Mike Gundy’s ‘Pokes have been near the top of the Big 12 for the last four years since the Holgorsen hire in 2010. They finished 2nd in the league in 2010, 1st in 2011, 4th in 2012, and 3rd in 2013. Gundy was also 3-1 against Texas in that time with two blowout wins in Austin and were defeated very narrowly in their sole loss in 2012.
Besides the continued adaptation of modern spread tactics that have kept OSU at the forefront of offensive football, Gundy made a huge hire in 2009 bringing defensive coordinator Bill Young aboard to complete the OSU program and complement a strong offense with a worthy defense. In 2013 Gundy went even further by removing the elderly Young and promoting LB coach Glenn Spencer, who’d produced stellar LB corps in those same years.
With approximately 35 seniors on their defense in 2013, the Cowboys had arguably the best defense in the Big 12. When they matched it with Clint Chelf at QB instead of embattled Denton Guyer product JW Walsh, they rolled and blew out both Baylor and Texas before collapsing at Bedlam.
Heading into 2014 they have to replace Chelf and hope Walsh is now ready to take over at QB, and replace defenders Justin Gilbert, Shaun Lewis, Caleb Lavey, and Daytawion Lowe who defined OSU’s revamped defense over the last three years.
Of course, they also lost their brilliant offensive line coach Joey Wick-something. Can’t seem to recall what he’s up to now…
While this group lacks experience, they are loaded with talent thanks to constantly improving Gundy recruiting.They might be even become a fierce, national competitor in 2015.
Cowboy offense: Match-up challenges for Texas
While many will be watching with interest to see how well OSU’s OL plays without Wickline, it’s worth noting that they’ll be playing differently, with new schemes and techniques.
Gundy did not go out and get another coach who recruits and teaches the same schemes as Wickline but instead brought in 18-year coaching veteran Bob Connelly, who’s given more to emphasizing double teams at the point of attack and pulling schemes like power or pin and pull. In the future, OSU will not recruit the same athletes for their OL as Texas, which is probably a good idea, but will focus on getting leaner and quicker players who can move in space.
In the meantime, they have a fairly young group on the OL but a lot of size, experience, and power focused on the left side of their OL with senior LT Daniel Koenig (6-foot-6, 300) and senior LG Chris Grishby (6-foot-5, 325).
In the words of Koenig, Wickline would frequently leave his offensive tackles on islands while Connelly will emphasize double teams on the edges. The Cowboy running game figures to be strong with these tactics, particularly when they run to the left.
Other factors playing into the likely strong Cowboy running game include the athleticism of starting QB JW Walsh, the presence of some solid fullback/tight end players like Jeremy Seaton, and the backfield.
Oklahoma State returns steady pounder Desmond Roland, who is similar to Texas’ own Malcolm Brown as a player that is good at consistently hitting the hole and falling forward, and adds JUCO transfer Tyreek Hill.
Hill is probably the most terrifying part of the new Oklahoma State offense and if you watch just a few plays from his highlight film you’ll understand why. He has the change of direction and acceleration of Daje Johnson but his top speed approaches legendary speedsters like Marquise Goodwin.
Oklahoma State also has a lot of talent in the WR corps starting with Jhajuan Seales, who’s likely to be their next big time outside receiver. Seales had 571 receiving yards last year as a redshirt freshman and now steps into the spotlight.
With all of this talent it won’t be hard for Oklahoma State to contrive ways to put its considerable talent in position to make plays or to attack multiple parts of the field.
Best 5-man skill player lineup:
20 personnel (2 RBs, 0 TEs) With either a Roland-Hill pairing or a Seaton-Roland-Hill combo
As Texas fans may know from day dreaming about the possibilities of unleashing a focused Daje Johnson on the rest of the league, players like Tyreek Hill afford an offense a great deal of flexibility. When paired in the backfield with a willing blocker like Seaton or Roland, he has the opportunity to wreak devastation across the perimeter of a defense.
They can run outside-run schemes with blockers leading the way for Hill, endless varieties of option, and they can also throw perimeter screens and quick passes to Tyreek Hill. The number of packaged plays available in this look that could get Hill isolated in space are numerous.
And of course, if the defense has to focus resources onlocking down the middle of the field they could leave themselves vulnerable to Seales and the other outside receivers on the edges.
Cowboy offense: Match-up advantages for Texas
JW Walsh struggled as a passer last year. He took over the job when Chelf struggled out of the gate against Mississippi State thanks to his athleticism running the option but he eventually struggled and was pulled against TCU due to lack of arm strength and interceptions.
There’s also the issue of the center, right guard, and right tackle who are all sophomores or younger and running new schemes and techniques. This offense will be most deadly if they can protect long enough to throw down the field but both their protections and the arm strength of their QB are in question.
If Texas can pack in the box with their safeties and linebackers without fear of being beaten over the top, then the threat of OSU’s backfield becomes greatly diminished.
Worst 5-man skill player lineup
10 personnel (1 RB, 0 TEs)
Oklahoma State joins the considerable list of teams that would not be well served by trying to spread out Texas and hold up against the Longhorn pressures.
