Oklahoma State fans have heard throughout the spring from Mike Gundy and the coaching staff how much better the Cowboys offensive line was performing after averaging only 126 rushing yards per game in 2015.
On Saturday, at the Orange-Black Spring Game, the fans got to see for themselves how much better the offensive line was than a year ago. To be honest, Cowboys fans – and the coaching staff too – have reason to be worried.
The five running backs combined for 90 rushing yards on 30 carries, with only senior Rennie Childs leading the way with 38 yards on 8 attempts (4.75 yards per carry). None of the other running backs – senior Chris Carson (6 for 12 yards), sophomore Jeff Carr (8 for 18), junior Jakeem Johnson (7 for 21) or senior Keegan Metcalf (1 for 1) – averaged more than 3 yards per carry.
It is not a good sign for a team that was ninth in rushing in the Big 12 and 113th out of 127 FBS teams a year ago.
"We're in a divided unit, we substitute a lot in a lot of our packages, so there's kind of a minimal opportunity for us to be as diverse as we want to. As in the case in most springs, there's an advantage for the defense,” Gundy said. “They’ve seen the same plays for two months, but they've got to get lined up and make plays also.
“We're an improved team. We have a lot of work ahead of us, but it's a little more difficult at times to function in a spring game than you want it to be."
Gundy does believe the offensive line got better over the 14 practices throughout the spring. The Cowboys head coach said there are seven linemen capable of playing when the season kicks off in September.
“They’re better. We’ve got a long ways to go but we’ve improved,” Gundy said.
Gundy said the five returning starters – left tackle Victor Salako, left guard Michael Wilson, center Brad Lundblade, right guard Jesse Robinson and right tackle Zach Crabtree – and redshirt freshman Marcus Keyes and junior college transfer Larry Williams are all capable of playing.
"We've got some guys that are in there, seven guys, that without watching the tape that we feel like can roll in and they're in pretty good position,” he said. “There will be some spots that there will be real competition for. There are some guys that are pretty solid there."
The Cowboys, however, only had one player surpass the 100-yard rushing mark in a game last season, and their leading rusher (Carson) only gained 517 yards (or an average of 43.1 per game).
Like Gundy, offensive coordinator Mike Yurcich believes the offensive line got better during the spring.
"As a whole, from a spring perspective, we feel good about where we're at. We had to make sure we were balanced at the same time. Evaluating depth and things like that will probably run all the way up to fall camp for us,” he said.
"I don't want to give you a hard number and leave a guy out, but I think we feel good about seven guys right now. Larry (Williams) is a guy that needs to keep learning the system and get better fundamentally. Junior (redshirt sophomore Lemaefe Galea’i) is a guy that we think can come in and press for some playing time and some early action.
But he knows the offensive line needs to continue to improve.
“Depending on what happens in the offseason and summer, we've still got a lot of work to do, but we'll be deeper than we were last year. That's for certain,” Yurcich said.