The State of Oklahoma: Houston Shocks Oklahoma State

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One of the few moments of celebration for the Cowboy D

(picture by dimecoverage)

Normally, Tuesdays are reserved for the Oklahoma posts, but since another big upset occurred last weekend, we'll start the State of Oklahoma this week with the Cowboys.  Congratulations, Okie State, for you have earned more attention than the Sooners for a week.  Maybe not in the way you wanted, but still.

As I watched the game (simultaneously with ours), I thought several things to myself:  1) Oklahoma schools should not play teams which have "Cougar" as a mascot  2) Oklahoma State should ask the AP Poll not to rank them in the Top 5 ever again, for they have dropped their next game when ranked so high in the past  3) The Pokes should have scheduled a less dangerous team right after the biggest opening day game in their history and risking a letdown...

Or perhaps, the Cowboys should have played, you know, some defense.

To be fair, a lot went wrong for the Pokes, not just their defense (including some bad luck).  Their offense was stagnant in the first half and put their defense in bad situations, and their Big Three--Zac Robinson, Kendall Hunter, and Dez Bryant--did not have great games.  Like last week, Oklahoma State came out a bit flat.  Unlike last week, they were not facing a bumbling SEC offense led by a slightly ill QB; they were facing a methodical and capable Houston passing game led by an experienced quarterback, Case Keenum.  Last week, while giving due credit to the Cowboy defense for their performance, I gave this word of caution: 

While their defense looks improved... Georgia didn't exactly sport a great offense, so we will know much more about this Cowboy defense in later games.

And we learned much about the Cowboys last weekend, and it wasn't all pretty.  As I also said last week, when I first thought about this game before the season, I was way too dismissive of Houston.  After thinking about it further, I gave them a slight chance and also expected a shootout, but I still did not expect them to win.  The Cougars then came in and proved doubters like me wrong, and they lit up the Cowboys in route to a 45-35 win.  Now, that score sounds. familiar...

Key Offensive Miscues

Last year when the Pokes played the Cougars, Oklahoma State got down but then roared back to a 56-37 win.  Last week, OSU's offense started slow but got a few things going later en route to a 24-10 win.  This time, the early offensive miscues cost the Cowboys dearly, and with some poor execution and bad luck, they could not come through in the end this time.  Strange to say for an offense that was allegedly the best in the country according to some overly optimistic sources.

Here were some of the offensive miscues I am talking about:

First Half

Key Sequence #1

On Houston's first drive, Case Keenum connected on four straight passes to move the Cougars 42 yards, but the Cowboys picked off Keenum and ended the threat.  The offense moved the ball a paltry 11 yards and then Robinson and Hunter fumbled an exchange.  Houston recovered, and on the very next play, Keenum scampered for a 16-yard touchdown. Bam, 7-0.

Key Sequence #2

Wanting to respond to Houston's first score, the Pokes mounted a drive.  Even here you could see some slight struggle, being forced to convert a third and long and a third and short and ultimately failing to convert their third 3rd down.  The ensuing 37-yard field goal was wide right, big points left off the board for the Cowboys.  On the following Cougar possession, a personal foul on Lucien Antoine gave Houston a first down on what would have been a 3rd and 18.  Ouch.  That helped Houston get into FG range and kick a 31 yarder.  10-0 on essentially a six-point swing.

Key Sequence #3

After Oklahoma State's first score, Houston had another successful drive into OSU territory, but the Cougars fumbled and the Cowboys recovered.  However, when it looked like the Pokes would drive to seize momentum, the drive was killed by a penalty for chop blocking by Andrew Lewis.  The Cowboys punted and downed the ball at the four yardline, but with help from another personal foul penalty (Donald Booker), the Cougars drove 96 yards for a touchdown.  17-7.

Key Sequence #4

Special teams gaffe, giving up an onside kick.  24-7 after a screen.

Second Half

The second half was loads better for the Cowboy offense, and they scored 28 points (one on a punt return by Dez Bryant).  Nonetheless, offensive mistakes did them in some crucial moments:

Key Sequence #5

With 21 straight points from OSU, the Cowboys had the lead 28-24.  They had just stopped the Cougars and had the opportunity to really crush the hopes of Houston with a big drive here.  Instead, Bryant dropped a pass (he had problems with that), Robinson had another unforced fumble that caused a huge loss, and they had a false start penalty.  The result?  A fourth and 24, and they had to punt the ball from their own 6.  The punt itself was good but the coverage was poor, and the Cougars got to start the next drive, which they eventually scored on, on OSU's 33 yardline.

Key Sequence #6

We know this one.  After the Cougars caught a lucky tipped ball to take the lead again (we'll give them credit for being able to catch tipped balls, unlike some people), Zac Robinson threw a slightly inaccurate, but still catchable, ball to Dez Bryant.  The ball bounced off his hands and was intercepted and promptly returned for six.  That was essentially the game.  The following OSU possession netted no points (probably an unwise decision by Gundy to not kick the FG, but we won't discuss that much), and the Cougars celebrated a big win.

Offensive Disappointment

The reason I'm recounting these sequences is to show that while it is easy, and justifiable, to rip the defense, they were not alone in their mistakes.  The offense and special teams made numerous errors and put the defense in bad spots, particularly with four turnovers.  This is important for us to note here at Texas because it is the offense of OSU that most concerns us, and they also have a dangerous return game.  From the game, I got these impressions:

Dez Bryant has been subpar, but other WRs have shown up - One of the big questions for the Cowboy offense has been the emergence of a second and third option in the passing game.  There's Dez Bryant and nobody else.  However, in this game, Josh Cooper showed some utility with 5 catches and a touchdown, while Justin Blackmon had two good catches.  The bad news, of course, is that Dez Bryant is looking a lot like Braylon Edwards in the NFL:  Big, talented, and fast, but ultimately a disappointment due to inconsistency.  Bryant also had to be helped off the field after the last pick six.

