Grading the Cowboys

Pink slips, anyone? Even though the Cowboys pulled off the hard-fought victory, Professor Jay isn't shy about the facts. Freely handing out demerits, the toughest Cowboy critic lets us in on which position has seen better Saturdays, and which set of Pokes set the curve for the rest of the class.

Quarterback:  Aside from one poor choice in the second half, Josh Fields played, easily, his best game of the 2003 season in terms of throwing mechanics as well as management of the OSU offense.  Unfortunately, however, a thunderous shift of momentum ensued the lone mistake of the junior quarterback.  Field registered a solid 62 percent (18-of-29), mixing passes among nine different receivers, and pitched a touchdown strike to tight end Charlie Johnson.  Fields effectively and consistently connected on pass plays in critical situations to convert third downs, prolong drives, and maximize double coverage assigned to Rashaun Woods by hitting alternate receivers.


We stated a few weeks ago that turnovers count as a full lowering of a letter grade due to the potential negative consequences in the outcomes of critical football games.  Amazingly, Fields single interception led to a furious comeback by the Red Raiders, highlighting the significance and detriment of turning the ball over to the opposition.      


Overall Grade:  B


Running Back:  The Oklahoma State Cowboys enjoy the luxury of a fully balanced offensive attack, and enjoy the benefits of forcing opponents to "pick their poison" in defending the Pokes.  Opposing squads continue to attempt to shut down Rashaun Woods and the OSU passing game, daring the Cowboys to rush the football.  Tatum Bell continues to burn defense after defense for allocating additional personnel to Woods, and testing the Pokes' ground game.  Bell unleashed an impressive array of moves and shakes against the Red Raiders, while creatively and patiently utilized his blockers. Bell displayed the sum of these traits on his first touchdown scamper in which he weaved in and out of blocks before thrusting into full speed in open space, and blistering Tech's secondary en route to the endzone.


Seymore Shaw demonstrated the depth and talent at the tailback position in spelling Bell.  Shaw ripped of a 53-yard touchdown ramble of his own, giving the Pokes a needed score, and allowing the coaching staff to rest Bell for key drives late in the contest.


Shawn Willis continues to polish his run-and-pass blocking skills as his maturation gives the Cowboys the elements missing in the early season loss at Nebraska. Willis' bone-crushing kick-out blocks keyed many of the tailback's long runs.  Willis earned negative marks for his dropped passes, but proves a vital component in the offensive scheme with his effective blocking.


Overall Grade:  A+   


Wide Receivers:  Rashaun Woods continues to amaze as he endures a rigorous physical onslaught each game, battling multiple defenders for each and every catch.  Again, Woods' mere presence provides immeasurable value to the OSU offense as he attracts additional defenders and attention that creates opportunities for other receivers and in the running game.  In addition to the distraction Woods caused by drawing multiple defenders out of the "box", Woods reeled in six catches on dynamic grabs for 147 yards.


D'Juan Woods caught three balls for 70 yards, including a fantastic 31-yard reception over his outside shoulder on a flag-pattern to convert a third down and 24.  D'Juan's development and improvement fills the Cowboy's need for a solid second receiving option opposite of Rashaun.  Additionally, D'Juan indicates the ability to run with the football after the catch better than his All-American big brother.    


Further defining himself as the Cowboy's third down receiving specialist, Gabe Lindsay hauled in a 26-yard strike and endured a violent lick from a Tech defender to keep a Cowboy drive alive.  Tommy Devereaux exhibited his tantalizing speed on a touchdown scoring reverse, giving Cowboy fans significant hope for future big plays from the talent freshman receiver.


Overall Grade:  A+


Tight Ends:  Billy Bajema and Charlie Johnson benefited from single coverage and attention given to the running game and Rashaun Woods as both caught passes while Tech seemingly neglected them.  Johnson snared a 16-yard touchdown pass.  Both tight ends, along with Jesse Jackson, blocked effectively on the perimeter, while patiently waiting for passes their way.  The tight end continues to evolve in the OSU offense, and Bajema and Johnson give Fields two viable receiving options for future use.


Overall Grade:  A


Offensive Line:  The Cowboy offensive line turned in another dominating performance, and triggered OSU's offensive explosion, as the big men up front manhandled their counterparts for the Red Raiders.  Ben Buie returned at his center position, and Doug Koenig and Corey Hilliard started again for the Pokes at the tackle positions.  The offensive line allowed only one sack, as they paved the path for the Cowboy's fourth largest total offensive output in school history.  The rushing attack features one formation in which Corey Curtis replaces Sam Mayes at right guard, Mayes lines up in the backfield as a blocking back, and all three tight ends join the formation as the Pokes line up for some in-your-face, smash-mouth football.


