Grading the Cowboys

(right)Oklahoma State's Vernon Grant (20) knocks the ball away from Nebraska's Matt Herian (11) in the first half Saturday. See what grade Jay gave the secondary, which received far better marks than the rest of the squad.

Quarterback:  Josh Fields opened the game strong, completing consecutive passes to Rashaun Woods, Billy Bajema and Gabe Lindsay before zipping a 4-yard touchdown delivery to Woods in the corner of the south end zone.  Fields showed tremendous precision on the Cowboy's initial drive, threading his passes to Woods and Lindsay amidst tight coverage.  In the opening drive, the junior quarterback completed 4 of 6 passes for 42 yards and the Cowboy's lone score.  Fields returned to the locker room at halftime completing 8 of 16 passes for 75 yards, with one touchdown and one interception. 


The second half, however, proved far more difficult for the Cowboy's quarterback, with Fields' tossing two addition interceptions, and fumbling for a fourth turnover on the afternoon.  The Cornhusker's defensive adjustments forced Fields to hurry many of his passes and considerably disrupted his timing.  Fields, however, failed to connect on a handful of additional attempts to open Cowboy receivers, lessening his overall effectiveness.  Oklahoma State's five turnovers proved the determining factor in the contest, allowing the Nebraska offense additional opportunities to score.  Unfortunately, four of the turnovers appear next to Fields' name in the stat sheets.  Fields just seemed to lack the usual crispness and accuracy in his passes. 


Head Coach Les Miles quickly dismissed any notion that the blame lie exclusively on Fields' shoulders, "Today, we put pressure on Josh Fields to throw in predictable situations, and didn't protect him extremely well either."  Fields finished the afternoon completing just 13 passes out of 28 attempts for a meager 97 yards.  


Overall Grade:  C-.  The offensive line performed sub par, however, 4 turnovers from the quarterback position diminished the Cowboy's opportunity to win the football game.



Running Backs:  The Cowboy offensive line opened plenty of running lanes for OSU's ground assault early in the contest; however, failed to consistently allow the Cowboys to establish any sort of running game in the second half.  Senior tailback Tatum Bell accounted for the only significant rushing yards on the day, gaining 87 yards on 23 carries.  Bell's third quarter fumble, however, blemished his day's performance as the turnover led to a Nebraska score.  Cornhusker linebacker Barrett Ruud scooped the ball up off the turf and sailed 15 yards for a touchdown, putting Nebraska up 10-7.  Nebraska defensive coordinator Bo Pelini successful adjusted his defensive alignment in the second half, limiting the Cowboys in both the rush and the pass.  In sum, the Cowboy's failed to establish the ground game necessary to balance the offense and alleviate the pressure on Josh Fields and Rashaun Woods to make plays.


In the second quarter, sophomore fullback Shawn Willis' drop of a Josh Fields pass ended a Cowboy offensive threat, and stalled a drive at the Nebraska 26 yard-line.  Demarrio Williams, Nebraska's fleet footed speed linebacker, chased Bell corralled Bell on some occasions, as Cowboy lead blockers failed to consistently block Williams.  At halftime, Bell averaged 4.6 yards per carry.  In the second half, that total slipped to 3.8 yards per carry, as Bell added on 36 more yards to his rushing total.


Junior Seymore Shaw, the only other Cowboy to carry the football, gained just 8 yards on 4 carries, as the bruising tailback from Shawnee failed to productively contribute in the rushing effort.  Senior Tim Burrough spelled Willis at fullback.


Overall Grade:  C+.  Bell valiantly rushed for 87 yards against the revitalized Black Shirt defense, however, his costly turnover, the Pokes inability to continue the run game in the second, and the lack of additional production from other ball carriers half explain the C+ grade. 



Wide Receivers:  Rashaun Woods, as expected, contributed a drive saving grab on third and four on the Cowboy's opening drive.  Woods slanted between two Cornhusker defenders, and juggled a strike thrown by Fields, and then cut across the middle of the field after gaining 28 yards and setting up his 4-yard touchdown reception.


Gabe Lindsay also assisted heroically in the OSU scoring drive, hauling in a pass off of a slant pattern, and enduring a massive blow delivered by two Nebraska defensive backs.  Lindsay's reception totaled 8 yards, but converted a first down out of a third and seven situation, keeping the drive alive.


