Pat Kinnison

My Thoughts On The Sugar Bowl, 10-3 Season

Robert Allen offers his thoughts on Oklahoma State's loss to Ole Miss in the Sugar Bowl, and his opinions on what went right and what went wrong throughout the 2015 season.

There nothing you can do about the Sugar Bowl loss now. Oklahoma State was up against a very good football team in Ole Miss that has back-to-back wins over Alabama and will have as many as 11 of its starters from Friday night end up playing in the NFL, and at least two of those will be picked in the first round of the upcoming NFL Draft (LaQuon Treadwell and Laremy Tunsil).

That is a loaded team. When Oklahoma State had an opportunity to strike first and get a leg up, the Cowboys didn't seize it. When Ole Miss got cranked up, the Cowboys weren't capable of competing with the Rebels.

Unlike the fan that posted on Facebook that Mike Gundy, Glenn Spencer and Mike Yurcich should take their bowl bonuses and use them to pass out vouchers to Oklahoma State fans that made the trip for money to cover their Cajun meals in the French Quarter, I think nothing of the such. You choose to invest your money, your time and your heart into your school and your football team.

You are invested and you hurt, but it's not like the coaches and players as their investment is greater (in blood, sweat, and much more time). But you hurt and you share in the loss. That is what makes you a great fan. There is no guarantee and there is no refund when your team losses and disappoints themselves and their fans.

You do get to voice your opinion and I promise to read it and hear it. Here are mine coming out of that game and this season.

1. Let's start with the Sugar Bowl. Ole Miss was better and unfortunately despite trying Oklahoma State couldn't do much about it.

It was a fear I had going into the game. You watch tape and you see a team at its best, and sometimes less than its best. Had Ole Miss played like they did against Florida or Memphis then Oklahoma State would have had a chance, and the Rebels did open up unsteady in the contest. Oklahoma State did too and as the result of some dropped passes and the continued ugly aspect of not being able to run the ball conventionally with even a minimum of success, 3-0 was all the head start the Pokes could get. 

Capitalizing on Ashton Lampkin's interception and then pushing the field goal on the second possession into the end zone for a 14-0 start could have totally changed the complexion of the game. There were drops and before the field goal needing one yard on successive run plays that netted minus one yard was indicative of the entire season and the frustration with not being able to run the football.  

The defense eventually caved and was being chewed up pretty good from the beginning, but with the early turnover and some stops, even holding Ole Miss to a field goal on its third possession, the Cowboys defense gave the offense a chance. Then the Rebels cranked it up and you saw the team that beat Alabama, LSU, Texas A&M, and Mississippi State and was ranked as high as third in the country at one point during the season.

Ole Miss is big, physical and athletic and has recruited better than Oklahoma State – and a lot of other schools – over the past three or fours seasons and it showed. Gundy was aware of it and also feared what could happen if the Rebels gained the momentum.

"I was honest with the media for the past couple of weeks, as they are a very talented football team," Gundy said after the game. "I'm not making any excuses for where we are at (as a team), but when I watched on tape them dominate Alabama and LSU as a team, because I know what kind of athletes those programs are playing with.

"We tried to come up with schemes to counter that. In this game we are in decent shape in the second quarter and then we gave up big plays and didn't tackle the quarterback when he was scrambling. We couldn't convert, three-and-out, three-and-out, then we have a big play and get called for hands to the face. We had two catches we could have made. They wouldn't have been great catches but they were there. We missed a couple throws and they started making plays. Now all of their trick stuff works, like it did for us in the bowl game last season.

"It cuts deep and nobody likes it," added Gundy. "At times you think as a coach whether you should apologize to the fans and the people? I want them to be proud. I love Oklahoma State and I want the fans to be proud and they should. We got to a point and we lost to three really good teams at the end of the year and I want them to be proud of Oklahoma State and the players and not take anything away from it. They can blame me and I'm okay with that. I would prefer they blame me."

My bottom line is you can blame Mike Gundy and the coaching staff and anybody that was on the staff the previous four or five years. The coaching staff this season and the players on the team played well, coached well, and did a marvelous job working their way to a 10-0 to start the season. Recruiting and how the program recruited in certain positions following a crescendo achievement of winning the Big 12 and the Fiesta Bowl and finishing ranked third in the country after the 2011 season is a focal point. 

