Conversation With Robert Allen

Robert Allen has been covering the Oklahoma State Cowboys since 1984. Currently, he writes for GoPokes.com and is a radio personality in Stillwater, where he serves as sideline reporter on OSU gameday radio broadcasts. Inside, he talks at length about this year's Oklahoma State team, including tailback Mike Hamilton (pictured), as the Buffs and Cowboys prepare to square off in Saturday's Big 12 opener.

Q: At this point, what is Oklahoma State's offensive identity?
Robert Allen:
Right now they don't have one. I mean, they have one they aspire to, but first year of installing an offense, in the first three games, they haven't hit the mark.

They have an identity they're shooting for — a spread, no-huddle offense that attacks spaces that are left open by the defense. It's not all that unlike what Urban Meyer did at Utah, and what (OSU OC Larry) Fedora did when he was the offensive coordinator at Florida. It's just between youth, between learning the new offense — he's using the remnants of a power attack to try and form this — they haven't reached an identity yet.

Q: They're 3-0, but they haven't hit that mark. Are they going to have patience enough to get to where it works?
RA:
They're really one piece of the puzzle away. Whether one of the young receivers develops into that or not, that's something they've been working toward. I think Saturday, the freshmen (Jeremy Broadway and Ricky Price) are going to get a lot of playing time along with D'Juan Woods and Luke Frazier, who'll be back from injury. If one of those guys doesn't fit the bill, then they've got a (high school) All-American receiver that transferred from North Carolina. Adarius Bowman came with Gunter Brewer, the receiver coach. There hasn't been a receiver that's looked like him here ever. That includes (Rashaun) Woods.

He's playing on the scout offense (as he sits out a transfer year). He's one reason these young corners are growing up in such a hurry. They're having to cover him every day in practice.

Q: How has Bobby Reid played so far? And were you surprised he took over Donovan Woods' spot at quarterback?
RA:
No, not really because as good as Donovan was last year, Bobby's definitely got much more upside. There's a reason he was one of the Elite 11 quarterbacks coming out his year in that EA Sports camp. There's a reason he and Bomar were the top two quarterback recruits in Texas that year.

Not too many kids take a team 14-0 and to the state championship in the highest class in Texas (Galena Park North Shore in Houston). They basically went through the season with maybe one game that was competitive.

He's big, he's got great speed, he's got great running ability. Raw material, he really is a Vince Young. He looks a lot like Vince Young. But, that said, he still has some growing up to do.

He's not a kid that's scared. That's not his problem. In many ways his problem is taking it the other way. He throws some balls right now where as a coach you say, ‘Hey now, we don't want you to throw into triple coverage. We know you think your arm is strong enough, but we need you to make the smarter decisions.' So he's still going through that. And learning an offense that takes time. This is not the easiest offense in the world to learn.

This offense has a lot of phases to it. I've seen the playbook. It's pretty thick. But to Fedora's credit, they haven't opened but about 20 percent of the playbook. Once they grasp 20 percent, they'll move on and gradually put it all in.

But the reason Reid beat out Woods is two things. One, it's impossible to run a two-quarterback system when you're learning a new offense. Neither quarterback was getting enough reps to develop. So you have to make a decision. When you make that decision, Woods probably would have been the better choice immediately, because of his experience. But you've kind of got to look into a crystal ball and make the decision that's the best for the future of the program. There's not doubt Bobby has more room to get better.

Plus, Donovan was more suited to play another position. Donovan probably won't start, but he's going to play a lot at strong safety on Saturday. He's grasped that in a hurry. He's 6-2, 225 pounds, and he's ready to make some people pay for hits he's taken in the past. He's got a little bit of a chip on his shoulder.

Q: What about the running back, Mike Hamilton. How has he looked? And what style of runner is he?
RA:
Mike's a good runner in that he's a blend. He was a track guy in high school at Melbourne (Florida). He was the USA Today North Florida Player of the Year his senior year. But he's 225 pounds. He's got some strength to him.

His biggest problem right now is he's making a lot of 10, 15-yard runs. His numbers are real good (4.9 yards per carry). The thing is that Oklahoma State has become used to and what would really help this offense right now is when he gets a 10 or 15-yard run, Vernand Morency would turn that into a 50 or 60-yard run. A Barry Sanders would turn it into an 80 or 90.

