The Oklahoma State Cowboys moved to 3-0 on the season after escaping Boise with a win over the Boise State Broncos last weekend. It’s been three weeks, and despite being undefeated, the offense has not looked impressive at all. As a matter a fact, “barely functional” might be a better description.
The good news is that the season is young, and there is still time for improvement, but conference play begins this weekend as the Cowboys host the no. 25 Kansas State Wildcats. The Wildcats are also 3-0 with wins over Stanford, Southern Illinois, and Nevada. This will be the toughest test for both teams, more than likely a defensive battle, which means Oklahoma State is going to have to be very intentional on offense if they want to pull out a win. With that being said, here are a few keys to success for the Cowboy offense.
Stop Handicapping Your Playmakers
When Kasey Dunn was promoted to offensive coordinator prior to last season, I was excited. I thought he was going to bring a youthful energy to the offense to help the Cowboys continue their long history of some of the highest-scoring offenses in the country. That hasn’t been the case so far, and I think he’s a major reason to blame.
The play calling under Dunn has been nothing short of boring and predictable, and that can be easily remedied. Far too often coaches get stuck into the mindset of their system and what they want to run, when in reality, they need to adjust their strategy to the strengths of the athletes.
Oklahoma State lost some key players on offense after last season, namely Tylan Wallace, Chuba Hubbard, and Dillon Stoner, but that doesn’t mean there’s nobody left. Spencer Sanders isn’t a great passing quarterback, but he’s a heck of an athlete. Jaylen Warren has proven himself to be a capable running back. The receiver depth is impressive, even if there have been several injuries.
I’m not saying Dunn needs to be fired or demoted or have his play calling duty taken away from him, but at the very least he needs to cut down on the screen passes and 3rd down quarterback draws and be willing to take some risks with the offense. I think that’s going to be the key to putting points on the board.
Get Healthy…and Stay That Way
The Cowboys have dealt with an unprecedented number of injuries already so far this season, and a lot of those have come on the offensive side of the ball. Just last week, Oklahoma State traveled to Boise with just 7 receivers when they normally travel with 9. Notably missing was Tay Martin, Jadon Bray, and the Green twins, Bryson and Blaine.
Because of the injuries, particularly at the receiver position, the playbook was severely diminished to mostly running plays, and it definitely impacted the flow of the offense. Spencer Sanders has barely had a chance to throw the ball, and even when he did on Saturday, receivers struggled to hold onto passes, accounting for half of Sanders’s incompletions.
Kasey Dunn commented on the long list of injuries, saying, “I’ve been here for 11 years, I haven’t seen anything like it. This takes the cake, for sure.”
On a positive note, the run game kicked it up a notch, and the offensive line did their job at making running lanes for Jaylen Warren. Warren exploded for over 200 yards and 2 touchdowns, and he has cemented himself as the top running back for the Cowboys.
The key at this point in this season, as early as it is, is to get guys healthy, and then keep them that way. Big 12 football can be a brutal stretch of some of the best offenses in the country, and as good as Oklahoma State’s defense is, the offense has to figure some things out so that they can score some points and give them a chance to win games.
Keep It Steady
Taking a look at Oklahoma State’s 3 games so far this season, the Cowboys have had some high highs and some low lows. They’ve scored in bunches at times, and they’ve struggled through droughts that span multiple quarters.
The key to being a consistent winning program is never getting too high, never getting too low, but staying consistently in control. Kansas State isn’t likely to come into Stillwater scoring a bunch of points, but the Cowboys can’t bank on the defense carrying the team to a win every single week.
It seems obvious to say this, but the Cowboys need to score early and consistently as the game goes on. Mike Gundy commented on Saturday’s matchup with K-State, saying, “We’ll be in a fourth-quarter game. We’re gonna be in fourth-quarter games from here on out. We lost some pretty good firepower for the year on offense.”
Specifically, Spencer Sanders needs to take care of the ball, and whether or not he’s throwing it, he has to put confidence in his teammates that he can lead the offense. He’s had his bumps so far already this season, but I still think he hasn’t been given much of a chance to show if he’s truly improved since last season or not.
The conference schedule is a tough one, and with the current makeup of the Cowboy offense, they’re going to continue to struggle. That’s just how it goes. Still, they have to figure out a way to be consistent and manage to put enough points on the board to pull out the win, even if it is decided late in the game.
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