As The Sun Sets On Boone Pickens Stadium

Let's take a look at where Oklahoma State is sitting as I offer a few of my observations as the season heads toward the midway point of the 2013 campaign.

Just in General
If you weren't a fan of either Oklahoma State and Kansas State, and you invested in a ticket or invested your time in watching Saturday's game on television, then you walked away happy.

But despite a 33-29 win by the Cowboys, it sure seemed like there weren't a lot of happy people outside Boone Pickens Stadium after the game ended. The purple crowd was packing up and getting ready to head home to Kansas at 2-3 after winning the Big 12 last season.

The Oklahoma State fans, some of whom may have been counting the days until late season-deciding games with Big 12 heavyweights after buying in to the Cowboys being voted the preseason favorite, weren't happy because their team for two weeks in a row did not look like a Big 12 favorite.

The difference is that, at least this week, the Cowboys came away with a win. That might be something you want to be a little more grateful for. Wins can be hard to come by in college football and I have always advised that it is proper and right to enjoy each one no matter what the circumstances.

The Offense
My wife told me that in her section the fans were pretty brutal toward offensive coordinator Mike Yurcich as the game wore on. I have already deleted a post that set up a poll on whether he will be the offensive coordinator in 2014. Now, I did not delete the poll because of the question, but because of the petty nickname the poster decided to tag on Yurcich. He would be free to put it back up, but if he does he should use his name.

I find it kind of difficult to come down on Yurcich because I've been trying to figure out what I would do and what portion of the playbook I would major in if it were my job to call the plays and get the Cowboys offense moving. Even the head coach is trying to sort it out.

"I really don't have a clue. I wish I could give you a better explanation so it would sound better on the news tonight, but we need to become a better football team from the 7-yard line in. That's a fact," said head coach Mike Gundy.

"As I mentioned earlier, at the end of the game the defense gave us plenty of opportunities to score touchdowns and maybe put the game out of reach against a team, who in our opinion, may not be a great two-minute or a great throwing team. We needed to take advantage of that."

The question is how? The offensive line was solid and the right guard position was better but there were still some issues. Kansas State did go away from its defensive norm in the red-zone or in short yardage by going with cover one or man two coverage and then bringing extra pressure, primarily from the outside. That is why the out cut to Charlie Moore ended up working for the score.

"That was a veteran player coming over with a good idea and being able to sell it and we got it done," said quarterback J.W. Walsh of that six-yard scoring pass that gave OSU the lead.

"Whoever flipped the switch, I wish they would've flipped it earlier," said Gundy of the offense on that 75-yard fourth quarter scoring drive. "I don't know what to say. It was very well executed. Guys made plays, and we also had some drops earlier in the game. We have to take better care of the football, and when the ball is thrown with the right air, we have to catch the dang football. You just have so many plays in a game that turn it."

One possible answer to the offense in general is that the Cowboys did not use tempo (ultra fast) pace in the offense except for twice, and they moved the ball both times. The reason? There was a concern of going very fast and giving K-State the ball right back. It turns out that tempo may have helped the offense run.

Back to the offensive challenges. The running game was better, a hard-charging Jeremy Smith had 56 yards on 11 carries (5.1 yards per carry average). However, Walsh struggled running the ball and K-State did a good job of loading the box and taking away the quarterback zone read option.

"You have to run the ball, but at the same time you can't sit here and point fingers," said Yurcich. "It's shared responsibility. Run game, whether it's receiver blocking, the quarterback making decisions, the play call or the offensive line blocking, it's all shared."

Walsh threw some poor passes and had some good passes dropped, including a rare drop by Josh Stewart on what likely would have been a scoring pass. Clint Chelf got in for a couple of plays, but there is a concern that Chelf is struggling some and that would be natural as the young man has been through more ups and downs in his career than a yo-yo.

"There are ups and downs but you've got to stay even keel," said the offensive coordinator under fan fire in just his fifth game. "If you let it get to you, it's going to affect your next series. That's something that you want to try to not let happen.

"You want to try to give your team the best chance of winning. Getting too emotional takes away from the focus and concentration. You've got to try to maintain a one-play-at-a-time mentality and take it as it comes."

I know nobody wants to hear this but Yurcich is a really smart coach and a guy more than ready to succeed at this level. The problem is the weaponry has diminished some. Maybe the open week will help find some of those weapons and restore them to readiness. The one thing that may be hard to find that has made the offense look very good for all of two years and some of last year is an NFL arm.

