STILLWATER — In the morning after Oklahoma State’s season-opening scare against Central Arkansas, one Mike Gundy quote is sticking with me.
After OSU’s 27-13 victory against the Bears, Jenni Carlson asked Gundy about his concern level. Here is the part of Gundy’s response that is sticking with me this fine Sunday.
“We need to work as fast as we can to kind of identify who we are and try to move in that direction,” Gundy said.
OSU was throwing a lot at the wall Saturday night. In many ways, Gundy said that was coming at his pre-UCA media luncheon when he made note of using as many guys as they planned on using. Sixty-five Cowboys played Saturday — a significant number.
The Cowboys feel like a team in search of its identity. With three quarterbacks playing, that sort of seems obvious, but it’s more than that. The Cowboys have a bunch of solid options at wide receiver (though that group struggled with drops Saturday). OSU has three options at running back. And the offensive line ran into some of the same struggles it has been running into Saturday.
Defensively, I think Saturday went about as expected. It was a new scheme with a handful of new players, and overall the group played well. So, I think that identity is forming quicker than on offense.
One big step to finding an offensive identity is probably having one quarterback. I understand the competition. All three played similarly Saturday, so I get why there is a competition taking place. With that being said, from the press box Saturday’s game felt segmented with each quarterbacks’ set or series — rather than one flowing game.
It felt like an NFL preseason game. Against an FCS foe, that ended up being alright, but will it against Arizona State? South Alabama? The Big 12? I get the quarterback competition, but I think the sooner the Cowboys can pick a passer, the better.
Upon my rewatch three, skill players stood out: Brennan Presley, De’Zhaun Stribling and Ollie Gordon. The coaches have a much larger sample size of practices and know more than I do (duh), but after watching Saturday’s game twice, those three look like solid players to build around.
It feels like that process has already started with Presley. He went in a unique motion twice Saturday, once catching a pass out of the backfield and the other taking a handoff and running five yards. That’s the type of player-specific creativity that, I think, fans have been yearning to see. Those weren’t cookie-cutter plays that the Cowboys have ran for years. Those were plays specifically designed to get the ball in a specific player’s hands.
Gordon had only nine touches Saturday. With those nine touches, he had 44 rushing yards, 23 receiving yards and a touchdown. That’s 4.9 yards a touch, and he ran for 6.3 yards per carry, toting the rock seven times for 44 yards. He also had a 43-yard run in the fourth quarter that was called back for holding.
Going into the fourth quarter Gordon had only two carries. That’s not going to do it. I thought Elijah Collins and Jaden Nixon also played well. Collins had a nice touchdown run and Nixon was great as a receiver out of the backfield, catching five passes for 37 yards. It should continue to be a committee, I think, but Gordon has been dynamic with his touches since coming to Stillwater. He has to get more than nine as these games start to mean more.
It’s sort of the same story at receiver: plenty of good options. But De’Zhaun Stribling was a chain mover. On five targets, the Washington State transfer had four catches for 73 yards (18.3 yards per catch). He was targeted four times in the first quarter then not again until the fourth.
If OSU force fed Presley, Gordon and Stribling more Saturday, I don’t think the game would’ve been as close as it was. But again, with everything being so new with all the roster turnover (and the transfer portal looming), I understand why Gundy and Co. wanted to give everyone a shot.
But perhaps Saturday was a step toward OSU honing its identity ahead of next weekend’s game in Tempe.
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