How the 49ers Changed Oklahoma State’s Run Game

Last year, as Oklahoma State struggled mightily running the football, the San Francisco 49ers, a world away, seemed to have had it all figured out. At least Mike Gundy believed so.

Gundy hasn’t been shy about his team’s struggles in the run game last season. The Cowboys averaged 3.4 yards a carry and 125.6 rushing yards a game in 2022. Three times OSU was held under 60 yards rushing. All those woes came while also rotating a pair of young quarterbacks because of multiple injuries at the position.

“I felt that we were behind when we had to play young quarterbacks last year and we didn’t give ourselves as good as chance as we needed to because we couldn’t rush the ball and take the pressure off of them,” Gundy said.

As the Pokes were stymied in Stillwater, over 1,500 miles away in San Francisco, the 49ers were still cruising and winning their division with a third-string QB under center. Presumed future of the franchise Trey Lance went down first before another injury to veteran Jimmy Garoppolo prompted the rise of rookie Brock Purdy, who was the very last pick of the 2022 NFL Draft out of Iowa State.

The 49ers were 5-0 with Purdy as their starter in the regular season before winning a pair of playoff games and eventually running out of magic in the NFC Championship game.

“I’ve used the example with what they did in San Francisco when (Jimmy) Garoppolo got hurt and they put Brock (Purdy) in, and they won and they played well, and he didn’t have to do a lot in the games,” Gundy said. “Not that maybe he could of, but they didn’t put it on his shoulders. They rushed the ball, let (Christian) McCaffrey and those guys make a bunch of plays. He threw a throw or two here and there.

“That brought me to the point where, you know, that’s pretty smart. We have to be able to do that. Or that’s what I’m most comfortable with now.”

Gundy and Co. went back to the drawing board this offseason. The biggest offensive changes this season will be the end of the hybrid Cowboy back position, bringing back a traditional tight end and fullback, and putting the quarterback under center more, instead of always in shotgun. Gundy being asked about schematic changes, particular the QB being under center, is ultimately what spurred his 49ers analysis.

“We’re circling back,” Gundy said. “Some of the stuff that we’re doing you would have seen it in 2007, 2008.”

The Cowboys averaged 5.3 yards a carry in 2007 and 5.8 in 2008. The rushing yards a game average in 2007 was 243.2 and 259.9 in 2008. Kendall Hunter was a member of both of those teams, amassing 1,518 rushing yards in 2008. The 2022 Cowboys had 1,633 rushing yards as a team.

“We’re not the finished product,” Gundy said, “but I believe we’re further ahead than we were.”