What We Learned from OSU’s 27-15 Win over Arizona State

It was a tale of two halves. But after a slow start, OSU earned a quality road win last Saturday, topping Arizona State 27-15 in Tempe. Now that we’ve seen the Cowboys take on some Power Five competition, let’s take stock of what we’ve learned ahead of their final nonconference matchup.

1. The Three-QB Rotation Is Real (but Is It Working?)

I mean, we knew it was real. Mike Gundy told us it will be real. And we’ve learned since he returned from the desert that it will continue to be real — as long as none of the three disqualifies himself in practice this week.

It looks like the Cowboys could go into their conference opener in Ames in two weeks still splitting reps among Garret Rangel, Gunnar Gundy and Alan Bowman at quarterback.

While I get Gundy’s point about the portal and letting guys earn it on the field, I’m not sure how sustainable this is.

So far, the Pokes are 2-0 with three QB1s, and there’s a good chance they’ll be 3-0 after Saturday. But we saw some awkward transitions between possessions on Saturday like Bowman getting benched immediately after his lone TD drive, and Rangel going three-and-out on his first drive when he was basically thrown in cold to start the fourth quarter.

Gundy seems intent on letting the QB competition play out, and that should go over relatively well as long as OSU keeps winning. But if the Cowboys struggle or a lapse in momentum leads to a loss, that’s what everyone will point to.

Ultimately, it worked out — no small thanks to OSU’s defense pitching a second-half shutout — but it might not next time. What if the Cowboys are coming from behind and start to gain a rhythm with Gundy? Do they bench him for a cold Bowman just because he’s hit his drive quota?

I would hope not, but so far quarterback substitutions have been based solely on drive count, not on in-game needs or rhythm. How rigid will the Cowboys be if they’re in danger of losing, and will it be too late?

Hopefully for OSU, one of them will have proven he’s worthy of QB1 by the end of this weekend when the Cowboys host a South Alabama.

2. The Run Game Got Better

The Cowboys’ run game — which was their focus all offseason — was so-so against Central Arkansas and nonexistent in the first half at Arizona State. Two sacks zeroed out the net rushing total at halftime. (Bowman was doing yeoman’s work getting OSU the one TD he did.)

There are issues up front. OSU is currently ranked 80th in team run-blocking according to Pro Football Focus and turned in a lower grade (55.4) against ASU than it did against an FCS opponent in UCA (62.7).

But the Cowboys made some changes and got behind center more in the second half, turning in a cool 113 yards on 19 carries. Though that was inflated a bit by a couple of chunk yardage plays — 31 yards by Ollie Gordon early in the third quarter and a 34-yard run by Jaden Nixon to start the fourth.

The Cowboys are also rotating running backs with Gordon, Nixon and Elijah Collins taking nine, seven and eight handoffs, respectively. They each had nice plays, but you wonder how much fairness will usurp production.

3. Penalties Were an Issue

The Cowboys got flagged for nine penalties against the Sun Devils, their highest mark since OSU’s season opener in 2021. And most of those are the types you can blame on rust, or lack of rhythm.

Of the nine flags, three were for a false start and two were for an offsides penalty. There were also two holding penalties (one on a punt return) and a defensive pass interference. And then there was a costly delay of game on Rangel’s second drive which pushed the Pokes back from first-and-goal at the ASU 1. OSU had to settle for a field goal.

OSU led the Big 12 averaging just 3.5 penalties per game last year. Through two games, the Pokes are averaging seven. It’s too early to make any proud proclamations, but those mistakes are not the norm for Gundy-coached teams. Hopefully for OSU, this was an aberration and not a trend.

4. The Defense — Better on a Second Look

Groans on the platform formerly known as Twitter came early and often during Saturday’s game when the Cowboys found themselves down 15-7 early in the second quarter after a second ASU touchdown drive.

But on second look, OSU’s defense really had one bad drive and then gave up a tough touchdown. Aside from that, it was a pretty stellar performance.

OSU is ranked 34th in defensive points per drive at 1.36 per BCF Toys, and that’s based solely on Saturday’s performance because the game against Central Arkansas (FCS) doesn’t qualify for the site’s numbers.

On ASU’s second possession, true frosh QB Jaden Rashada looked like a Pac-12 Rookie of the Year, captaining the Sun Devils 77 yards for a touchdown in five-plus minutes. But that drive was sandwiched between two forced three-and-outs.

Two possessions later, OSU almost forced another three-and-out, but Rashada escaped the pocket on third down and just got to the line to gain. He caught the Cowboys flat-footed and aired it out for a 65-yard touchdown pass on the very next play.

That TD still counts, but you could see that the defense was figuring things out. After that second-quarter score, ASU went scoreless with these drives:


After giving up 5.5 yards per play in the first half, OSU held ASU to 3.4 in the second. You can’t ask for a better rebound. Will the defense be elite? Who knows. But it played good enough on Saturday to win some games in October and November.

5. They’re Still a Work in Progress

You’d love to have your team step off the bus on Week 1 as a well-oiled machine and even more so by Week 2. But that’s not always going to happen, especially with the type of turnover OSU dealt with this offseason. What you can hope for is continued improvement.

We’ve talked a lot about the Cowboys’ rotating of most of its position groups through two games, and it looks like that will continue. My question is for how long. Are they giving all positions the noncon to bid for reps? Or it is on a per-position basis?

Although we can point to what we see on the field, it remains to be seen how these early-season rotations affect the Cowboys down the stretch. But if you’re a Cowboy, or a Cowboy fan, you’d like things to be closer to being solidified after this weekend.

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