With Oklahoma State's bye week coming up, now's a good a time as any to finish up the rundowns of their team by taking a look at their offensive skill positions.
Who has moved up to #12 in the Coaches Poll? Oklahoma State, that's who. For whipping an FCS team. If teams ahead of them drop again this weekend, Okie State might be quietly returning to the Top 10 for beating Rice, Grambling State, and resting on a bye week. Houston is ahead of them in the meaningless AP poll (#12 while OSU is #14), but they're three spots behind in the Coaches Poll. Huh? Now that's the craziness we love about college football. No doubt, the ever watchful coaches were very impressed with the Pokes pummeling the former school of Doug Williams. If you don't know who that is, ask a Denver Bronco fan.
Last Week: FCS Dining
After a convincing win over the perennial powerhouse Rice, Okie State went to work against Grambling State without key starters Dez Bryant and Kendall Hunter. Of course, it is doubtful Zac Robinson, or any of their starters, needed to play this game, as Okie State cruised to a 56-6 victory. The Pokes piled on over 300 yards rushing and Robinson threw for over 200 yards at 11.8 yards per attempt (though he did throw an interception). Not much to say here. The Cowboy defense stifled anything Grambling State tried to do and sacked their quarterback three times, including one from Ugo Chinasa, his second sack of the season. Hey, if you want to reach ten sacks, as was his goal before the season, getting one on Grambling State would be a good idea.
The problem with such games is that while it is certainly good to kill the teams you're supposed to kill, it's really difficult to get a get idea of where the team has shown improvement. At least they got freshman running back Jeremy Smith some carries and went to work with their receivers without Bryant. Nothing really interesting about the game at all. Moving on...
Oklahoma State Offense: Not Quite the Best
Before the season, the Pokes' offense was getting quite a bit of hype, even being called the best offense in college football in the preseason. Um, no. While they certainly haven't been bad on offense, they surely have not clicked the way many expected, with the offense stagnating in the first halves against Georgia and Houston (perhaps we can sympathize a little). They even struggled on the ground a little bit against Rice. It's been a far bumpier ride on this side of the ball than I'm sure Gundy would have hoped, but at the end of the day, they still have one of the more dangerous offenses in the Big 12 and they have a week off to work out the kinks before conference play starts.
Time to look at their offensive skill positions. If you want a preview of their offensive line, go here.
Zac Robinson, like his team, was given the "darkhorse" label for this season. Last year, he was overshadowed by Bradford, McCoy, Daniel, Reesing, and Harrell. This year, he got a bit more recognition as a possible Heisman candidate, but frankly, it hasn't been very smooth for him thus far. Overall, his throwing stats are still pretty solid, but that's only because he had good games against Rice and Grambling State. His QB rating against Houston and Georgia were both less than 100, which is not very good in college football, and he struggled finding a groove early in both of those games and was not very accurate with the football.
I'm not sure how much truth there was to the "horrible internet rumor" regarding a hamstring injury that would allegedly keep him out of the Georgia game, but from what I've seen of Robinson thus far, he seems a lot more hesitant to run the ball. When he does run it, he lacks the deceptive quickness I remember from him. Right now, he has only rushed for 105 yards on 36 carries for a rather poor average of 2.92 yards per carry. Robinson was never an elite running threat, but in his first three years he averaged 4.97, 6.27, and 3.83 yards per carry. Obviously, as he progressed as a passer, it is reasonable to assume his running numbers would go down, but his ability to make plays with his legs is a big part of his skill set. His lack of production here should be concerning, and if it is indeed injury induced, this bye week could do him wonders.
Robinson has not been overwhelming this season but make no mistake, he's a dangerous player and a very capable quarterback. He threw for over 3,000 yards and rushed for over 500 yards last season and posted a QB rating of 166.84. A big criticism would be his inability to deliver in big games; last season, the Pokes lost the four biggest games of the season (Texas, Tech, OU, and Oregon) and Robinson was flat out bad against the Red Raiders and the Ducks. This season, as noted above, he was pedestrian against Georgia and Houston. We know he can put up stats, so now he needs to prove that he can be a big time quarterback. His turnover rate is low overall, but he threw some big interceptions over the last several games last season.
This is the main strength of the Cowboy offense besides the offensive line, and this is where the Pokes were betting their season. They have a deep group of guys to give carries to:
Kendall Hunter: Kendall Hunter was quite annoying last season. It seemed like he would disappear in a crowd and then come out the other side. Very frustrating. He ran for 161 yards on 18 carries against us, and that number was not even skewed by any exceptionally large run, his longest in that game being a 24 yarder. In fact, he was held to less than 100 yards only three times in the regular season last year, and in those games he ran for 90, 93, and 84 yards. He finished the year as the #1 Big 12 rusher with 1555 yards and scored 16 touchdowns on top of that. He's not the most dangerous receiver but he's capable of going out on a short route and catching the ball.
Unfortunately, his success did not carry over to the bowl game nor to this season. Slowed by an injury, Hunter has only averaged 3.3 yards per carry in his limited time, almost half of his average of 6.5 in 2007 and 2008. He was taken out of the Houston game early and has yet to return, sitting out both Rice and Grambling State. There's a good chance he'll return against Texas A&M, and I am curious to see if he looks better.