The Cowboy offensive staff seemed reluctant to try and force the ball to Woods, who faced double coverage over 90% of the contest.  Additionally, no other Cowboy receivers consistently stepped up to take advantage of the light coverage on the opposite side of Rashaun Woods.  Of the Cowboy's receiving corps, only D'Juan Woods and Tommy Devereaux recorded receptions in addition to Rashaun Woods and Lindsay, catching one pass apiece.


The fact that the Husker defense adjusted in the second half and flustered Field's ability to stand in the pocket and located receivers minimized the receiver's abilities to contribute their abilities in the contest. 


Overall Grade:  Incomplete, due to Fields' inability to consistently connect with open receivers, and the lack of utilization of Rashaun Woods.  A second and third receiver emerging as a threat critically affects the future success of this football team.



Tight Ends:  Billy Bajema squirted free of the Nebraska secondary in the first half, streaking down the middle of the Memorial Field turf.  Oddly, Josh Fields' pass attempt to Bajema sailed way over the top of the athletic tight end's reach, one of several missed opportunities by the Cowboy offense.


Field's found Bajema on two occasions with coverage lagging off of the tall target to shade Rashaun Woods; however, OSU's offense failed to consistently establish the tight end as a receiving option as well throughout the match-up.


Additionally, the tight ends struggled, along with the offensive linemen, to pick up Nebraska's blitz and pass rush packages, which proved key in Nebraska's neutralization of Oklahoma State's offense.  Bajema recorded the only pass reception from a tight end with 2 grabs for 19 yards.


Overall Grade:  C-.  The Cowboy offensive staff failed to involve the tight end as a viable option in the offense.  Fields missed Bajema on a potential scoring opportunity…at least a big gain and momentum fueling play.  Poor blocking in the second half off the edge allowed a furious Nebraska pass rush to dismantle OSU's aerial assault.



Offensive Line:  The Cowboy offensive line performed admirably in the first half, keying the Pokes on an 11-play, 54-yard scoring drive to answer Nebraska's opening drive field goal.  The Husker defensive adjustments in the second half, however, included additional blitzing from an array of different positions, seemingly taking advantage of OSU's two rookie offensive tackles.  The blitz packages implemented by the Cornhuskers appeared to confused first time starters Matt Hardison and Kellen Davis.  The Husker's speedy pass rushers Demarrio Williams, Bernard Thomas and Jerrell Pippens fiercely pressured Fields, riddling the Cowboy quarterback, and jamming up running lanes to minimize the ground game.  The Husker's won the battle in the trenches by tremendous pressure from the edges, at times, racing right by the Cowboy tackles and tight ends.   Hardison and Davis played the entire game at the tackle spots, along with guards Chris Akin and Sam Mayes, and center Ben Buie.


Overall Grade:  D.  The breakdown of protection in the second half forced quarterback Josh Fields to hurry his passes, and endure severe punishment inflicted by the onslaught of Nebraska's front seven.  



Defensive Line:  Nebraska netted 268 yards on the ground in the contest on 65 rushing plays.  Cornhusker ball carriers averaged 4.1 yards per carry, mostly up the core of the Cowboy defensive alignment.  Nebraska offensive coordinator Barney Cotton nearly abandoned the passing game after the Husker's initial drive, largely due to the Big Red and Josh Davis' success rushing up the middle. 


Greg Richmond logged 8 tackles from his defensive end position, however, Cowboy defensive tackles Clay Coe, Antonio Smith, Efe Mowarin, and Mike Williams recorded a mere 10 tackles as a group.  The tackles' inability to stop Husker running backs resulted in large tackle totals by linebacker Lawrence Pinson (10), and safeties Elbert Craig (11) and Jon Holland (12), mostly, as the average per carry indicates, 3 or 4 yards down field.


The defensive ends performed a decent job containing Nebraska's trademark option offense, and initiated a fairly solid pass rush.  Khreem Smith and Trumain Carroll aided Richmond and Antonio Smith at the defensive end position.