2. What areas are of most concern and how do you go about addressing them?

The hardest part of this is that the greatest area of concern, the run game and the offensive line, is one that often is the most time consuming position group to turn around. Much of the season the concern with the line was mostly with blocking the run, but against Ole Miss in the Sugar Bowl loss they also gave up two of three sacks allowed against three-man pressure as the Rebels got to the point where they were rushing three and dropping eight. That was a defensive scheme that caused Oklahoma State a lot of problems all season long as the Cowboys needed passing lanes to move down the field.

To me this is a huge concern and needs to be pushed and everything possible done to improve it as there are so many other areas within the team that are ready to win and win at a big level. Competition and development in the weight room are huge this off-season. Rob Glass and his staff can't turn players incapable into those that can, but they have shown they can pull off some fairly dramatic cases. That needs to happen.

"I thought our pass protection for the most part was good, especially considering how far down we were in the game," Gundy alluded. "Now 73 (Victor Salako) gave up a sack in the third quarter as number 10 for them ran up the field and then did a full 360 and came underneath him. Because they were ahead by three touchdowns they could take chances. 

"I thought Chris Carson ran as hard in this game as he did in the first two games this season, I really did," Gundy continued. "I thought our blocking was average and we didn't get off on backers at times. The quarterback, when Mason was in, we had some run-pass options and he should have handed the ball off and he got greedy and threw it out there and the corner was rolled up. Those couple of plays were on him.

"Long and short of it is our job is to identify what we have to do to develop a running game in the spring and continue to recruit players. I've had my butt kicked before in every sport that I've ever competed in as a coach. For me, I'm in the locker room now putting on my shirt and tie and trying to figure out what we need to do in the first game next year.

"We're going to get back and take a few days off but then we will get together as a coaching staff and we'll self scout in all three phases and make some personnel decisions and get back out on the road recruiting and we have a few spots we need to get and then secure this class and Rob Glass will take over in the off-season. We will come up with a plan for a great spring and we need to keep rolling and get better," Gundy said.

3. This season, next season, and recruiting.

Gundy said at one point in the postgame conversation with myself and the radio audience that he's been asked was this season a surprise, the 10 wins too early. He really didn't answer the question and like most coaches you take it as it comes, especially in wins. I thought it was earlier than expected. I still think this program has several really strong potential seasons ahead but the success in the win column also, for me, emphasized the shortcoming in areas, offensive line, running back, and depth on defense. There will also need to be a receiver rise from being really good to being a first-round NFL Draft type of receiver because in this offense, with a Mason Rudolph, Oklahoma State has had that when they have been championship caliber good.

The offensive line will be the most difficult to accomplish because getting five guys to play as one, getting them to be as proficient at backing up and pass protecting and mashing into defensive fronts and pushing them off the ball takes both physically gifted and strong and mentally tough individuals, isn't easy to come by or to develop.

It's amazing that Oklahoma State doesn't have a superlative running back, but it takes one signature, one transfer, one right fit to get that. It can be a quick fix, but it can also be a multi-year drought as we have discovered.

The defensive depth and players coming on that side of the ball is there and Glenn Spencer and his staff coaching them up and gaining confidence in them is the progression that looks like it needs to take place.

The receiver that becomes the monster that can make a big difference in how secondaries have to deal with Oklahoma State is, in my opinion, either James Washington or Jhajuan Seales, and both would be awesome.

4. What to expect next season?

Way too early for me. Many would probably expect Robert Allen to pick  Big 12 title run, lots of fame and glory for the Cowboys. However, there is a lot of work to be done. Baylor crushed North Carolina and that sizzling comeback by TCU over the ever popular and identifiable Oregon Ducks gives two of the best programs in the Big 12 positive entries into the final month of recruiting and into the off-season.

Oklahoma may have had the best chance for momentum toward 2016, but Baylor and TCU have it now and they are tough competitors. Oklahoma State needs to beat TCU on Bossier City (Parkway), La., quarterback Keondre Wudtee. The coaching staff needs to find a running back from somewhere and maybe pry him off somebody's commitment list.

They need to finish recruiting strong and power through to a huge spring. If they do, so much is possible. If they don't, well be aware that the forces are building in Fort Worth and Waco.

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