Overall Grade:  A+


Defensive Line:  Bill Clay carefully designed a defensive strategy to limit the Red Raider's devastatingly potent offense.  The plan called for three and four linemen sets, with noteworthy changes along the front.  The Cowboy defensive staff stacked up a front line with speed and quickness in hopes of pressuring Tech's record setting quarterback B.J. Symons.  Senior defensive ends Greg Richmond and Khreem Smith lined up at the end positions, while Antonio Smith moved inside this week to add athleticism to the Cowboy pass rush.  The staff strategically mixed in several other linemen, and alternated formations between three and four down linemen to confuse the Red Raiders.  Richmond, Smith and Smith responded with a tenacious pass rush that led to six sacks on the day.  The Red Raiders allowed only five sacks all season prior to the contest with the Cowboys.  Antonio Smith and Richmond tallied two sacks a piece, while Jerry Don Bray, who provided numerous valuable snaps, recorded his first sack of the season.  Smith's sack proved the most valuable for the Cowboys as it set knocked the Red Raiders well out of field goal range and gave his fellow defenders a much needed boost in the final stand of the game.  The defensive front relentlessly and aggressively hammered away at the Tech offensive line despite lacking the benefit of additionally defensive help up front. 


Marque Fountain, Clay Coe, Efe Mowarin and Brad Girtman spelled the senior ends and Bray to give the Cowboys well-rested pass-rushers up front.   


Overall Grade:  A


Linebackers:  Pagitte McGee, Paul Duren and Victor DeGrate rotated in and out at the linebacker positions as the Pokes implemented both a 4-1-6 and 3-2-6 looks along with the base 4-2-5 against Texas Tech.  The linebacker's assignments included monitoring any running plays, passes to the running backs, and passes over the middle.  Duren effectively quarterbacked the Cowboy defense, seeing that players lined up in the correct spots, and the linebackers provided heavy pressure on well-mixed blitzes, however, the group as a hole managed the middle of the field poorly.  At times, the linebackers and secondary athletes tackled poorly, allowing the Red Raiders extra yardage after the catch.  On Tech running back Taureen Henderson's long touchdown run, Tech linemen swallowed both Duren and DeGrate, and eliminated them from the play.  The Tech offense presents a tremendous challenge to any defense, however, the OSU linebackers failed to play up to their full capabilities due to their poor efforts in open-field tackling.


Overall Grade:  C


Defensive Backs:  Again, the Tech offense racks up considerable yardage on everyone, and proves virtually impossible to shut down all together.  Teams attempt to minimize the high-powered Red Raiders, and accumulate enough stops within the contest to win.  Although the Cowboy defense allowed 661 yards of total offense, the OSU secondary showed numerous positive signs, far outweighing any negatives.  Cowboy defensive backs forced two turnovers, to offset OSU's lone turnover.


The Cowboy cornerbacks continue to anchor the unit, as Darrent Williams blossoms into an All Big 12 caliber cornerback before our very eyes.  Tech consistently attempted to pick on Williams, who repeatedly defended passes against a tall, athletic receiving corp…one of the Big 12's best.  D-Will tallied five passes broken up.  Robert Jones provided consistently coverage opposite of Williams.


Although the safeties played a reasonably solid game, some of the members failed to consistently defense the Red Raider's crossing patterns over the middle, and, like the linebackers, tackled poorly from time to time, giving up big yardage on what began as short passes over the middle and in the flats.  All defensive backs blew coverage from time to time, but bounced back to keep the Pokes in the game.  The Cowboy secondary failed to produce a perfect effort, however, the group improved significantly against the Red Raiders from their contest a year ago, and, again, made enough plays to count a mark in the most important category of all statistics:  One Win.


All in all, the Cowboy secondary made enough plays for OSU to win, not to mention, an OSU defensive back, free safety Jon Holland, made the biggest play at the most timely moment, picking off Tech's final pass of the game to seal the victory for the Pokes.  Jamar Ransom added an interception as well. 


Finally, the Cowboys wisely and aggressively blitzed safeties from a variety of positions to add significant pressure on Symons, and effectively disrupted his timing and rhythm.


Overall Grade:  C+


Special Teams:  Tech return man and native Oklahoman Wes Welker gives the Raiders one of the Big 12 most dangerous weapons on punts.  Welker burned the Cowboys several times in the past, but, fortunately, the Pokes limited Welker's opportunities this Saturday, smothering him on his only return attempt of the game. 


Cole Farden blasted nearly every kick-off out of the end zone to limit returns, and Luke Phillips drilled three field goal attempts and all PATs.


The negative aspect of the special teams play for the Pokes came with the ridiculous fake punt call late in the fourth quarter.  The fake attempt marks a poor coaching decision, as noted by the head coach in the postgame, reflects in the grade.  The Cowboys elected to throw a pass by a punter who never threw a pass previously, to a defensive end, who, had never before caught a pass -- instead of utilizing a veteran, experienced quarterback and an All-American wide receiver.  This erroneous decision nearly cost the Cowboys the game as it resulted in a turnover on downs to the Red Raiders, giving them terrific field position.  Fortunately, the Poke defense stepped up to make game deciding plays in the end to overcome the bad decision making by the usually stellar Cowboy coaching staff.


Overall Grade:  C-

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