Kendall Hunter has not looked good, but other RBs have - Hunter left the game with a bad right ankle and didn't look good before that either, but Beau Johnson was a pleasant surprise and had the best run of the night, an exciting and strong 37-yard touchdown.  Toston was also solid, as usual.  As with the receivers, the bad news for the Pokes is that their main back has not looked good, and Hunter is out against Rice.

Zac Robinson is off - Everyone excused his first mediocre outing against Georgia with first game jitters and an SEC defense.  This time, there's no excuse.  Robinson's play was just not good enough.  His interception is not his fault, but he was a part of two unforced fumbles and generally looked uncomfortable.  He is not running the way he needs to for this offense to succeed, and he's looking way too much at Bryant sometimes as opposed to scanning for other options.  This has not been a good start for a supposed Heisman darkhorse.

OSU misses Brandon Pettigrew - PB rightly wondered how much the Cowboys would miss their do-it-all tight end.  The season is still young, but it is clear that they could use him.  The running game has not looked nearly as scary thus far without Pettigrew blocking.  Also, despite the quiet emergence of somebody like Cooper, it is obvious that Robinson is not all that comfortable throwing to anyone but Bryant right now.  Pettigrew's steadiness would do wonders for this offense that has been more inconsistent than exciting.

The offensive line is good but not dominating - Okung has been solid, as have others, but they have not dominated the opposition quite yet.  Aside from some penalties, it is not their fault they lost the game, but it looks a lot like Texas' line:  Experienced, capable, but not awesome.  And the Cowboys were hoping for awesome, but their new guards have not stepped in as cleanly as they would have wished.

Oklahoma State might have an improved defense (didn't look like it on Saturday, but still), but if they want to challenge for the Big 12 South, this offense needs to kick it to another gear.  Inconsistent play like this will scare no one.

A Real Offense Bids Thee Welcome, Bill Young

The defense doesn't deserve all the blame, but when you get lit up for 45 points, 366 yards passing, and 146 yards rushing, well, something is wrong.  And considering the offenses this team will face in the future, it is a bad, bad sign.  Despite the turnovers, Houston had success moving the football the entire game save the third quarter.

Defensive Line

These guys, who needed to be much improved, did not do much against Houston.  Houston was able to set up the run with the pass and Keenum was rarely pressured.  When he was, he easily avoided the rush.  The line did a poor job, as the rest of the team, recognizing screens.  In addition, the Cowboys curiously showed a three man front on many occasions, making their pass rush worse and letting Keenum carve them up.  Ugo Chinasa thus far has been a disappointment, and he and fellow DE Jeremiah Price got no sacks and barely any pressure despite Keenum's 46 attempts.

Linebackers

Booker made some plays, but overall, the tackling was poor and the coverage was worse.  The Houston offense isn't very vertical; it utilizes more short and intermediate passes to let their playmakers work in space.  The linebackers were poor on screens, poor on tackling right after the catch, and poor in pursuit.  Very nice.

Secondary

Ouch.  Other than a few plays from the likes of Cox, this secondary got torn up.  Their tackling was worse than the linebackers and they played way too far back on the receivers (more the coach's fault than theirs).  They were without Markelle Martin, but it was no excuse.  I won't be to hard on them because I feel like the defensive strategy going against Houson wasn't very good, but the tackling needs to improve if they want to stop this type of offense (which they will see again against Tech and Texas).  Giving up large amounts of YAC on short balls is a good way to drive your fanbase insane.

Now That's the Cowboy Defense We Know

The defense was just not very good on all three levels, and they obviously affect each other.  Keenum normally got rid of the ball quickly, but the D-line pressure was still poor and left the back seven vulnerable.  The fact that secondary or linebackers could not tackle on short routes or cover them let Keenum deliver the ball with ease in the first place, which in turn opened up the run game a bit.  If not for the Houston turnovers, both of which came on good-looking drives, this game might have been even uglier in the first half.  Not only were they poor on normal short throws, they were especially bad at defending screens, and the score at the end of the half came off a 32-yard screen and hurt bad.

Wounded But Dangerous

As Horns fans, we see some amusing and encouraging things, although a few of us are mad at OSU for screwing up our strength of schedule.  Oklahoma State struggled against a quick-passing offense led by an experienced quarterback who has some mobility (kind of like somebody we know).  Their offense has looked much less impressive without Brandon Pettigrew, their line is not nearly as dominant as they were hyped up to be, and their Big Three players have not had a good two games.  The defensive front line can't get consistent pressure and their back seven didn't tackle well at all.  Pokes fans are already ready to jump off the bandwagon and hide.

However, I will caution against seeing too much in one game:  It is common to have a letdown after a big game like they had against Georgia.  Furthermore, if not for an extremely lucky fourth-down reception that was tipped in the air, the Pokes probably would have pulled this one out anyway.  If they play like this against Texas, they aren't winning, but I fully expect them to be a much improved team by October 31st.  Halloween against OSU?  Just great.

Bottom line:  It's way too early to write them off, and it's not like they lost to a scrub team.  In many ways, you can argue that the loss here makes OSU even more dangerous.  With a disappointing loss here, it will make Oklahoma State all the more desperate to salvage their season with a big win over Texas.  We are going to have to counter that emotion when we arrive in Stillwater.

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