Guerin Emig: That OSU could have used Gordon and Bowman’s full-game contributions earlier undeniable. So is Mike Gundy’s point about the offensive line.
STILLWATER — Oklahoma State can take pride in its two-win turnaround while regretting that things were so messy in starting 2-2. Both things can be true.
The same applies to the explanation for OSU’s turnaround.
One thought: Things changed because coaches stuck with Alan Bowman and Ollie Gordon at quarterback and running back at Iowa State. The Cowboys didn’t win that Sept. 23 game, but they set themselves up for success against Kansas State and Kansas by deciding not just what they were offensively in Ames, but who they were.
The second thought is Mike Gundy’s.
“The best way to illustrate it is our offensive line has played considerably better in the last month,” he said Monday. “It has nothing to do with the quarterback or the running back.”
That was a response to my question about whether Gundy ever revisited the three-quarterback, three-running back rotation from OSU’s nonconference, a three-game offensive slog bogged down by mixed personnel and no clear direction of what to do with it.
“I don’t ever revisit things going backwards,” Gundy said.
In this case, it’s probably because he wouldn’t like the gory details.
Gordon went from having fewer touches than fellow running backs Jaden Nixon and Elijah Collins in nonconference to rushing for 121 yards at Iowa State, rushing for 136 yards against Kansas State, and amassing 284 yards rushing and receiving against Kansas. Gordon’s touches total shot from 25 in nonconference to 79 the past three games.
The personnel oversight is less obvious at the quarterback position.
Bowman didn’t do much to separate himself from Garret Rangel and Gunnar Gundy in nonconference. Sticking with Bowman at Iowa State was more a leap of faith.
Rational faith, that is.
Pinpointing a quarterback helped him get comfortable in the offense since he suddenly took all of the snaps in practice and threw all of the balls to his receivers.
It helped coordinator Kasey Dunn get comfortable with the quarterback since the two suddenly worked off each other in games, at practice and in the film room all week.
Bowman has rewarded that faith by throwing for 571 yards, 2 touchdowns and 0 interceptions the past two games. He was more reliable than counterparts Will Howard of Kansas State and Jason Bean of Kansas, and much more productive than Howard.
The 23-year-old Bowman, in his sixth year as a college QB, has been a steadying influence on OSU’s offense.
Gordon has been a dynamic one, with runs of 71, 36 and 42 yards the past three games to go with a 50-yard catch-and-run against Kansas.
That OSU could have used both before Iowa State, looking back, is undeniable.
But then so is Gundy’s point about the offensive line.
Asked Monday about the Cowboys’ 17, 20 and 24 first-half point totals against Iowa State, K-State and KU, Gundy said: “I’m gonna go back to what I said originally. We’re blocking better.”
The linemen fit better. Right tackle Dalton Cooper flipped to the left side before Iowa State. Jake Springfield played well at right tackle against K-State and KU. Preston Wilson has progressed since taking over at right guard the week of South Alabama.
The linemen are being coached better.
“You can go back and look at our first three games and then look at our last month, and our concepts in the running game have changed,” Gundy said. “This is a decision we made where we said, ‘We wanna go with this, we’re gonna stay with this.’”
I’m not smart enough to diagnose subtle changes to a blocking scheme, just aware enough to offer praise for the assistant involved.
When I specified offensive line coach Charlie Dickey’s role in OSU’s turnaround Monday, Gundy said: “I think it’s a credit to us coming up with concepts that we think our guys can execute and asking them to do it in a repetitive manner over and over and over and over.”
Whoever is responsible, credit the O-line for helping turn this around.
Just be sure to credit Bowman and Gordon, too, and the recognition that over and over and over and over helps just as much at quarterback and running back.
It’s too bad the Cowboys didn’t arrive at that fact sooner than Iowa State, but at least they are here now, an offense salvaged and likely a season, too.