Yurcich will need to find something because opposing defenses are discovering that the Cowboys spread doesn't cover nearly as much ground, horizontal or vertical, as it used to. They are discovering that they don't have to spread out and cover as much ground as they used to and that is making those defenses much better at stopping the OSU spread.

It's pretty important to get good quarterback play. For the third game in a row, Walsh had some throws he'd just as soon have back. The good thing is that none of them were intercepted on Saturday. To be very fair, Walsh threw some good passes that were dropped.

Clint Chelf got in but it shouldn't count as a fair opportunity because he had no time to warm up time after Walsh had his helmet pulled off by the Kansas State defense. It wasn't much of an opportunity and his two passes did not go well.

A season ago, both of these players were being celebrated. It's not all them. Offense is a group project and the need is there to find the offensive projects that will be allow Walsh or possibly Chelf to have success.

Defense and Turnovers
The electric offense of the past had a power shortage and fans seem to be ultra quick to jump on that unit but the defense has been outstanding. More stops on third downs this season, a much stingier defense stopping the run, and in most games and especially Saturday, a defense that remembers forcing turnovers like the defense did during the 2011 Big 12 Championship season.

"We knew if we got them in the situation where they had to throw the ball, we knew that we could (take those opportunities)," explained defensive coordinator Glenn Spencer. "The tough job was getting them in that position. Once they did and they had to (throw the ball), our guys had great eyes and made nice breaks. That's stuff we practice, and it's nice to see them come through."

"That was right at the quota. We strive to force five turnovers per game," said Daytawion Lowe, who was hoping to score with the last interception of the game. "When we get that done, we're achieving a lot. We're putting our offense opportunities to score when we succeed."

"Our goal in every practice and game is to get those five turnovers," echoed Shaun Lewis, who had an interception, forced a fumble, and recovered a fumble. "For us to go out and do it is a huge credit to the coaching staff and guys giving phenomenal effort."

All that and they really ended up defending something they didn't expect to Saturday. K-State went for the most part with Daniel Sams at quarterback, featuring the quarterback run game. It was a tough time all afternoon, but Lewis (8 tackles), Caleb Lavey (7 tackles) and Shamiel Gary (6 tackles) seemed to be helping the matter.

Kicking Game
Gundy was proud of freshman field goal kicker Ben Grogan for hanging in there after the blocked field goal early that resulted in a touchdown for Kansas State. Grogan wound up 4-of-5 on the day kicking field goals and the Cowboys needed them all. On the season, Grogan came in 1-of-4 and is now 5-of-9. That alone is getting better, but the kicks need to not be as shaky.

"We kicked four field goals, had one block, we let a guy come right through the gap, and it could've been anyone in the country kicking and it wouldn't have made a difference," explained Gundy. "They blocked it, it was a big turnover, and we gave up seven points."

Gundy has handled Grogan as well as any coach could. Generally, head coaches struggle relating to and communicating with kickers. Gundy has kind of smothered Grogan with kindness.

"He's in a tough situation. To be a field goal kicker, you're isolated," said Gundy. "In today's cyberspace media and internet chat rooms, it's a tough gig now for a guy to miss a couple of short field goals. You hear about it a lot. I told the team that I thought he did a great job staying focused. He practiced well, and kicked the same way in practice as he has the last three weeks. It's not easy, and I'm very proud of him for being a freshman and stepping up and knocking them through there."

The Fans
Some of you may disagree with me on this and might even curse me but I'm sorry, my vision of Oklahoma State fans is a group that never boos their own players. I was really proud in the second half when a loud and enthusiastic chorus of "Orange Power" broke out. It's been awhile since I've heard that ring out like that.

However, I also thought I heard boos for quarterback J.W. Walsh. I know there were some boos directed at the offense in general and most would say those were intended for offensive coordinator Mike Yurcich. I don't care about all of that, just that I never feel a student-athlete wearing an OSU uniform should ever be booed.

What to Expect
While it may pain me to say it, Oklahoma State is not at the top level of the Big 12. The Cowboys cannot lay claim as they play right now to a shot at the Big 12 Championship. I'm not saying, they might not earn it, but right now Baylor is at the top with OU second.

The Cowboys are, in my mind, in a clump of teams including Texas Tech, TCU, and Texas that will likely end up fighting for a finish in the upper half of the league.

If OSU can beat TCU, Iowa State, Texas Tech and Kansas over the next five weeks then the Cowboys might be qualified to be labeled a title contender heading into that final three-game stretch of Texas, Baylor and Oklahoma. But they're just not there right now.

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