Robert Allen's Cowboy Football Report

On Mondays during the season, GoPokes.com Executive Editor Robert Allen will offer up a variety of thoughts and opinions leading up to that week's game.

You almost feel like it is a "state of emergency," but the truth is that Oklahoma State was overrate at fifth or sixth in the nation. We enjoyed it so much in the euphoria of the win over Georgia that we didn't want to admit it. This is a good football team. It is a team that with help could play in the Big 12 Championship Game, but the Cowboys are more of a top-15 team, rather than a top 10 team.

The defensive line is not where you would expect for a national title contender. The secondary is too young, and while Donald Booker is a tremendous player, Orie Lemon's savvy and intuitive play is missed both in general and in the depth department. The secondary is a little young, but vastly improved. Bill Young may need to trust them to play tight and more man schemes as the season wears on.

Offensively, this team is explosive and gifted, but with a quarterback that appears to be having hamstring flashbacks and a tailback down in Kendall Hunter, although Keith Toston and Beau Johnson can carry the load, it is not full strength. It needs to be soon and the head coach and the staff are working on the issues.

This stretch of Rice and Grambling (followed by an open week) comes at a good time. They are a cut below Georgia and Houston and the Cowboys need a chance to flex their muscles and gain confidence that was shattered last week. The fans could use a couple of blowouts too, if possible.

Gundy on Hunter
The mystery surrounding injuries at Oklahoma State continues. Keeping this one on the hush makes sense. Running backs are exposed and you don't really want to alert defensive players as to what is sore or tender on a running back as there are too many opportunities to twist in a pile up.

Most already know he was wearing a protective boot on the lower right leg and foot in the second half of the Houston game. The best guess is a sprained foot or ankle.

Gundy had this to say on the injury. "Kendall Hunter is doubtful for this game," said the head coach. "His injury was not as significant as we thought, but the likelihood of him playing is not good."

Okay, What's Wrong with Zac?
That may be the biggest question among Oklahoma State fans as Zac Robinson is not playing as sharp and explosive as he has in the past. Gundy assured the media at his weekly press conference that Robinson is 100 percent healthy. It would make sense as he is the most examined player in the program.

That said, Gundy was a little lost for an exact answer on his quarterback. "I'm not sure," started Gundy. "Zac gives us everything he has and I don't think there is pressure on him. He and I have discussed and all I've asked him to do is play the best that he can.

"I think early in camp he missed 10 or 12 days of practice and that effected him some. The teams that are winning, the quarterback is playing at a very high level, That is college football now. If you perform at a high level then they have a chance."

While Robinson is healthy physically, Gundy agreed with The Oklahoman's John Helsley that the mental effects of the hamstring injury in preseason camp may be lingering.

"I think he'll overcome that and I think it has effected him a little bit," agreed the head coach.

The Good News on Offense
The good news is that with the performance of Josh Cooper and Justin Blackmon on Saturday the Cowboys have found some complimentary receivers to Dez Bryant that OSU fans have been screaming about.

"Oh yeah, we have a great group of guys, great group of receivers," said Lucien Antoine, who should know as he has to cover them in practice. "The whole summer, as a defense, they always gave us a hard time.

"We have a whole lot of other receivers and against Houston they proved that Dez is not the only one. They throw the ball more to the other guys and it is going to be better for Dez because people are going to be more focused on the other guys. Houston was focused on Dez the whole game."

"The explosion of a couple of other guys in our offense from some other guys on the scene truly helps our offense and makes the other team have to cover other guys, and as Dez gets double and triple teamed that alleviates some of the pressure on Zac to find other guys," added co-offensive coordinator and wide receivers coach Gunter Brewer, who coaches Cooper and Blackmon.

Brewer also identified running back Beau Johnson as a bright spot, esepcially with Hunter expected to miss the Rice game.

"I thought Beau ran the ball extremely hard and I thought that was a tremendous run he made down the left side for the touchdown," said Brewer. "I think we give him the ball more and he'll probably do it a little more."

What's Up with the Slow Starts on Offense?
It is tough to say but how about this for a first symptom. The Cowboys showed a significant inconsistency on first down plays. against Houston. The average gain on first down was six yards. They had 17 first-down plays and exactly half of those they gained three yards or less, and 10 of those plays were for no gain or lost yardage, with an 11th play being the interception returned for a touchdown late in the game.

"Whether you are the New York Giants or OSU, if you are in third and long that is not a very good situation to be in," said Brewer. "We have to play in front of the chains and quit making mistakes."

Senior offensive guard Noah Franklin, in his first season as a starter, feels the pain of the slow starts and is hoping the Cowboys turn it around this week.

"I think it is something that as the season progresses, hopefully starting next week, it is something that will come along," said Franklin. "I don't think there is one specific thing that has caused the slow starts. We just need to go out and execute and it has been little things that have held us back like penalties, missed assignments here and there. We need to clear it up and get going early."

Gundy said the offensive staff met both Sunday and Monday morning and went over the offense, situation by situation, to try to kick start it earlier in the game. He said they will continue to meet on the topic and work the offensive execution throughout the week in practice.

