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Game 1 Analysis: Good, Bad & Room To Improve

Oklahoma State knows it has plenty to work on following season-opening victory.

I understand the frustration of some Oklahoma State fans. Heck my prediction was 56-10, but I historically underestimate the opening opponent. You see, Central Michigan has good coaches, good players like quarterback Cooper Rush, receiver Jesse Kroll, center Nick Beamish, defensive end Joe Ostman, linebacker Malik Fountain, and corner Josh Cox.

Central Michigan was well coached, had mostly a good game plan, and was more athletic with more speed than I thought. There were some plays OSU ran and had worked on throughout camp that I thought would hit for more than they did – like jet sweep to Jalen McCleskey, now screens with Cowboys backs lead blocking, etc. Below is my good and bad review. The best part of it is that all of it can be corrected and this video will be good for all players to look at and use to get better. 

Several general observations...

When the full Oklahoma State team came out for stretch and warm-ups a couple of Central Michigan players started trash talking. You typically don't poke the bear, but these guys were emotionally charged and looking to rattle the cage. I think that came from a variety of things, the impact new head coach Joe Bonamego with him coming from the NFL and with his cancer fight. I think it came from being at home and wanting to put a big skin on the trophy well.

I thought Central Michigan was well-coached with the exception of that ugly picket fence or swinging gate type play they tried to run early. Oklahoma State snuffed it out and destroyed it. Other aspects of it included running the double pass trick play at the right time, the deep wheel route at the right time, and using the over aggressive pass rush by Oklahoma State on the edge to leak out Rush on the quarterback run. It was so smooth and quick to develop that I almost think they may have anticipated it. 

They were fundamentally sound in defense and special teams. As I wrote in the opening paragraph, the speed difference that I thought was going to be there was not as great as I anticipated. 

Okay, now for the bad...

The Cowboys were only penalized four times for 35 yards, one was a facemask personal foul on defensive tackle Vincent Taylor. No big deal, but the other three were an illegal motion penalty, a holding penalty on cowboy back Zac Veatch, and an illegal procedure penalty on Paul Lewis. On all three occasions the offense was not able to get back in front of the chains and get a first down and keep the idea going. That is not  lot of penalties and penalty yards, but it is if your offense cannot overcome them and they kill drives. 

All through fall camp and before that in spring the Cowboys were coached on #WTIB, which I like. However, seeing defenders using their arms and hands to rake ball carriers trying to strip and cause a fumble when the runner was not securely going down in tackle was alarming and there was some of that. It helped CMU get some extra yards and move the chains.

Sacks are great and the Cowboys had four of them but repeatedly defensive end Emmanuel Ogbah got too far up field on his pass rush and allowed CMU quarterback Cooper Rush to leak out underneath Ogbah's pass rush and go for big gains on the quarterback scramble including a 22-yard drive saving keeper and a 16-yard run for a touchdown. Jimmy Bean did a better job on his side of the line and his pass rush approach. You have to maintain some semblance of contain.

Coverage was spotty sometimes in the middle and sometimes on the edge. There was soft coverage in the middle looking like it was designed to keep pass plays underneath, but too many times those competitions on slants, hitches, and vertical routes kept the chains moving for a team that other than the quarterback keepers could only run for an average of 2.8 yards per carry and 1.6 yards per carry factoring out the quarterback runs. The double pass caught the Oklahoma State safeties sucking in on the first pass. Another deep wheel route went incomplete but the running back was running down the sideline open. That will all need to be cleaned up. 

On offense, the wide receivers (Jhajuan Seales, Chris Lacy and Brandon Sheperd) had drops and those are human and will be corrected. Of course, there will be others in the season but you hope to minimize them. 

The offense rushed for and average of 4.4 yards a carry and 153 yards net overall. Okay, but it needs to get better. The offensive line gave up two sacks and that is better than the average per game last season of three sacks a contest. I thought the tackles were okay for the most part but there was a lot of stalemate or penetration in the interior on the run plays.

