Come with me in the Way Back Machine. Let’s take a journey to a time before OSU football’s mid-season overhaul, before its loss to South Alabama, before we knew a three-quarterback rotation was even possible. (I didn’t say it was advisable, merely possible.)
Let’s go back to a simpler time when we thought Alan Bowman would be the Cowboys’ starting quarterback but everyone worried the offensive line wasn’t good enough to protect him and Bowman wasn’t fast enough to get away from would-be tacklers.
Well, the Cowboys eventually got to the point where Bowman was the starter, but those worries about protecting Bowman?
They never materialized.
In fact, heading into Saturday afternoon’s game at UCF, OSU is among the national leaders in sacks allowed. It has given up only 10 this season, one of 17 FBS teams to allow 10 or less and one of only nine Power Five programs to have not allowed more than 10 this season.
What’s more, the Cowboys have gotten better in that department in Big 12 play.
And that’s entirely with Bowman at quarterback. Back when the Cowboys were platooning him with Garret Rangel and Gunnar Gundy, two quarterbacks who are much more mobile than Bowman, the Cowboys allowed eight sacks in those three games.
So, what’s going on here?
First of all, you’ve got to give the offensive linemen tons of credit. (Just because Mike Gundy says they deserve it doesn’t necessarily mean it’s wrong.) Even though they have shown themselves to be an elite run-blocking line — Ollie Gordon’s rushing totals are evidence of that — this offensive line is also quite the pass-blocking unit, too.
No small thing.
Big tip of the cap to Dalton Cooper, Cole Birmingham, Joe Michalski, Preston Wilson and Jake Springfield, with assists from Jason Brooks and Taylor Miterko. All of those guys have been top-shelf in pass-blocking.
But that’s not the only factor in the equation.
Changes to the OSU offense since non-conference play have helped cut down the sacks as well as the hits and the hurries. Mike Gundy, Kasey Dunn and Co. opted to cut way back on the run-pass option plays. RPOs are all the rage in football, but they don’t best showcase Ollie Gordon’s skills. He’s best getting downhill, hitting the hole and getting downfield as quickly as possible.
Well, it turns out the more decisive offense has benefited Bowman and the pass-blocking, too. Plays, whether they be runs or passes, are more quick-hitting, and that means Bowman doesn’t spend a lot of time in the pocket waiting for something to develop.
That reduces the time the line has to block and minimizes the exposure on Bowman.
Lastly, Bowman deserves credit, too. I’m on record as being less-than-enamored with the speed with which he occasionally bales on plays. Sometimes, he seems to throw the ball away too quickly.
Gundy hasn’t loved that part of Bowman’s game either.
“I’d like for him to set his feet more,” the Cowboy coach said a couple weeks back. “The protection in the past few weeks has been considerably better than it was in the first three games. That should allow him to sit in the pocket more and not float back. Because when he floats back at times, he’s getting himself into a little bit of a jam.”
But here’s the thing: Gundy and I might want to get used to Bowman playing this way because it’s working. He isn’t getting sacked — he’s only been taken down twice in Big 12 play — and the Cowboys are winning.
Yes, it seems as though Bowman’s internal clock ticks a bit faster than many quarterbacks. (Gundy has long called it the quarterback’s biological clock. I’m going to take this opportunity to ask anyone reading this who is close to Gundy to please explain to him that a biological clock is something else entirely and has nothing to do with how fast a quarterback gets rid of the football.) But perhaps Bowman understands his limitations. If the pressure gets close, he’s probably cooked. He’s not fast enough to get away.
So, he’ll throw the ball away to save himself and his team a negative play.
All of it is. From Bowman to the scheme to the offensive line, the Cowboys have got a great thing going.
Here are some other nuggets to chew on before OSU-UCF gets underway at 2:30 p.m. in Orlando:
Cowboy to watch: The answer may well be Ollie Gordon until further notice. But this week, it is particularly important to keep an eye on the OSU tailback. UCF ranks dead last in the Big 12 for rush defense. The Golden Knights allow 212.0 yards a game, which is about 75 yards more than West Virginia and Cincinnati allow — and Gordon went for 282 and 271 rushing, respectively, against those two teams. He could have another monster day.
Cowboy newcomer to watch: As bad as UCF is against the run, it is that good against the pass. The Golden Knights rank first in the Big 12, allowing only 202.6 passing yards a game. So keep an eye on Leon Johnson. The transfer receiver from George Fox has shown in the past couple of games that he has big-catch abilities. He has 10 catches for 219 yards, a team-leading average of 21.9 yards a catch.
Golden Knight to watch: Tre’Mon Morris-Brash is a tackle-for-loss machine. The fourth-year senior defensive end has 15.5 tackles for loss this season, which leads the Big 12. That includes 7.5 sacks, second most in the league.
A familiar face in Orlando: The name David Gibbs might not ring a ton of bells, but he’s been on the sideline opposite OSU several times, though in different team gear. Now the UCF co-defensive coordinator, he was a grad assistant at OU (1991-92), grad assistant at Colorado (1993-94), defensive backs coach at Kansas (1995-96) and defensive coordinator at Texas Tech (2015-18).
Cool stat going into UCF: Even though OSU has never played UCF, the Cowboys will be playing their 10th game in the state of Florida in program history. OSU is 5-4 in the Sunshine State, but it has won its last three game there: 2005 vs. Florida Atlantic, 23-3; 2017 Camping World Bowl vs. Virginia Tech, 30-21; and 2020 Cheez-It Bowl vs. Miami, 34-34.
Something to watch in Orlando: Ollie Gordon doesn’t just lead the country in total rushing yards. He also leads all of college football in rushing yards after contact. Of his 1,225 rushing yards, 742 of them have come after contact, according to Pro Football Focus. The next best is North Carolina’s Omarion Hampton with 711 yards after contact.
Did you know?: For as much attention as Gordon and the OSU run game has gotten, UCF actually is the better rushing team statistically. The Golden Knights are averaging 227.1 yards a game, which ranks fourth nationally, while the Cowboys are averaging 180.2, tied for 35th nationally.
If you go to Orlando …: Be ready for the heat. (This might be good advice for the Cowboys, too.) According to the National Weather Service, the high Saturday is forecast to be 87, and with fog predicted early in the day, the humidity is likely to be high. (When is it not in Florida?)
If you don’t go …: Enjoy Robert Griffin III on the TV call. He is scheduled to be the analyst on ESPN’s broadcast, and he’s top-notch. Knowledgeable but folksy at the same time. My first inclination is to turn down broadcasters — I watch games for a living without commentators, so I don’t usually need them when I’m watching on TV — but I’ve heard RGIII a few times and really liked his style.
If I could be in two places: Utah’s game at Washington is intriguing. The Utes, soon-to-be Big 12 members, haven’t had the season that they were hoping for, but they always seem to come up big in big games. Going against Michael Penix Jr. in Seattle will be a challenge supreme, but it should be a fun game.