Grading The Cowboys

This little addition each week should never start with "I", but this Sunday I (oops, there it is) have to make an exception after reading some of the coverage of the game in the local papers. There is a reason why the media is housed in a press box. Many of them don't understand, and as former NFL head coach Jim Mora, once said, they'll never understand.

There is a reason coaches and players have their own locker room, so they can discuss their team and their efforts in private, and not share it with those unfortunate souls that don't get it.

I'm a little lucky in that I played the game long enough that I understand it at a higher level, not the level of a current player or coach, but certainly a higher level than many of those housed in the land of barbeque and free soft drinks high above. To begin with Bobby Bouchea (Adam Sandler) had it right in the movie, Waterboy. Water is better for you and I drink lots of it on the sidelines.

Being down on the sidelines Saturday in War Memorial Stadium also allowed me to pick up on several aspects of the game that escaped those scribes upstairs. Oklahoma State fans need to thank their lucky stars that strength and conditioning coach Rob Glass and his staff are in Stillwater. Physically, Oklahoma State was vastly superior to Arkansas State.

At the line of scrimmage the Cowboys won the beauty contest, and when the ball was snapped the Indians could not hold the Cowboys. Correction, that was all they could do was hold them. If they didn't grab, it was all over. On offense the Cowboys were also stronger. Witness several plays throughout the game where OSU backs were caught behind the line of scrimmage, but still fought through multiple ASU defenders to gain yards or at least get back to the line of scrimmage. A true telling tale, Oklahoma State had five sacks and 10.5 tackles for loss while Arkansas State had none. No sacks and no tackles for loss for the Indians.

On the sidelines I watched early in the game as OSU quarterback Bobby Reid made two mistake throws, both poor decisions, that resulted in a touchdown -- the only touchdown for Arkansas State, and a killed drive in the red zone. As my broadcast partner would call that one, a "drop dead" turnover. A "drop dead" turnover is a term Cowboy play-by-play man Dave Hunziker invented that describes a turnover that directly effects the score and comes in either an opponent's red zone or inside an offending team's 25-yard line resulting in easy points.

After both miscues, the bench area never panicked. Leaders from the defense told the offense to be patient and that they would get them the ball back. The offense never hung its head and stayed confident in themselves and in Reid. A team that a year ago would have unraveled and fallen apart had grown up. Yes, the Cowboys are young, but as they have been described because so many young players were forced into duty a year ago, they are young and experienced.

Those are your postgame stories, these Cowboys carry a physical edge, much more than they had a year ago, and they now have enough confidence in themselves and each other to weather a little storm. How much they can weather? We'll surely find out as the season progresses but on the road against a top non-BCS conference team they had enough Saturday night.

Now for the grades. This week we start with defense, although special teams could certainly vie for top honors again too.

Defensive Line: A
People were wondering a week ago where the starters were. Coaches said they didn't play enough to get warmed up in the Missouri State blowout. You can believe that now. The defensive line was dominant. Ryan McBean, Larry Brown, Victor DeGrate, Nathan Peterson, Marque Fountain, Darnell Smith, XLK, Derek Burton and Maurice Cummings physically dominated a veteran offensive line which included a Remington and Lombardi candidate at center in Tanner Jenkins. They finished with five sacks and 10.5 tackles for loss. The Indians could not protect their quarterback and ran successfully only because of guessing right on blitzes and stunts or because of missed tackles. In the end Arkansas State had to mass protect to get any passes off.

Linebackers: B
Chris Collins, Rodrick Johnson and Jeremy Nethon were all solid and, at times, very good. There were some missed tackles and some beaten plays in the short passing game, but it was all around a very solid effort.

Secondary: B
This could have easily been an "A" if Jacob Lacey had timed a jump better on an incomplete pass that he could have picked off, and if Calvin Mickens had not dropped an interception in his hands. Martel Van Zant helped turn the momentum around completely when he snagged a floater thrown by ASU quarterback Travis Hewitt. The secondary was excellent on run support and made some nice hits in the ball game. A serious correction from week one, no busted coverages on deep routes, although the Indians don't throw deep a lot.

Special Teams: A
Joe DeForest is one of the best in the country at scheming on special teams. The return of the quick kick is a prime example. Most coaches let that go, but DeForest had the defense ready for it in recognition and how to handle it. He coached up defensive starters, many of whom aren't on the regular punt return unit, and had them form a near picture perfect wall for freshman Perrish Cox to follow for a 49-yard return. The rest of the special teams were excellent with punter Matt Fodge showing how going back to Defo's chosen punt formation combined with Fodge's improvement has OSU averaging 52.7 yards per punt after two games.

Quarterback: C
Reid's two early miscues are plays he has to be able to see at this stage of his career. You can't throw the out on that first interception. You have to read that defensive back set to jump the route. The second ball wasn't as much a bad decision as a physical one. Brandon Pettigrew, the intended receiver is 6-5. If Reid throws that it has to clear the defender and has to be thrown where only Pettigrew can catch it or knock it down. Reid made a nice recovery, one he might not have made a year ago and that is very admirable. It shows how far he has come as a quarterback and a leader. He is a gifted runner and a little more improvement in the decisions and he is close to being a good quarterback.

Running Backs: A
No fumbles and they ran hard against a defense that really invested everybody up front to stop them. The trio of Mike Hamilton, Keith Toston and Julius Crosslin finished with 128 yards on 30 carries, an per carry average of nearly 4.3-yards per carry with may of those yards being hard earned.

Wide Receivers: C+
That last reception saved D'Juan Woods' streak of 23 games with a reception. Adarius Bowman and Ricky Price had big play receptions, but the drops are becoming a concern. Bowman and fullback Jeremiah Burton each had one early that would have helped the offense on the first drive.

Tight Ends: A+
The tight ends get separated this week because they deserve it. Brandon Pettigrew was open often on the boot action and should have had more balls thrown at him. He did catch the touchdown and a big part of this grade is Justin Waller. The backup, along with Pettigrew, had a huge night blocking as they helped turn runs by Reid and Hamilton into touchdowns.

Offensive Line: B
We have to admit that we didn't watch this area as intently, but the production was good against a defensive front that was doing everything they could to stop the run and force the issue at the line of scrimmage. The bottom line is the Cowboys won the line of scrimmage on the offensive side.

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