Wickline became a mad scientist of offensive line play that could bring in lesser ranked offensive line prospects and then shuffle them up and play a left tackle at right guard, a left guard or tight end at center, and a right tackle at left tackle and come out of it with a cohesive combination of five that would block the Cowboys to success, points, a winning season, and a bowl game.
The first fact that was apparent was with the departure of starting center Jake Jenkins and malcontent backup guard Travis Cross a year early, along with the injuries to tackles Devin Davis and Brandon Garrett, as well as the departure of seniors like Parker Graham and Brandon Webb, the offensive line was lacking experience and talent.
The most veteran of the offensive line in starting left tackle Daniel Koenig was for some reason frustrated and finished the season injured because of a badly sprained ankle. Connelly, with much less knowledge of the players than Wickline, had to put together the right combination and it took time.
The Cowboys led the Big 12 in sacks allowed with 40 and the run game numbers were down, not to mention the overall scoring and yards per game. You can look at the offensive line and see they had a direct impact on that.
Now, give Connelly credit as he never quit trying to sort the issues out and the week of the Baylor game and the first start of Mason Rudolph at quarterback the offensive line picked up dramatically.
First, he and Mike Gundy did the unthinkable as they used a walk-on true freshman at center in Brad Lundblade. Lundblade first played on the road at TCU and he combined with Paul Lewis to improve the center position. Lundblade turned down 11 scholarship offers to attend Oklahoma State, so he is better than you average walk-on. I think he is the center of the future for the Cowboys.
Second, the offense went back to using a couple of tight ends. Starting offensive guard Zac Veatch was moved back to a role as blocking tight end, causing Connelly to move backup tackle Michael Wilson into guard. Then during the game Koenig aggravated an already bad ankle. Now Wilson, with some snaps at guard, moved back to tackle and for some reason the warm up helped and he did a very credible job against the strong Baylor defensive ends.
That was when redshirt freshman Jesse Robinson was inserted at right guard and he showed he was a gamer coming up better than he had typically showed in practice. That left senior Chris Grisbhy at left guard and he was much better there than he had been at right tackle the previous season.
Redshirt freshman and very promising future starter Zach Crabtree had started the season at right tackle and played well starting with the opener against top-ranked Florida State. However, Crabtree got hurt against Iowa State and missed most of the next four games before getting his position back against Texas, but he might now have been full strength until the Bedlam game.
It was that Bedlam game where the offensive line had its crowning moment as the Cowboys dominated and pushed the Sooners defensive front around in overtime, driving the ball right down to the 2-yard line for an extra point-type of field goal to win it.
You have to give Connelly credit for eventually making a solid offensive line out of what started out rather shaky. There are still a number of players on the roster that likely will never fill a vital role on the offensive line but Connelly has found some stalwarts in Crabtree and Wilson, which was expected. Robinson has shown he can be a real solid player as can Lundblade and Lewis. Two freshmen that redshirted in big bodied Junior Galea'i and Matthew Mucha both showed up well in practice.
Connelly went the shortcut route in recruiting in picking up a Division I transfer in Victor Salako of Alabama-Birmingham, which dropped its program. Salako was a full-season starter as a sophomore at left tackle. Two more junior college offensive linemen are coming in for the spring in Brandon Pertile and Matt Kellerman, and both have really solid potential.
This is more about the review, and while it was tough to watch at times in September, October and November, OSU fans have to give Connelly and the young men credit as they kept working, kept experimenting and eventually found a successful conclusion in the pursuit of changing the offensive line at Oklahoma State from a Wickline work in progress to a Connelly conversion.
The end result helped spark a Bedlam win, a winning season, and another bowl victory. The goal now is to start the season with an offensive line that can have success every week.