College football season is finally back in action this weekend as the Oklahoma State Cowboys open up their season by hosting the Missouri State Bears. The Cowboys are heavy favorites to win, so this matchup will likely be nothing more than a tune-up game, but Oklahoma State has plenty to prove this season.
Just a year ago, the Cowboys struggled mightily on offense at times, primarily due to inconsistent quarterback play and a questionable offensive line. This season brings more experience, more balance, and hopefully more health as Oklahoma State could be considered a dark horse to challenge their in-state rivals for the Big 12 Championship crown.
If the Cowboys want to start off the season on a high note, then they need to take care of business against the Bears. On the offensive side of the ball, there are a few key areas that I would like to see head coach Mike Gundy focus on in order to set the tone for the rest of the season.
Establish Interior Dominance
Oklahoma State experienced a shuffling like no other in 2020 when it came to the offensive line. Between injuries, departures, and dismissals, the Cowboys struggled mightily to keep opposing defenses out of the backfield. The Oklahoma State state front line allowed 26 sacks in 11 games last season, the 3rd worst rate in the conference, ahead of just Baylor and Kansas.
This should be notably different. Graduate transfer Danny Godslevske comes to Stillwater as a graduate transfer from Miami (OH) where he started 40 games over the last 5 years, missing his sophomore season due to injury and only playing 3 games last year due to a COVID-shortened season. Godslevske has been a consistent name on the preseason watch list for the Remington Trophy, which goes to the nation’s top center, and he will be a key anchor to the offensive line.
Josh Sills is another graduate transfer who came to Stillwater last season after playing 4 years at West Virginia, and he was the primary consistency for the Cowboys last year, starting in every game. He’s on the preseason watchlist for the Outland Trophy and is probably the most NFL-ready offensive lineman on the roster.
Hunter Woodard, a redshirt junior, started 10 off 11 games in 2020 alongside Sills, and redshirt sophomore Jake Springfield is back as well. Springfield stepped into the starting lineup last year after two starters went down in the season opener. He started in 9 games, and he played in 10, so he brings some experience to the table despite his youth.
Redshirt sophomore Taylor Miterko is the new guy on the front line. After playing in just 4 games last season, he’s earned a spot in the starting lineup, and it will be important for him to mesh with the rest of the line to keep quarterback Spencer Sanders protected.
If this group of lineman can stay healthy and keep Sanders safe in the backfield, then it could be a very good season for the Cowboys. The offensive line was clearly the weakest spot of the entire team in 2020, and it’s important that they prove they have made progress since then and establish some dominance early for the season ahead.
Take Care of the Ball
Spencer Sanders dealt with injuries yet again last season, and Shane Illingworth was mediocre as a replacement. Because of the inconsistencies at quarterback, the Cowboys turned the ball over a lot.
16 turnovers—10 interceptions and 6 lost fumbles—was the second-highest mark in the Big 12, and was only slightly redeemed by the Cowboy defense forcing 16 turnovers over the course of the season. The defense is almost completely full of returning players, but they can’t carry the load for the offense yet another year.
Spencer Sanders was responsible for 11 turnovers on his own: 8 interceptions and 2 fumbles. A big part of that was the poor offensive line, but at the same time, Sanders would get himself into trouble far too often by trying to make something happen when he more than likely should’ve just thrown the ball away or gone to the ground.
With an improved and experienced offensive line, Sanders should have more time in the backfield, and the running back crew will have better opportunities to make plays. That alone should help improve turnover numbers. However, Sanders has to continue to grow and mature and be patient in the pocket. Not every play has to be a touchdown, and more importantly, turnovers have to come less often.
Find Some Playmakers
The Cowboys lost some key playmakers as the 2020 season came to a conclusion, and it’s going to be tough to replace them. Running back Chuba Hubbard and wide receivers Tylan Wallace and Dillon Stoner are in the NFL now, and receiver Landon Wolf transferred to South Dakota State after graduating. Losing those 4 guys alone takes away a ton of Oklahoma State’s offensive production.
Still, the Cowboys have plenty of talent coming back. LD Brown and Dezmon Jackson are two redshirt senior running backs that have highlight reels to wow any football fan. I doubt either will truly be a featured back this season, but both have big play capability, and that will likely be on display against the Bears on Saturday.
Oklahoma State lost a chunk of their receiver talent, but Braydon Johnson returns as a redshirt senior who will benefit from getting more passes thrown his way. At the end of the 2020 campaign, freshman Brennan Presley put his name out there as a playmaker. Presley entered the Cheez-It Bowl against the University of Miami with just one catch on the season, but he had a field day as he hauled in 6 receptions for 118 yards and 3 touchdowns. I’m sure we will see more of that sooner than later.
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