at Stillwater • Oct. 1
Head Coach: Mike Gundy (1st season)
2004 Record: 7-5, 4-4 Big 12
With a new head coach and virtually a new coaching staff the Oklahoma State Cowboys had a lot of adjusting to do in the spring. Head coach Mike Gundy put himself in charge of attitude and effort, while allowing new offensive coordinator Larry Fedora and defensive coordinator Vance Bedford to install their systems on either side of the ball.
The first couple of weeks consisted of a lot of teaching, but then in the final couple of weeks it all blossomed. On offense quarterbacks Donovan Woods, Bobby Reid and Al Pena gained a solid working knowledge of the offense and running backs Michael Hamilton and Julius Crosslin showed they would carry on the tradition of standout runners in Stillwater. On defense junior college transfer Ryan McBean and well-hyped veteran Xavier Lawson-Kennedy seemed to shore up the problems Oklahoma State had at defensive tackle at the end of the 2004 season.
The Cowboys' offense will have a new look this fall as Fedora brings his no-huddle, spread offense from Florida. The no-huddle attack dictates tempo and relies on a solid communication system. Where it differs from most spread attacks is that it is still very balanced and Oklahoma State will still run the football.
Oklahoma State didn't lose that many players, but they lost a lot of yards with the early departure of All-Big 12 running back Vernand Morency. Tight end Billy Bajema, All-Big 12 offensive guard Sam Mayes and center Chris Akin all graduated leaving some holes up front.
Those holes up front were filled quickly as returning tight end Charlie Johnson was moved to offensive tackle causing a shuffling of the offensive line that appears to make it stronger than it was a year ago. Starters from 2004 in Corey Hilliard, David Koenig, and Kellen Davis will insure that strength up front. That won't bother returning quarterback Donovan Woods, who came out of spring with a solid, yet not final, advantage for the starting job over celebrated redshirt freshman Bobby Reid. Woods proved last season to be a smooth operator, but Reid, one of the top recruits in the nation a year and a half ago, has a big arm and elusive speed and moves as a runner.
Shawn Willis returns as one of the best fullbacks in the Big 12. D'Juan Woods, following in the footsteps of his older brother and current San Francisco 49ers wide receiver Rashaun Woods, will be the major receiving threat. Luke Frazier, Kenny Williams and Tommy Devereaux make up the rest of the veteran receivers.
Newcomers expected to be a factor on the offense start at running back where redshirt freshman Michael Hamilton and former backup fullback Julius Crosslin are big, fast and eager to run with the football. Hamilton, a former All-State tailback in Melborne, Fla., is 235 pounds and runs a 4.48, while Crosslin is 250 pounds and runs a 4.5.
Tight end will have a new face with either Paschal Smith or redshirt freshman Brandon Pettigrew both of whom showed in spring they could handle the position. The only young member of the offensive line figures to be redshirt freshman David Washington at center, while junior college transfer Tevin Williams, redshirt freshman Seth Newton and incoming freshman Jeremy Broadway of Houston (Texas) Washington will be asked to contribute.
The new no-huddle, spread offense figures to be a chore for opposing defenses to catch on to. It can strike from a variety of positions and combines the old fashioned Oklahoma State running game with a passing attack the likes of have never been seen in Stillwater. The Cowboy offense will be successful if the players work hard to retain what they learned in the spring and come in ready for the finishing touches in August.
DEFENSE The scheme has changed on defense as the Cowboys spent this spring transitioning from the 4-2-5 they had been running to a 4-3 based multiple attack brought in by former Chicago Bears assistant Vance Bedford. It probably helped Bedford some that he had served as a Cowboy assistant with Gundy in the mid-'90s. Bedford's defense will be very aggressive as he has brought in plenty of NFL blitz schemes, but he will mix it up with a variety of packages including nickel and three-man front looks. It might remind Oklahoma State fans of the days with Buddy Ryan's son Rob as defensive coordinator when the Cowboys attacked the backfield but had to weather big plays. Bedford hopes to deliver the pressure without giving up the big plays.
There is a lot of experience on this Cowboy defense starting with eight defensive ends who have starting or major playing experience. Nathan Peterson, Marque Fountain and Darnell Smith are all coming off injuries and rehab that kept them out of the spring. In August they will join converted linebacker Victor DeGrate, Jerry Don Bray and Maurice Cummings as the primary threats to play a lot. Inside it helped that Xavier Lawson-Kennedy dropped some 30 pounds and became a more effective nose guard. Walter Thomas, who played a lot as a freshman, is also improved.
The three linebackers, all seniors, are Pagitte McGee, Paul Duren and Lawrence Pinson, and all have adapted well to the new defense. All three said they like it much better than what they had been playing as it allows them to be much more aggressive.
Bedford experimented with moving safeties Jamar Ransom and Grant Jones to linebacker and both players showed up well to provide depth along with physical standout Roderick Johnson. The corners are seniors in Vernon Grant and Daniel McLemore, but size is a concern there as Grant is 5-9 and McLemore 5-8. The safeties are also experienced as Jamie Thompson, who led the team in tackles in 2004, is back along with Thomas Wright, Jeremy Nethon and Chase Holland.
Newcomers are not as big a need on defense except inside and for depth at corner. Ryan McBean, who transferred in January from Hinds (Miss.) Community College, was an instant success at defensive tackle. The Cowboy coaching staff hopes that two other transfers – Josh Pinaire out of Hutchinson (Kans.) J.C. and Larry Brown of Georgia Military College – will be able to help at tackle too. Sophomore Martel Van Zant will get plenty of opportunity to help at corner as could true freshman Calvin Mickens.
The defense should be much improved. In fact, the Cowboy defense will be dramatically better if the new defensive tackles and the backup corners can hold up.
Expect special teams to be a major contributor under the direction of veteran special teams coordinator Joe DeForest, who also added the title of associate head coach when Gundy was hired. DeForest has made the Cowboys' special teams, on the whole, the best in the Big 12.
The schedule sets up well for the Cowboys with a new staff and new schemes to try out and perfect on offense and defense early. They open at home on Sept. 3 against Montana State followed by a trip to play Florida Atlantic, and then Arkansas State at home before a week off before Big 12 play. The first two Big 12 games are at home as Colorado (Oct. 1) and Missouri (Oct. 8) come calling. That's four of the first five games at home for Gundy and company. It gets more difficult in October and especially November with Texas (Oct. 29) and Oklahoma (Nov. 5) on back-to-back Saturdays again.
It's hard to call any of the non-conference games key but in reality they all are for continued development of the new systems on offense and defense. The first two Big 12 games are vitally important as the Cowboys play the Buffs and Tigers at home. If OSU is 5-0 at that point then every game is important.
As always Oklahoma will be circled on the calendar. Other than USC in the BCS title game this past January, OSU has had more success against OU than anybody in recent seasons, winning three of the last six games. The game in Stillwater last year came down to the wire. This year it's in Norman. Texas and Texas Tech both come to Stillwater, making those even more important to win. The Cowboys need to watch out for Iowa State on the road where they'll be much tougher than they were in Stillwater last season.