Almost 8 months have passed since the Oklahoma State Cowboys last played football, and now the moment has finally come: Week 1 of the 2022 season.
The Cowboys finished the 2021 campaign as a top 10 team, and they enter this season ranked 11th in the Coaches Poll and 12th in the AP Poll. Oklahoma State hopes to ride the wave of success from a season ago, and while they lost their fair share of talent to graduation and the NFL draft, quarterback Spencer Sanders is back for his senior season, and he’s hoping to lead the Cowboys to another appearance in the Big 12 Championship.
Oklahoma State opens up their season on Thursday night in Stillwater when they host the Central Michigan Chippewas. Most all Cowboy fans will remember the last meeting between these two schools in 2016 when the Chippewas won the game on a last second play that never should have happened. 6 years have passed since then, and the Cowboys have had plenty of success along the way, but they want to get this season off to a solid start by putting together a quality win against an obviously lesser opponent.
The Cowboys developed quite the reputation in 2021 for their defense, a rarity not just in Stillwater but in the Big 12 as a whole. The offense struggled at times, especially early in the season, so there are a few keys they need to focus on from the jump in order to start this season off right.
Establish the Run Early
The Cowboys had varied success on the ground in 2021, and whether or not they were able to run the ball successfully was directly reflected in the score. In 7 of their 14 games, they were held to 140 rushing yards or fewer. Of those 7 games, 2 of them ended in a loss, and another 3 were decided by no more than a touchdown.
Oklahoma State found themselves in a number of close-game situations last season, and a big reason for that was their inability to put the ball into the end zone. Jaylen Warren came into Stillwater last season as the newcomer in the back field, but by the third game, he had established himself as the top running back. When he was successful, the Cowboys were successful. Warren is now playing for the Pittsburgh Steelers, and the torch has been passed to Dominic Richardson.
Richardson saw limited action a season ago compared to Warren, but he has a lot of potential to be one of the Big 12’s top running backs. If the Cowboys want to match their success from a season ago—or even surpass it—then they will need to figure out a way to establish the run through Richardson as early as possible.
Protect Spencer Sanders
Spencer Sanders has had an interesting ride so far as a Cowboy. Sanders earned the starting quarterback position as a redshirt freshman, and the position has never really been in jeopardy. He’s missed a chunk of games over the last three years due to various injuries, but after his most successful season yet in 2021, it’s pretty obvious that he is among the conference’s best playcallers.
One aspect of Sanders’s game that has constantly received criticism is how prone he is to turning the ball over. In 33 career games, he has thrown 31 interceptions and lost 8 fumbles. While a lot of the blame must obviously fall on him, a fair share of the blame should also be put on his offensive line over the years. Until last season, Sanders spent much of his time in the backfield scrambling away from defenders. Last season, however, his line gave up the fewest sacks in the Big 12 at just 16 in 14 games for an average of 1.14 per game. That’s pretty dang good.
Even with the protection last season, Sanders threw 12 interceptions and only 20 touchdowns. That ratio is going to have to improve dramatically, and I believe it will as long as the offensive line does a good job at giving him plenty of time in the backfield. As long as Sanders has learned to be patient in the pocket and trust his teammates to give him the protection he needs to be successful, then I think he could easily end up as the best quarterback in the Big 12 once again.
Every good team is full of players who do their job and do it well. Great teams, however, have those special playmakers that stand out, even when the game isn’t going quite as planned. Early season non-conference games are a great opportunity for a team to identify who those playmakers are, and that’s one thing that Oklahoma State needs to do Thursday night.
Spencer Sanders has proven himself as a playmaker, and I believe Dominic Richardson is going to be one of those guys as well, but I’m really looking forward to seeing Brennan Presley on the field once again. Presley ended his freshman campaign in 2020 on a high note with a huge performance in the Cheez-It Bowl with 6 catches for 118 yards and 3 touchdowns. His sophomore season was spotty. He averaged just over 3 catches per game prior to the Fiesta Bowl, and his regular season-high was 6 receptions, which he did three different times. In the Fiesta Bowl, however, he exploded with 10 catches for 137 yards. He didn’t find the end zone, but his performance helped the Cowboys to a big win to wrap up the season.
Presley is severely undersized for his position at receiver at 5-feet-8-inches and just 170 pounds. Still, he’s a go-getter, and when the Cowboys need some yardage or a big play, he’s going to go and get it. He is going to be a key to Oklahoma State’s offense this season, so if they look for him early and often on Thursday, there is no telling what type of stat line he can rack up. He’s also not too shabby at returning kicks.
One Reply to “Oklahoma State Football vs. Central Michigan | Offensive Keys to the Game”