The Texas defense is going to be defined this year by their ability to lock down the edges and pressure the quarterback. So long as the safeties and linebackers can take advantage, teams that don’t have protection schemes or mobile QBs to handle this are going to struggle.
The one area of potential concern is when Tyreek Hill is matched against a linebacker but it will be hard for OSU to create that match-up against a nickel defense that can put Duke Thomas, Quandre Diggs, and Mykkele Thompson on the three most dangerous receivers.
Cowboy defense: Match-up challenges for Texas
As we’ve just covered, the easiest way to build a good defense is to be able to lock down the sidelines with the cornerbacks and then load up the middle of the field with the other nine defenders.
Oklahoma State was frequently able to do this last year with cornerbacks Kevin Peterson and 1st round draft pick, Justin Gilbert. One of the major changes Glenn Spencer brought to the team last season was moving the defense from being a primarily quarters or blitz team to emphasizing more press coverage, more Cover 3, and a greater focus on playing aggressive base defense without blitzing.
The Cowboys should be able to keep this up to a degree with Peterson back and joined by promising junior Ashton Lampkin. The Pokes are also looking very strong across the defensive line where they have both depth as well as some potential star talent at defensive end.
On the edges is one place where Oklahoma State could actually improve as a defense as they haven’t really had an impact pass-rusher since Jamie Blatnick graduated. For 2014 they have junior Jimmy Bean, a 6-foot-5 250-pounder, who had 4.5 sacks a year ago and redshirt sophomore Emmanuel Ogbah ,who had four sacks in 2013.
Both are moving into primetime roles this year and could be poised for breakout seasons that feed off each other’s success. The Cowboys are also reasonably solid in the middle with nose tackle James Castleman back and solid will linebacker Ryan Simmons moving over to middle linebacker where he’s a more obvious fit.
Considering all those solid foundational pieces, there’s reason to believe this unit could actually be pretty strong by the time they get to Austin.
Base 4-3 defense playing cover 3
The Cowboys play a brand of 4-3 defense that utilizes what I call a “space-backer” out at the sam linebacker position. They’re calling on Michigan transfer Josh Furman to fill that role but hotshot 2014 recruit Gyasi Akem has already cracked the 2-deep at this position. Keep an eye out for him, that kid has tremendous talent.
If they can trust their corners enough to allow them to play this defense, it keeps things much simpler for their young backers and safeties and allows them to play the kind of good, fundamental defense that Glenn Spencer excels in teaching.
If you ever want to know what good linebacker play against either the run or pass looks like simply watch one of Spencer’s units.
Last year the ‘Pokes played a really effective Tampa-2 defense on 3rd downs with Shaun Lewis as the deep player, it’ll be interesting to see if they can match the effectiveness of their dime packages in 2014.
Cowboy defense: Match-up advantages for Texas
The outside linebacker and safety spots for OSU could beproblematic. The top three safeties for the ‘Pokes last year; Lowe, Gary, and Johnson, are all gone and leave a lot of inexperience in their wake.
OSU is counting on the Michigan senior transfer Josh Furman and 5th-year senior safety Larry Stephens to hold things down while younger talent like sophomore Will linebacker Seth Jacobs and freshman strong safety Tre Flowers catch on.
The Cowboys will return both corners, both ends, their mike and will linebacker, strong safety, and back-ups at free safety and star in 2015. Then, they might become a remarkably fearful defense.
In all probability, they won’t be there yet when Texas meets them towards the end of 2014. If Ash can pick on Peterson or Lampkin in this game and Watson can conceive of ways to confuse and attack those younger safeties then Texas should be able to put plenty of points on the board.
Base 4-3 defense playing quarters against 12 personnel
Oklahoma State may or may not be vulnerable to being bruised on the edges by big personnel from Texas. It’s a safe bet that they’ll be better prepared for that tactic than most other Big 12 opponents since they have a really solid DL.
However, by putting players like McFarland, Swaim, Beck, and company on the field Texas invites OSU to make their unproven safeties an important part of the ‘Poke run defense and potentially free up open spaces on the perimeter for Texas receivers.
Against many teams Texas will want to maintain a balance between run and pass but it’s possible here that Texas will just want to put inexperienced players in position to have to do something uncomfortable and then hammer them.
If the Cowboys’ star or space-backer can maintain the edge and OSU’s corners hold up in man coverage on Shipley or Johnson, then things won’t go so well.
Oklahoma State is in bad shape for 2014. They aren’t totally confident in its QB and have been considering starting walk-on Daxx Garman for his superior arm talents so they can take advantage of an explosive young receiving corp.
They’ll certainly be destroyed in Week 1 against the Seminoles and may have several Big 12 losses when they play Texas as well as a looming rivalry showdown with big, bad Oklahoma.
On the other hand, Oklahoma State is in great shape for 2015 and if things break its way sooner than later, Texas could be facing a team that’s rounding into fantastic shape when they meet at the end of the year. Ultimately though, the game is in Austin and Texas’ defensive pressure should be enough to carry the day.
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