It looked like Paul Lewis struggled physically and it will be interesting to see how the offensive line is reviewed. Chris Carson had 89 yards on 21 carries and no lost yards. However, he did not look as explosive as he did in fall camp. Rennie Childs had five carries for 36 yards, again no yards lost and 7.2 yards per carry. Gundy said afterwards this team has to run the football. Good starting point but it must get better. 

The Cowboy backs are such a major part of the multiple looks and weaponry of this offense. I would have liked to see more out of them. Some fans have called the game plan vanilla. I don't think it was vanilla, but without using them in variety of ways the offense loses some of its flavor.

Ben Grogan finished last season with 22-of-28 on field goals and a perfect 40-40 on PAT. Last night he missed two field goals, a 42-yrd attempt and a 26-yard field goal. The differences between this season and last, one is good in that his hip was repaired and he is healthy, another is he is now handling kickoffs, which most of them tailed off went to the left. His long field goal miss did the same thing prompting the thought that kickoffs were causing problems. That will need to be examined as they are different leg swings and you don't want to get Grogan off sync. He will be fine. 

Now for the good...

Punting was outstanding as Zach Sinor was as good as advertised and averaged 46.8 yards a punt on five punts. He had good hang time, good direction, and his only poor punt came on a possession that ended at at midfield. He flipped the field twice with monster punting efforts. 

All of the returns, both punt and kickoff, were caught by freshmen Jalen McCleskey on punts and Jeff Carr on kickoffs and the decisions were good on fair catches and downing the ball. McClesky had one where he could have fair caught the ball and ended up getting blasted but he hung on to it which inspires trust. Both are good and will take some back this season.

The defensive tackles were outstanding and considering that with no returning starters and one starter fresh out of junior college and a back-up fresh out of high school it was a very pleasant development. Vincent Taylor had five tackles, a sack, and 2.5 tackles for loss. That is a monster game for a defensive tackle. He held his ground and was tough inside. Motekiai Maile was solid, Darrion Daniels had three tackles and a half sack. Eric Davis had a tackle and snuffed out a screen with a great read to force it to die out. One game does not make season but against a solid center and offensive line the defensive tackles showed up well.

The run stopping overall was obviously good and the linebackers and the safeties were heavily involved with the linemen. 

The offense averaged 6.3 yards per play, 4.4 yard per carry rushing, and 8.3 yards per pass attempt. Those are all good numbers, along with 419 yards on 67 snaps. I would have liked to see more explosive (or) chunk plays. The longest runs were the 26 yards by Childs and the 21-yard touchdown by Rudolph and 13 yards by Walsh. There were four pass plays for more than 20 yards, 49 yards to Ateman, 26 yards on a quick pass to Glidden, 23 yards on a screen to Carson, and 21 yards on a strike to Seales.
Rennie Childs showed some good running but he also had a huge block on the Rudolph touchdown run. Carson had a really nice save on a pass protection play. You love running backs that get it and block for others and protect the quarterback.

Marcell Ateman was a different receiver in fall camp and that carried over into the first game last night. Call it maturity or call it, as some of pointed out, urgency. His touchdown catch was a physical play you like to see out of a receiver. David Glidden was also spot on in the receiving game. Glidden is such a clutch player.

We saw a glimpse of it and there is more to come with the quarterbacks game involving Rudolph and Walsh. There will be so much fun with this. Please, be patient. I already hear the boo birds on the OC and I'm telling you that Mike Yurcich is a good play caller and he now has a developing offense that can be explosive where he has not had that fire power previously, let it develop. 

Rudolph was so smooth in his body language and leadership in the offense and he only had a few mistakes with the fumble, a few errant throws, and being sacked. Rudolph made some nice throws and moved around inside and outside the pocket well and, as coached, did not turn the ball over. 

This video will be so good for this team to see as 14 of the Cowboys starters were either in their first or second season as a starter and 12 of the players that played were in their first game ever as an OSU Cowboy, meaning either a freshman, redshirt freshman, or transfer.

The old coaching adage is "you improve the most from game one to game two," and I have always believed that to be true.

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