Grades: Curves Given Because of Situations, but No Excuses for O-Line

How dare Marshall ask me to start handing out grades on the weekends, too.

My day job is a middle school geography teacher, a career path I entered after nearly a decade in sports journalism. Most of my time as a sports writer, including now, has been spent covering everything Oklahoma State. Considering that background, I guess I was somewhat sculpted to hand out grades for the Cowboys’ performances.

OSU kicked off its season with a 27-13 win against Central Arkansas on Saturday night in an overall ugly game. It was sloppy, and sloppiness tends to be what hurts a grade most when I’m grading papers.

Here’s the Cowboys’ report card after their season opener.

Bryan Nardo: B-

I always start a parent-teacher-conference meeting with good news before getting to a students’ quarterback controversy and offensive line struggles. Saturday night, Bryan Nardo’s defense exceeded my expectations.

I’m not saying the defense was spectacular, which is why I’m not handing out an A, or even a high B, here. Nardo’s group was at least solid, and while I consider C average, I’ll curve this grade based on prior expectations, bumping it to a B-.

I don’t care that it was an FCS opponent. The Cowboys were debuting a brand new scheme (3-3-5) and the guy in charge was coaching at Division-II Gannon University last year. I still predicted the Bears would hang 24 on OSU thanks to some busted plays because of confusion and miscommunication with all the new against a veteran team. OSU gave up only two plays of 20 or more yards after giving up two the first drive.

I know allowing 391 yards of offense seems like a lot, but 197 of those came from two drives– the two drives which included all the plays of 20-plus yards. The Pokes got to the quarterback five times and forced a turnover.

Saturday night was nothing special from the defense, but Gundy said afterward the defensive plan was very bland for the opener, so something special was never in the cards. The B- seems to be just right, and though bad grades will eventually come, I think this defense will earn more good than bad grades this season.

Offensive line: D

I know Week 1 overreactions will have people stamping one of those giant red Fs here, but it’ll take a lot for me to hand out an F, and though bleak, this performance didn’t get me there (yet).

Just like I had Nardo on a curve, so was this offensive line, but in a different way. Nardo was like my sixth graders coming up to the middle school– low expectations during an adjustment from the elementary way of life. The Cowboys’ offensive line are eighth graders, though. The expectations were there.

By now, the O-line should really be the only group with things figured out Week 1, especially after an offseason filled with talks of improvement, no injuries and returning veterans. Even Preston Wilson being out for things between him and Gundy shouldn’t have taken a toll against an FCS squad.

The run game still stunk until talent and depth finally gave in and the Cowboys were able to bolster their rushing stats in the fourth quarter. The talent at running back is there, and the trio back there each proved that at some point if they could just get some space.

Quarterback: C+

This is like a student trying to successfully complete an assignment while sitting next to the class clown and the two girls who spend the whole class gossiping. Good classroom management skills negate those issues, though. Either way, these three quarterbacks are in no position to succeed right now in the midst of a position battle and rotating every four series.

I keep seeing and hearing the words “Fine” and “OK” when people discuss the OSU quarterback trio’s performance Saturday night. I agree, and I take “Fine” and “OK” as average, which I mentioned earlier garners a C. A curve based on situation garnered the plus, but there was not enough there to go any higher.

Three chunks of stats is hard to grade, but together at 30-of-48 for 304 yards, one touchdown and one interception definitely doesn’t earn less than a C. And I by no means know who the right guy to be QB1 is, but I think if any of them were given the reigns Saturday night with the chance to get into a groove, those numbers would have been better for just one guy.

But as long as it’s three players rotating, the quarterback position probably won’t be better than average.

Special Teams: A+

You actually sandwich parent-teacher-conference meetings with positive feedback.

OSU’s special teams was flawless Saturday night. Alex Hale was 2-for-2 with field goals from 36 and 45 yards out in the second quarter. He also made all three PATs.

When Central Arkansas marched down the field on its first drive, sure to take an early lead, Korie Black came around the corner and blocked the field-goal attempt. Black blocked another field goal in the third quarter. Kody Walterscheid then got his giant hand on UCA’s PAT in the fourth quarter. So far, the Cowboys have blocked 75% of the kicks against them.

Hudson Kaak and Wes Pahl split punting duties for OSU. Kaak downed two inside the 20 and Pahl did once. Both of Pahl’s punts went over 50 yards, including a 60-yard nuke.

Special teams often goes unnoticed, and honestly, I hope things get good enough where I no longer have to notice the special teams’ success. But, for now, the special teams unit are the nerds of the OSU locker room.

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