Right now, Mike gets to that point when he's broke the front, and instead of making a quick decision and exploding, he's taking more time than he needs to try and see what's going on. And he's getting caught.

Much like what Colorado, Texas, several schools in the Big 12 are doing, Mike would be the Hugh Charles. And Julius Crosslin would be the Lawrence Vickers. Crosslin comes in in short yardage and goal line.

Q: Tell me about the defense. They've gone through a scheme change too.
RA:
Yeah. And they've embraced it. They've installed everything. And they love it.

I think there was a lot of frustration with what OSU had been doing defensively from the fans (they were running the 4-2-5 before this season). Even from the players, although the fans were a little more open about it than the players were. They've gone from that 4-2-5, permanent nickel, bend-but-don't-break defense – the fans here were fed up with watching teams drive down the field.

We have a lot of fans here that are a lot like Mike Leach. They think defense is here just as a sidelight. I'm convinced Leach just turns to his coordinator sometimes and says, ‘Look, just let them score. We want the ball back.' Leach, you know, is all about the offense.

Well, our fans got frustrated with that. This defense is very much attacking. It's a 4-3, an NFL styled base. Vance Bedford brought it in from the Chicago Bears, where he was a secondary coach. He knew he had veteran linebackers. He's got four senior linebackers, so it's very much linebacker driven.

He's got a strong safety, who's a senior that can play free or corner if they needed him to. Jamie Thompson, he's kind of the defensive quarterback.

The thing is, you don't know where it's coming from, but it's coming. You can bank on it, somebody extra's coming to the backfield every play, you just don't know who it is. I can't remember a play yet where I haven't seen some sort of blitz. And they've been successful with it. Granted the competition hasn't been great. Although, I think the teams OSU has played (Montana State, Florida International and Arkansas State) have been better offensively than they have defensively — which really makes you feel bad about the OSU offense.

But they're No. 3 in scoring defense nationally; they're No. 14 in total defense and I don't think it's a fluke. Now, obviously, nobody's going to give them any credit for it until they get into Big 12 play. But the defensive line has dramatically improved.

They had the defensive ends, but they had no defensive tackles here last year. They went and got Ryan McBean out of junior college. I think he's one of the top defensive linemen as far as tackles this season (in conference). Xavier Lawson-Kennedy lost about 20 pounds. He was a hyped recruit coming out that had really not done much. He had arthroscopic surgery on his knee before his freshman and sophomore years that really cost him summer conditioning, so he was always out of shape.

This summer his knees were fine, and he's the other starting defensive tackle. They're both making plays.

Then the missing ingredient was they were going to have some youth at corner. They've had a freshman come through that's played tremendous. He's a kid that Nebraska had committed that Bedford stole at the last minute, Calvin Minkens. He's a big corner.

The defense has been great. They've given up some yards when they've been sloppy tackling, but that's the only time they've given up yards. They're fast. Bedford's got ‘em worked up into a foaming at the mouth mentality. They've made up for the lack of offense because they've been fun to watch.

Q: Last year, the Cowboys came into Boulder and really whipped CU. …
RA:
Colorado was as responsible for that game as OSU was. OSU didn't whip Colorado. Colorado spit up a few times and helped them. Missed on a couple fourth downs. That was a game that probably should have been a touchdown game that got out of hand because of turnovers and mistakes. But the two teams were a lot closer than the score in that game.

Q: Do you sense that this Colorado team has OSU's attention?
RA:
(laughs) Yeah, I don't think the Cowboys have spent a lot of time this week on Missouri. When you've got an offense that has yet to really do anything…

That's the thing, the defense almost embraces it. They don't mind being the big brother. They don't mind carrying the load. It was just the opposite last year. These (defensive) guys, most of them played last year. They just hated the scheme they were in. They kind of relish the thought they can help the offense out.

It's a base 4-3. But they don't line up in that every time. They'll line up with a three-man front, they'll line up with a 50 front. They mix it up. I heard Gary Barnett's comment on the conference call Monday where he said, You know, they're doing a lot of things. Most of the time teams that do a lot of things end up not being very good at anything. But they're doing a lot of stuff on defense, and they seem to be good at all of them.


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