Kendall, when healthy, is very quick to go along with good balance and vision. He has decent speed but not great speed, but he's be able to pick up large amounts of yards anyway. Furthermore, as hinted earlier, his small stature sometimes makes him hard to find, and he has underrated strength for a guy weighing 190 pounds. I like how he is a patient runner, setting up his blocks well and then bursting through openings at the right time.
They have other good runners, but they will not maximize their season without him coming back at full strength.
Keith Toston: Toston is a bigger option than Hunter and was a great complementary back last year. He is 6'1, 205 pounds and has a more physical style of running, and Toston actually averaged more yards per carry than Hunter (6.7). Still, this is not the guy who scares you. He can take carries and produce, but unless Okie State is playing inferior competition, he is not that dangerous of a feature back. However, he does provide some steadiness, having decent games against both Georgia and Houston.
Beau Johnson: Bo Jackson? Okie State wishes, although his touchdown run against Houston was pretty darn impressive (the highlight is here at 0:45). Johnson is a former JUCO star and saw backup duty in 2008. He's got good size, weighing 210, and he has more speed to offer than Toston. He hasn't done much other than his strong game against Houston, but if Hunter can't go at full strength he's a great candidate to give more carries to.
Other notables: Kye Staley was supposed to be a bruising back, but he was injured for the year in their scrimmage. Four-star recruit Jeremy Smith ran 15 times for 160 yards against Grambling State, prompting Toston to say, "That is Oklahoma State's future" about him. Another four-star recruit, Dexter Pratt, is redshirting this year after de-committing from LSU. I would not be surprised if Smith saw action in the Big 12 schedule if Kendall Hunter can't regain his form.
There's one scary guy... and that's it. This is the weakest part of the offense, and the Pokes are still searching for other options for Zac Robinson. PB astutely wondered if Oklahoma State would miss TE Brandon Pettigrew more than people thought, and I think he was right. Not only do they miss his great pass-catching skills, they miss his blocking in the run game. Let's meet the players:
Dez Bryant: If you were to build a perfect college wide receiver, he would look a lot like Dez Bryant: 6'3, 215 pounds with speed and great leaping ability. The problem, of course, is that he's not as consistent as some would like. In fact, I, and others, would argue that Bryant has more imposing physical traits than Michael Crabtree, but Crabtree proved to be the better college receiver for other reasons.
Bryant's main criticism is his disappearance in big games. This is not always fair, since he had statistically good games against both Oklahoma and Oregon, but he was a relative nonfactor against Missouri, Texas, and Texas Tech. He made some big plays against Georgia and Houston but also had long moments of absence. He is a good punt returner as well, but he needs to show more consistency throughout football games to truly be a difference maker. If not for his 9 catch performance against Rice, his stats so far wouldn't exactly floor anyone.
He did get dinged up a bit and sat out against Grambling State, something they should be thankful for. Bryant may not be that consistent force, but he is a supreme talent at receiver and by far OSU's most dangerous weapon in the passing game. Every team should have a safety over him almost all the time.
Josh Cooper: Cooper has produced a little bit of hope that other receivers will step up. He has an incredibly underwhelming 10 catches for 157 yards so far, but he produced well against Houston and that's still for second most on the team. It's also five times more catches than he had last year. Cooper is not at all scary physically, but he has good hands and some decent awareness.
Wilson Youman, TE: Youman has great size at 6'5, 252 pounds and he's a decent blocker. However, he was thin on experience last year, playing in only three games, and he hasn't been much of a receiving threat thus far. He has some promise, but I don't think he's a guy that can stretch the seam or anything. He is certainly no Pettigrew.
Other notables: Hubert Anyiam has some good speed and is a promising young receiver, while Dameron Fooks is another JUCO transfer who has good size, standing 6'3. Justin Blackmon is an athletic, young receiver who caught two balls against Houston. And... that's it. I'm sure you are all shaking in your boots.
As you can see, while Oklahoma State at least has Dez Bryant, they are suffering from a very similar problem the Sooners are. The passing game is overly reliant on Bryant. They have some interesting young players, but there is nothing proven about this group.
Not as complete as we thought
For all the talk about this team having a great offense, there are legitimate questions it has to answer. Not even considering the play of the new guards on the offensive line, this offense has the overall quality of their receivers and tight ends. Surely a perfect scenario would be that they run for 200+ yards a game and mix in some play-action deep throws to Bryant, but this isn't a video game and you can bet every team will load the box while keeping an eye on Bryant to force Zac Robinson to utilize someone else.
This is still a very dangerous offense, having great depth at runningback, a good quarterback, and one killer wide receiver to go along with a strong offensive line. It is not, however, elite, at least not yet. If it weren't for the fact that this game is in Stillwater and wild things happen when we play the Pokes, I would actually be pretty confident that we could handle this offense. Even without Christian Scott, we would have the depth in the secondary to cover their wide outs. The big question would be if we could stop Hunter and his friends from having as big a day on the ground as they did in Austin last year, which I'm feeling better about right now.