"We'd like to put three and half quarters together," said Gundy, half-kidding. "I don't know what we've scored, but if we could get going earlier then maybe we could score 10 more points a game. We research and self scout and try to do anything we can to start faster."

Franklin said that practice was good last week. The loss can't be chalked up to a bad week of preparation.

"No, I honestly think that in the last two weeks of practice we have had great preparation and our coaches and staff have done a great job in preparing us with the right looks in practice and watching the right film to be completely prepared going into the games and nothing either team has done on defense is anything we haven't seen or prepared for," expressed Franklin.

If it happens against Rice then the concern would have to reach a critical state. The Owls have given up 99 points in two weeks, although last week they held Texas Tech to just 14 points in the first half.

Speaking of Rice....
The Owls have lost to UAB 44-24 and to Texas Tech 55-10 in the first two games. They have allowed an average of 538 yards of offense a game to their opponents. They have only averaged 324 yards themselves (108 rushing and 216 passing). They have turned the ball over four times (two interceptions and two fumbles) and have picked up two fumbles from their opponents. They have two sacks and have been sacked seven times. Their leading rusher, Tyler Smith, averages 3.2 yards per carry and they have a quarterback battle raging with Nick Fanuzzi and John Thomas Shepherd.

They are young with 12 sophomore starting and one redshirt freshman. They also have 12 sophomores or freshmen that are listed as second team players.

"Rice is a team you have to be very careful with," said Gundy. "There offense is very similar to what we saw last week. In my opinion, they want to run the ball more, more schemes to run the ball, but have the same spread attack and they are going to move fast and try to get you out of gaps.

"Their defense is very disciplined, they are gap responsible and you don't get them out of place much," added Gundy. "I think they are very well coached and they play extremely hard. They are missing some players from last year, but they have players that are more athletic than people give them credit for. There is a reason they won 10 games last year."

The Cowboy defensive players are ready for the challenge of seeing the same offense for the second week in a row, albeit with Rice the personnel will not be quite as speedy and athletic.

"The offense is almost a carbon copy, we are looking at it and we are seeing the same things," said defensive coordinator Bill Young of the Rice offense. "The same formations and it looks like it is going to be a retread of last week."

"Playing against Houston they showed us a lot and they got us to thinking that you can't go in game planning for one aspect of the game," said cornerback Terrance Anderson. "You have to go in planning to stop the run and the pass. Running the ball, that was something we didn't think they were going to do and they did it, so we have to prepare for the run and the pass."

"It's good because we know what to expect and we have to go back and work harder than we ever have and get ready for Rice," said safety Lucien Antoine.

Those Darn Screen Passes
There were a lot of concerns on defense after the Houston game. First and foremost was that Houston was able to run the football on the Cowboys defense. The Cougars had little success with downfield passing and that is probably due to the coverages the Cowboys employed. Young did say that was on him and the defensive staff.

"The first thing we said as coaches is what you see is what you coach," said Young. "We are going to accept the responsibility from the get go on that part. It is our job to get our players in better position so they can make plays.

"We got caught out of position on the pass and I thought we were playing a little soft in our coverage and we didn't contain and rush the quarterback the way we should have. We had a lot of missed tackles and you put all those things together and it is not a very good outcome," Young added.

Another big reason for the outcome in the matchup with the Cougars spread and the Cowboys "D" was the screen game. Houston ran screen with their wide receivers and their running backs. They ran a tunnel screen, slip screens, and bubble screens. Don't you just hate those darn screens?

"No, not really," said Young when asked if he sometimes wanted to eliminate the man that invented screen passes. "I don't want to get that extreme. We get to run screens too. That is the good thing about it. It is not real fair, is it?"

"At times, I get mad," said Antoine. "I get tired of that, but that's there thing and they used their whole playbook. Sometimes I expect the crossing route or the deep ball and they just change it. They look at the safety and how we are lined up and they just change it. They are a great team and they did a great job."

"The little screen passes are just like another run and they ran the ball a whole lot more than we thought they were going to do," said Anderson. "That probably caught us off guard a little bit but it was mainly execution."

Quick Hitters
The difference between players, coaches, and fans comes down to time and time management: "We can't react the way an Oklahoma State fan does out there that is unhappy we lost the game," said Gundy. "We can't stay upset for three days and try to get ready on Thursday. We have to get back to work and it is tough to watch tape when you don't play as well as you wanted to."

Some fans may have been questioning Gundy's call with a less than a minute to go when he went for it on fourth-and-goal needing two scores instead of kicking the field goal. Gundy addressed that: "The decision you have to make then, right or wrong, somebody has to do it. Do you want to score from there and come back after an onside kick and try and kick a field goal or kick the field goal and then come back where you may have to score (a touchdown) from way out? What are your percentages in the last five seconds of the game, hitting a 42-yarder (field goal) or throwing a Hail Mary?"

It didn't work but in my opinion it was the right call. If you were outside the 20, then kick the field goal.

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