Cowboys Football: A Midseason Report

Oklahoma State improved to 4-2 on the season and 2-1 in Big 12 play following the 31-10 victory over Iowa State and begin the second half of the season when TCU comes to Boone Pickens Stadium. So, where are the Cowboys at the midpoint of the 2012 season?

From a standings standpoint, the 4-2 record may be a slight disappointment for Cowboys fans. But the 2-1 record in the conference is fine, although it easily could be 3-0.

Oklahoma State is one of only two teams that still controls its own destiny to win the Big 12 title. If Kansas State (7-0/4-0) can win out, the Wildcats win the league and are in the BCS, quite possibly the BCS National Championship Game.

If Oklahoma State can win out, it will be the Big 12 champions for a second consecutive year. Since the Cowboys one loss was to Texas, and the Longhorns have absorbed two losses and are behind the Cowboys in the standings, Oklahoma State would win the Big 12 by having beaten Kansas State and owning the tiebreaker on the Wildcats.

Every other school needs help with once beaten Texas Tech playing at Kansas State this weekend. The Red Raiders need OU to lose again. Oklahoma would need Kansas State to get beat and then the Sooners would need to finish perfect the rest of the way. A Texas Tech win over Kansas State would be a perfect scenario for OU.

As for the Cowboys as a team…

Offensively, they are beat up as quarterback J.W. Walsh got banged around against Iowa State and it turns out he suffered a near season-ending, if not season-ending injury. That happens when you are a quarterback that runs the football as much as Walsh does. He has some bravado in him and Gundy said he played through some pain in the second half of the win over Iowa State.

Oklahoman sports columnist Berry Tramel, who writes columns sometimes as if he is giving his advice to the state's head coaches, wrote that Oklahoma State now has a quarterback derby and that serious consideration has to be given to red-shirting original starter Wes Lunt and keeping J.W. Walsh as the quarterback for this season.

Well, Tramel missed that one and now the Cowboys turn back to original starter Wes Lunt. The amazing aspect of this is how well two different freshmen quarerbacks have played.

Walsh, getting more playing time than Lunt, has allowed for more mistakes as well as success. The interesting aspect of it is that on Saturday Walsh threw for 415 yards on 32-of-47 passing and one touchdown and no interceptions. That is the ninth-best all-time passing performance for a quarterback in Oklahoma State history.

In the second week of the season, Lunt completed 37 of 60 passes for 436 yards, which was the fourth-best game in passing yards for an Oklahoma State quarterback. He also had four touchdown passes in the game, but threw three interceptions. Of the interceptions, only one was actually his fault as the other two came on passes that were missed and came off an Oklahoma State receiver.

Could anyone imagine having two separate freshmen quarterbacks throw for top-10 single-game yardage totals in the first half of this season?

"I think so, anybody that would have predicted the type of offensive games we've had with two freshmen playing quarterback, the scheme gives them the opportunity, but anybody that would have predicted that would have been out there," said Gundy. "They are freshmen and that they could come in and make those plays nobody could know that."

The Cowboys have continued to run the ball despite getting little out of their fired-out-of-a-cannon-style runner in Jeremy Smith. It hurt losing Smith and Desmond Roland at Kansas, but the running game bounced back with an impressive performance against Iowa State as the Cowboys wore down Iowa State to rush for 210 yards. Joseph Randle had 151 rushing yards and two touchdowns.

The offensive line has stayed healthy with the exception of center Evan Epstein, but the fifth-year senior is a tough guy who plays hurt. They have discovered real quality depth with back-up center Jake Jenkins and a third guard that rolls in often in veteran Brandon Webb. Lane Taylor and Jonathan Rush at guards and Parker Graham and Daniel Koenig at tackles have played really well.

The receiver position is a mess as senior Tracy Moore, senior Isaiah Anderson, slot receiver David Glidden, often-injured Torrance Carr, emerging contributor John Goodlett, freshman C.J. Curry, and now tight end Justin Horton are all either out or battling back from injuries.

Charlie Moore has become the chief home-run hitter for the passing game. Josh Stewart has become the receiver that hits for average and helps move the Cowboys down the field. They lead a contingent of younger and less experienced receivers that are doing their best to step up to try to help make plays.

As Gundy said after the win over Iowa State, "we have a lot of guys that are growing up play by play."

Defensively, the fan outcry has been that the defense has not been as good as advertised. But if you take our four quarters, you will find that the defense has been pretty good.

Of course, we all know you don't get to take out quarters, but drop the second and third frames out of the Arizona game and the fourth quarters out of Texas and Kansas games and the defense is pretty good by any standards.

Bill Young's crew had their best effort against Iowa State.

"If we played every game defensively like that (against Iowa State) then we would have a chance to win every game were in," said Gundy finishing a sentence that Tulsa World beat writer Jimmie Tramel started.

"They went right through us the first series and then I think we had eight three-and-outs. That is a lot and when you do that the other defense has to play a lot and they get tired.

"Calvin Barnett played really well, Cooper Bassett had his best game, Brodrick Brown was more aggressive, Lyndell Johnson with his speed made a difference, and Shawn Lewis gave us a lift," said Gundy. "The coaches had a really good plan and as a group they ran to the football, and we have some young players that are starting to understand."

Barnett and James Castleman have emerged as the best pair of defensive tackles in several seasons. So much so the tendency has been to keep them out there too much. The defensive staff worked on that Saturday and helped some with rotation, but could stand to rotate Barnett a little more.

The defensive end play, led by converted tackle Nigel Nicholas, continues to improve.

The linebackers are solid with Alex Elkins, Caleb Lavey and Shaun Lewis each among the top five tacklers on the team. That is where you expect your linebackers to be.

Joe Mitchell has been unsung and played well in a reserve role. Having Lyndell Johnson back will help a lot. Johnson, missing since the opener with a foot injury, has a ton of speed and Gundy identified after the game Saturday that he makes a difference being on the field because he gets to so many plays, and his teammates understand what he can do with his quickness.

The most disappointing area of the defense has been the secondary where veteran cornerbacks Brodrick Brown and Justin Gilbert, who each had five interceptions last season, have none to show for the 2012 season thus far. They both have 23 tackles on the season and effort is not the issue, but effectiveness is.

Daytawion Lowe has been stout at free safety, but the strong safety position has been AWOL too often at crucial junctures of the game. However, Shamiel Gary had his best game of the season against Iowa State.

In the kicking game, Quinn Sharp has missed several long field goal tries, but he has been very close and he is solid. His punting has been borderline unbelievable as he had another extra long punt of 68 yards against Iowa State.

Sharp has only punted 17 times, which leaves him out of the NCAA stats for not having punted enough. But if he had more punts, he would lead the nation with a 48.0 yard average. The return game has been okay with punt returns improved from a season ago and kickoffs not quite as good with the new rule likely to have some blame.

With a lot of patching that has had to be done, you could give the Cowboys an excellent grade. But it is clear that some Oklahoma State fans have become spoiled, as we all have to a degree. The grades are harder to make now in Stillwater as the curve has gone up.

As we found out again Sunday night, so has the adversity and the injury count.

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