Saturday Scrimmage Column

It was a better scrimmage than Wednesday as the Cowboys took steps forward to the opener with Nebraska, but where are they on the coaching staff's time table. It's two weeks away says Les Miles and company, which in the big picture is good because the game is two weeks away.

THE BIG PICTURE: COWBOYS ON PACE FOR NEBRASKA STILLWATER -- After Saturday's final major scrimmage I decided to make O-State head coach Les Miles the editor. I asked Miles if he were to write a column about one aspect of the 79-play scrimmage held in sizzling Oklahoma heat, what would his topic be.
"I would write the defense and the way they rose to the occasion at the end of the scrimmage, despite the heat and the lack of depth, to stop both the first and second team offense inside the five," said Miles doing a pretty good impersonation of a journalist. "I was really impressed with those guys. That is what I was looking for to see our players stand up to adversity and overcome."
Miles' idea is a good one, and one I took to heart. The defenders were lacking in numbers on Saturday due to injury, and they did rise up and serve as a wall in the final moments of the scrimmage when they had to be hot and tired. Those defenders were every bit as tough as the several hundred Cowboy fans that stuck it out from the start of the scrimmage to the finish in the metal bleachers of the sun baked north stands. I know, I was over there the first part of the practice leading up to the scrimmage and it was so hot I couldn't concentrate notes I was taking.
I just can't narrow myself down to that scope for a scrimmage that had to serve as a launching pad for the final two weeks of preparation to the most anticipated season opener for Oklahoma State in school history. I knwo that to be the case because the Cowboys are ranked in the preseason polls (#24 in the Associated Press and #24 in the ESPN/USA Today coach's poll), O-State is opening with traditional power Nebraska, Cowboy fans have huge expectations, and some 5,500 of them (a record for a preseason scrimmage) braved the brick oven heat to come check out a scrimmage.
I'm a big picture guy, so when Les Miles says, "we're not where we need to be to beat Nebraska, but we're where we need to b right now, two weeks out." I can't help but try to figure out where that is, and how much further the Cowboys need to come to beat the Huskers. Let's start on offense, at quarterback. I think Josh Fields is right on track. In two scrimmages the Stillwater junior has a wide range of passes completing 26-of-42 passes for 380-yards and 10 touchdowns. He has found his favorite target Rashaun Woods for a 40-yard touchdown on Saturday. He's also hooked up with Gabe Lindsay, D'Juan Woods, Errick McCown, Chijuan Mack, Charlie Johnson, Tim Burrough, Vernand Morency, Shawn Willis, and more. Fields is one guy ready for Nebraska. The best barometer of Fields' readiness is zero, as in he has thrown sero interceptions and had zero fumbles in the two scrimmages. That's the kind of statistic that will get the Cowboys a win in Lincoln.
The running backs are moving forward. Health has been an issue, but nothing serious, and Seymore Shaw's return to active status with 58-yards on 11 carries was a welcome sight on Saturday. The other tailbacks that have filled in have been good, sometimes even spectacular (Morency), but they lack the consistency of gaining yards carry after carry that Shaw and Tatum Bell (slightly pulled hamstring) possess. Shaw took the holes, some big and some slivers, and made runs that were never less than four-yards. The exciting new discovery in fall camp has been fullback Sahwn Willis. After starter Tim Burrough roughed up his shoulder in the scrimmage, Willis came on to run and catch then rumble, stumble, and bumble for big yards. The big guy isn't the prettiest runner, but defenders hate to get in his way.
The wide receiver are not ready for Lincoln yet, well most of them. Rashaun Woods is ready for the NFL, but he passed it up to give all of us another year of highlights and memories. Bless him for that. Rashaun has caught eight passes for 135-yards in two scrimmages with two touchdowns. Woods even made a tackle when he caught speedy Daniel McLemore from behind after McLemore recovered a Morency fumble in Saturday's scrimmage. Gabe Lindsay is close, but the others can use the extra two weeks of education. The talent is there, but they aren't quite polished. Give the hard coaching Todd Monken two more weeks, and you'll be amazed at the progress.
The tight ends are close. Charlie Johnson is a bigtime blocker and caught a pass Saturday for 14-yards over the middle. Heck, Jesse Jackson made a nifty play on a 10-yard reception. Billy Bajema should be healthy by Tuesday and he is missed when he is not out there.
The offensive line is again going to be a strength on this Cowboys team. Ben Buie is as tough as they come at center. Chris Akin and Sam Mayes are bulldozer guards. Matt Hardison is ever improving at left tackle, and Sam Mayes says he can talk right guard Kellen Davis through a game, and I beleive Sam. The depth is good, and Chuck Moller has two more weeks to extract improvement. Moller can extract with the best of them.
The defense is one big incomplete. A lot of guys banged up on the defensive line and at linebacker. A roster really was needed on Saturday as Antonio "Scooby" Smith moved back inside for part of the scrimmage, and the linebackers were sometimes unfamiliar faces. However, the secondary is much improved. Rashaun Woods is having to work against them, those catches are getting more difficult, and a few times he hasn't been able to catch the ball. There have been interceptions in practice and in the scrimmages. Remember back to Miles' idea for a column when the going was tough, so was the defense. Seven plays at the five or inside of it at the end and the offense could not reach into the orange. Bill Clay has two more weeks to coordinate a unit that is bound to get> Special teams are great, the fans on Saturday went nuts over Darrent Williams 66-yard kickoff return, and especially his 56-yard punt return for a touchdown. The problem is still field goals and extra points, the snaps have been inconsistent and it is obvious that kicker Luke Phillips is bothered by it. Joe DeForest has two more weeks and he is capable of pulling special teams miracles in two weeks time. It comes down to this, two weeks is a long time on the OSU coaching calendar.
"We have a good idea of what we're going to do (at Nebraska), and we've had a good idea of what we were going to do since June," said offensive coordinator and assistant head coach Mike Gundy. "One thing coach Miles has taught all of us on this staff is that we coach right up until they kick it off. Not all coaches believe in that. Whether that is right, wrong, or indifferent that is what we do here. We'' evaluate, tape, and adjust. We'll coach right up until the walk through right after pregame meal on August 30.
So, don't worry. Enjoy the sites and sounds of Saturday's sizzler in Stillwater. Carry the confidence of the good things you saw out of the 2003 Cowboys preseason camp, and then realize that the finished product is still two weeks away.

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