Guerin Emig: The results of OSU’s offbeat play calling against Kansas State were mixed. The willingness, I thought, was more important.
STILLWATER — Mike Gundy invoked Tom Osborne Monday, which is fitting since his Oklahoma State Cowboys came out against Kansas State resembling something Osborne might have conjured during his trippiest days at Nebraska.
OSU’s first two plays last Friday were throws to tight end Josiah Johnson, the last coming off a run-pass option by Alan Bowman. Johnson had four catches over the Cowboys’ four games coming in.
Play number three was a reverse pitch from Ollie Gordon, running left, to Brennan Presley. Next, Gordon ran right and pitched to Rashod Owens, who pitched back to Bowman, who threw incomplete to Johnson 20 yards downfield.
Later in the first quarter, Bowman threw backward to Presley, then Presley threw back across the field to Bowman. And if that wasn’t wild enough, OSU short-snapped to running back Elijah Collins out of punt formation in the second quarter.
The results were mixed. Collins gained 4 on fourth-and-1. Johnson picked up 7 and a first down on the RPO catch. Presley ran for 8 on the reverse. The Bowman-Presley double pass picked up 3.
The willingness, I thought, was more important.
The Cowboys came in a stale 2-2, with a subpar rushing attack and a quarterback playing his second full game. They were without starting receiver De’Zhaun Stribling.
If ever a staff needed to show a spark, this was it. Gundy showed several sparks.
A question: Was this a one-night-only show born of desperation? Or does this become an entertaining norm over the remainder of OSU’s season, a necessary one given the Cowboys’ limitations?
“Tom Osborne once said if you’re struggling in an area you want to get better at, use the eraser side of your pencil and not the lead side,” Gundy said Monday. “You’ve got a better chance at getting better than you do of making things up or reaching.”
I think it’s encouraging that Gundy and his offensive staff made things up against Kansas State. The imagination got Presley the ball a couple more times, if nothing else.
Maybe the reverse and the double pass spring bigger gains against a defense less disciplined than K-State. Maybe they work this Saturday against Kansas, or in four of OSU’s last five regular-season games against the Big 12’s four struggling newcomers.
Gundy isn’t going there yet.
“What we’ve done on offense the last three or four weeks, we got rid of some stuff and we went back to some basic stuff,” he said. “We lessened some of the different ways we run the football and said let’s be good at two or three things and see if we can get downhill.”
Gordon got downhill some against K-State and posted his second straight 100-yard game. Whether he stays downhill is debatable. Future OSU opponents rank anywhere from No. 19 in run defense (Cincinnati Oct. 28) to No. 121 (UCF Nov. 11).
Maybe Bowman settles in at quarterback, Jaden Bray and Rashod Owens fill Stribling’s void and OSU starts slinging the ball downfield in more customary fashion.
Or maybe the Cowboys’ 119th-ranked yards-per-completion average is their reality — it was 121st before beating K-State — and this is going to take more double passes and flea-flickers than Gundy is comfortable with.
“We’re not trying to accomplish what we did when Mason (Rudolph) was here and (Marcell) Ateman was here and all those guys,” Gundy said. “That’s not who we are.”
Who they are is reflected in that yards-per-completion ranking, and by the fact those aren’t exactly Barry Sanders’ War Pigs blocking for Gordon.
Good on Gundy, offensive line coach Charlie Dickey and offensive coordinator Kasey Dunn for working around those deficiencies by stripping down the offense the last few weeks. That makes sense.
But then so does keeping an open mind to an open playbook. A gadget playbook in this case.
“We have to find out who we are and what we can get accomplished,” Gundy said, “not what we can draw on a board.”
I understand the sentiment.
I also believe that what OSU coaches drew on their K-State board, especially early with the Cowboys in need of some juice, is worth revisiting.