are going to have to deal with moving forward while the enjoy the benefit of playing true freshmen a few games each year for added depth without losing a season.
Gundy handled it the right way
I was writing this point before Max Olson over at the Athletic ($$$) made it, but since he did a better job, I’ll let him make the point.
The best response to this unexpected circumstance might be the one Gundy offered Monday. Oklahoma State’s head coach only had a few hours to process the news before sharing it at his weekly news conference, and his reaction was telling: Gundy hated to lose McCleskey but is not upset with him. No hard feelings. Because he understands this is the new normal.
I’m not sure, being in the same situation as Gundy, I would have handled myself as well as he did. Learning hours before a press conference that one of your best, senior players was taking himself out of the game for the rest of the season so he could go somewhere else, is not easy news to handle.
But that’s why Gundy makes the big $$$ and I don’t. Not just for the Xs and Os and bringing national attention to OSU with the mullet, but for handling situations like this one.
McClesekey wasn’t wrong
Expectations were high for McCleskey entering the season. He was the top returning receiver on the team, currently top-10 in catches, receiving yards, and receiving touchdowns all-time at Oklahoma State. He was one of the players who represented OSU at Big 12 Media Days.
Yet, he’s leaving. That’s a bit of a black eye no matter how much this is happening across college football. Unlike some of the other guys leaving their schools, McCleskey was viewed as a leader at his position group, and one of the top talents.
The feeling I get from all of this, is that McCleskey believed this to be his year to be “the guy.” While he has certainly been important and a target, he is definitely not No. 1.
#OKState's top four receivers in terms of targets through four games:— Mark Cooper (@mark_cooperjr) September 24, 2018
Tylan Wallace: 45
Tyron Johnson: 22
Dillon Stoner: 22
Jalen McCleskey: 22
As Kyle Boone noted at PFB, that number is a bit deceiving, since nearly half of McCleskey’s targets came in week one.
“McCleskey had a team-high 10 targets against Missouri State in OSU’s season-opener, but since has been targeted a total of 12 times. He had four receptions for 52 yards against Texas Tech.”
So from the standpoint of touches, McCleskey probably wasn’t getting as many as he should. At this point, the game footage from the Texas Tech loss has been broken down and analyzed by just about every OSU fan on twitter, and it was obvious that McCleskey did a good job of getting open and putting himself in position to get the ball.
Which is what leads me to my next point.
This is (partly) a Taylor Cornelius problem.
Despite praising Cornelius at Big 12 Media Days this summer, you have to think the relationship between TC and McCleskey was a bit strained. I don’t think all the blame lies with OSU’s QB, but I think it does partly.
Gundy said during the press conference that it’s not the coaches job to make sure wide receivers get touches, which is true, though it is their job to game plan to get their best players open.
I think that was mostly happening, but I think Cornelius feared going over the middle, and started to lock in on Tylan Wallace, which is why the true sophomore has more than twice as many targets as the rest of the top pass-catchers.
What it means moving forward...
With McCleskey gone, the Cowboys are now REEAALLY thin at inside receiver against Kansas. Tracin Wallace is hurt, Dillon Stoner missed the 2nd half against Texas Tech on Saturday. That leaves Landon Wolf, who impressed in preseason.
Yes, Oklahoma State has depth, missing three guys would be rough for an NFL roster.
Stoner will likely be back this season, but I hope this doesn’t force him back into action before he’s ready.
I would expect to see the coaching staff finally start using the Cowboy Backs, like Jelani Woods and Sione Finefeuiaki more this week. Also, expect a lot of passes to the running backs, including Chuba Hubbard.