Overall Grade:  C.  The defensive ends exhibited their athleticism in their tireless pursuit and containment of Lord on the option, the roll-out and the pass, however, the defensive tackles surrendered far to many yards on the ground, and forced linebackers and safeties to make tackles way downfield.  A key to any future success for this football team involves addressing the tackles ability to not only stop the rush, but also aid the ends in applying pressure on opposing passers.



Linebackers:  Sophomore linebacker Lawrence Pinson led the corps with 10 tackles, regularly making stops on Husker tailback Josh Davis.  Sophomore Paul Duren added another 8 tackles, while a third sophomore, Padgitte McGee tallied 7 tackles.  The Linebacking group made plays when necessary, but again, the fact that the backers recorded such a large number of tackles further explains the high average yards per carry by the Nebraska rushers.  The linebacker successfully carried out all assignments, and limited any potential Cornhusker big play opportunities.  The defensive line's ability to improve in the run game critically affects the linebacker's ability to contribute to the overall defensive effort. 


Overall Grade:  B.  The Linebackers seemingly executed their roles on Saturday.  The defensive lines improvement determines the improvement of the entire defense, and the linebackers learning to further assert themselves as "difference makes" determines the Cowboy's future ability to control a power running game.



Defensive Secondary:  The exciting play of the Cowboy's vastly improved safeties and cornerbacks provided one of the definitive bright spots the Pokes take from Saturday's contest.  Jon Holland emerged as a solid, steadying force at the free safety position.  Starting in his first game as a Poke, the junior college transfer from NEO registered 12 tackles, and intercepted a deflected Jammal Lord pass in the second quarter, which stymied a Cornhusker drive.  Holland's sure tackling and nose for the football gave Cowboy coach and fans a glimpse of the reliability needed at the last line of the Cowboy defense.  Robert Jones, another of the Cowboy transplants from NEO, registered 7 tackles, and, along with fellow cornerbacks Darrent Williams, Vernon Grant, and Daniel McLemore, provided blanket coverage on Cornhusker receivers, affording defensive coordinator Bill Clay the opportunity to commit additional defenders to the task of containing Lord's vast rushing ability. 


The entire secondary allowed just one long pass play all afternoon long, a 33-yard lob from Lord to sophomore tight end Matt Herian, in the third quarter.


The Cowboy defensive backs displayed tremendous speed and pursuit on several occasions.  In one instance, Jammal Lord attempted to change fields in the first half, beginning by sprinting out to his left, and then reversing fields back to his right side before Darrent Williams corralled Lord well behind the line of scrimmage.  The pursuit and swarming nature of the Oklahoma State defensive backs signaled significant improvement from a year ago, and marks a potential strength of the OSU defense in 2003.  Not only did relentlessly fly to the football, but also delivered punishing blows to ball carriers upon arrival.


Senior Elbert Craig registered an early season highlight reel caliber sack as the veteran from Oklahoma City rocketed into the backfield and blasted an unsuspecting Jammal Lord for a 6-yard loss.  Fellow senior Fath' Carter also dragged Lord down for a 3-yard loss to conclude the first quarter.  Craig assisted Holland in spearheading the secondary's attack, involving himself with 11 tackles. 


In addition to the starters, Jamie Thompson, Freddie Sinclair, Thomas Wright, and Jamar Ransom contributed at the Safety positions.


The high number of tackles registered by the safeties, corners, and linebackers, however indicate that the defensive front struggled to muster a significant defense against the Husker onslaught.


Overall Grade:  A-.  The tremendous athletic play of the secondary allowed the Oklahoma State football team the opportunity to compete for a win in the contest.  Senior Elbert Craig established himself as a leader from his weak safety position, and Jon Holland emerges as a steadying force at free safety.



Special Teams:  Vernand Morency's dazzling first quarter kick-off return set the table for the offense's scoring drive.  Morency, Darrent Williams and Robert Jones' consistency in this area add an explosive weapon to the Cowboy arsenal.  Snapping proved reliable, and Cole Farden's punting produced field position changes necessary to give the Cowboy defense a chance to make stops and hand the ball over to Josh Fields and the Cowboy offense.  A blocked field goal eliminated a Husker score, but the Cowboy's allowed Nebraska to return the favor.  Gabe Lindsay produced average results Saturday as a punt returner.


Overall Grade:  B-.

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