Sunday Rewind: Working To Improve

It is apparent Oklahoma State has work to do following Saturday's 41-24 win over Rice but they will continue to do it residing in the top 25 in both of the major college polls as the USA Today coaches poll and the Associated Press Top 25 both have the Cowboys at No. 16. Head coach Mike Gundy wasn't talking about polls on Sunday, but about improvement.

Improvement that the Cowboys need to make. Last week there was concern about quarterback Zac Robinson. On Sunday's conference call with the beat reporters there wasn't a single query about Robinson. The offensive line and the running game got the bulk of the discussion.

"I think two things, the offensive line getting acquainted with each other," started Gundy in addressing why he felt the running game struggled against Rice with just 124 yards and an average of 3.4 yards per rush.

"We were breaking in a new guy (redshirt freshman Lane Taylor) at right guard that was playing for the first time, and left guard (Noah Franklin) is still new to the position playing full time. We had Keith Toston and Beau Johnson playing with Spud (Kendall Hunter) out and we liked their effort. They ran the ball hard, but they are still working to get better."

The game unfolded rather strange. After the Cowboys took the opening drive and went 60 yards on 10 plays, six of those runs for 23 yards and the other four passes, all completed for 37 yards, including a 23-yard touchdown pass to Dez Bryant, and then an incompletion that just missed being a huge play to Bryant on the second possession, Oklahoma State was almost done on offense for the half.

The Cowboys had just 24 plays on offense in the half. They had just 56 offensive snaps in the game. That is weird and it keeps an offense from getting into its rhythm.

Most of Sunday's question and answer with Gundy was on the offensive line and also on the defense, which was at its best in the first half and the fourth quarter, but allowed the Owls 165 yards in the third quarter including 14 of their 24 points. It boils down to inconsistency.

"We want to get better each week but we've had a number of injuries and we are working in young players that do not have as much experience and it takes them time to progress," said Gundy actually answering my question on whether he sees this as a team with the characteristic or personality to improve and be a better team as the season progresses.

"For instance Justin Horton has ability and talent, speed and he is running around out there trying to figure things out. He hasn't had many snaps. On defense there is (Donald) Booker, Markelle (Martin), and Richetti (Jones). Victor Johnson has been in the mix but still hasn't played a lot.

"We have a lot of those young guys in there and that is just the way it is. As a coaching staff we want to get better in practice and make progress in the games," Gundy continued.

Gundy said they felt the greenest of the players, Lane Taylor, got better and played pretty good "for his first time playing at this level." He also said it looks like Taylor will stay at right guard over Andrew Mitchell and Anthony Morgan, who have also played there, because offensive line coach and co-offensive coordinator Joe Wickline likes what Lane has done in practice over the last two weeks.

Gundy liked the effort out of players like Booker, Martin, and Richetti Jones. Martin was playing for the first time after missing the first two games with a hip flexor injury. Jones was praised for his effort and pass rush contributions.

Mixed in there were still enough mistakes that held the Cowboys back at points in the game. While the first, second, and fourth quarters the defense was good at getting off the field, Rice held the ball nine of the 15 minutes in the third quarter.

"The defensive coaches thought that Markelle played very well," said Gundy. "He dropped three interceptions but he had great effort and his ability to be in the right spot was very good from what I am told (by the defensive coaches).

Gundy said of Booker, "His effort has been really good but he is still going through a learning curve. He has been a good surprise from an effort standpoint.

"We've talked a lot about him (Richetti Jones)," added Gundy of Jones who had three tackles, two for losses, and a sack in the Rice win. "His name came up a lot even in the offseason as far as progress. He is not where he was back in high school but it is nice to see him come off the edge and make plays."

To cut to the quick, the offense is not there yet but with improvement from the offensive line, a healthy and confident Kendall Hunter getting back to join Toston and Johnson, continued confident play out of Zac Robinson and, of course, Dez being Dez ,they can get where they were expected. Lots of ifs, but it's still possible.

Gundy is happier with the defense and the physical play of the defense, but it too can improve with players getting better with more on-the-field experience and less busts of assignments on both the front end and the back end of the defense. Gundy would not comment on the injury to cornerback Perrish Cox.

As speculated, Gundy said the reason that safeties Victor Johnson and Johnny Thomas did not play against Rice was because they were suspended and being punished for violating team rules.

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