STILLWATER – Every time I write something about the offense I feel like I have to hide for fear of being hit by the rotten tomatoes, eggs and worse being thrown by some vocally strong critics of the Oklahoma State Cowboys. It ranges from the offensive coordinator and his play calling to certain players or the offensive line as a group.
The truth of the situation is that you have a very talented quarterback that is now preparing for his seventh start and still learning and getting better, a new starting running back from junior college, a group of players learning a new identity and doing some old and some new things in the Cowboy backs, a very large and competitive group of receivers as seven of them made catches last Saturday, and that offensive line that has some talent and some underdog players that need to scrap and fight to get better and get the job done.
The sum of the parts has produced an offense that is fifth in the league in scoring (41.7 points per game), sixth in the conference in total offense (508.7 yards per game), seventh in rushing offense (178 yards per game), and sixth in passing offense (330.7 yards per game). Great numbers but accomplished against perceived low-level competition. Anybody see that Central Michigan took Syracuse to overtime on the road on Saturday before losing 30-27 in the Carrier Dome?
No excuses, this offense is still working, still learning, and will likely be progressing all season long. The last two weeks have been good strides, especially on Saturday against UTSA. In talking with offensive coordinator Mike Yurcich on Monday, I first asked if the video showed the progress in the run game that it appeared to be in person on Saturday.
"It's what we thought it would be," Yurcich said not really going into greater detail on particular plays or series. "We did a nice job of improving ourselves from a fundamental standpoint. Our guys have been blocking hard all year. The safeties weren't as close to the line of scrimmage as they were the first two weeks. That was a big factor, but we are making strides upfront. Our guys did a great job. Coach (Greg) Adkins deserves a lot of credit. He did a great job of coaching those guys."
On Saturday after the game, offensive right tackle Zach Crabtree called it a progression that is what the offensive line is going through in an effort to get better. The finish line is really not even in sight, but neither is the starting line, which goes back to last season and the low points of the losses to TCU, West Virginia, and Texas.
"We’re a completely different offensive line," Crabtree said. "We’ve got a good guy in that room that’s coaching us and that’s leading us. He’s put us in positions to be successful. When you do that, it gives you a chance, and that’s all you can ask for."
Yurcich feels the other progressions on offense are taking shape. The Cowboy backs were used effectively to load up blocking at the point of attack and it looked good in many cases. It helped and was evident on the first offensive touchdown, the 26-yard run up the gut by Chris Carson as Zac Veatch had a big block on the play.
Quarterback Mason Rudolph also had a solid game with no turnovers and a quicker start if not throwing for as gaudy a numbers as he did against Central Arkansas.
"He was very consistent. You got to give credit when you're consistent in the passing game," Yurcich expressed. "You have to share responsibilities from receivers, offensive line in protection, tailbacks in protection and route running by the tailbacks, but he was good. He took what the defense gave him, didn't force the ball downfield, his decision-making was good and that's what we expect from him every week."
Now the Cowboys get Texas defense loaded with blue chip recruits but currently sitting at ninth in the conference in scoring defense (37.0 points a game) and ninth in total defense allowing opponents an average of 512.3 yards a game.
"They do a lot of good things on defense," Yurcich said. "They run defend really well, have some good young talent with some experience blended in as well. Physically, the fronts are big, strong and they give you multiple looks and coverages. Because of that, we'll have to prepare well this week and get ready for what they have to bring on Saturday."
He added that they will play four- and three-man fronts and will play them over and under to the strong side. They will mix up coverages and they will run several blitzes and they have a sensational newcomer leading the way much like redshirt freshman quarterback Jarrod Heard is doing on offense in true freshman linebacker Malik Jefferson.