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10 Thoughts On Oklahoma State’s 45-38 Win Over Pitt

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You know what they say: “they all count as one win, even the ones that take five and a half hours and involve a 4th-string RB running for 4 TDs, a QB throwing for 540 yards but somehow playing one of his worst games in recent memory and a team’s most notorious defensive back sealing the deal with a pick to end things.” Or I’m sure at least someone has said that before.

OSU beat Pitt 45-38 in Stillwater on Saturday in a bizarre game that concluded with Mike Gundy locking arms with the pom squad and crooning the words to the alma mater and then summing up OSU’s second (*third) win perfectly.

We have much to discuss. Onto the 10 thoughts …

1. The 4th quarter was huge

I’m talking yuuuuuuge. I wrote this sentence during the rain delay because I felt like no matter how the 4th quarter went, it would be big for this program. Hang on against a solid Pitt squad, and maybe you can write off that CMU loss to the stripes. Lose two in a row (and five straight to FBS teams), and now not only is your team reeling but your program is teetering a little bit too.

Oftentimes we overrate the importance of single games, but tonight it almost felt like we were underrating it. There are only 12 of these things a year, and going 0-5 in your last five since last November (I’m not counting poor Southeastern Louisiana) would not be pretty. For the team. For the fans. On the recruiting front. That Rudolph bomb to Jhajuan to seal it *could* reverberate throughout the rest of the season.

2. Good Yurcich

Today was proof that OSU college football fans will complain about anything. OSU rolled up 640 yards and six TDs against a team that was No. 28 in the country in yards per play allowed on defense coming in, and the only thing I saw in my timeline was “Yurcich still stinks.” First we don’t score enough (No. 23 in points per drive in 2015, by the way) then we don’t score in the right way? Come on, people!

Are there things to work on? Absolutely. Is this a finished product? I hope not! Does Yurcich (and Rudolph and the OL and literally everyone in the program who contributes to the offense) have work to do? Sure. But it doesn’t matter how you score ’em. It doesn’t matter if they’re busted plays or the same four plays over and over again (OSU ran like three variations of the same five plays back in 2010 but because our OC housed Red Bulls and went to casinos, it was somehow cool).

Now the (valid) issue that exists (along with the one in No. 3) is that it sometimes seems like it’s all or nothing with Yurcich. I told OKC Dave this earlier today, but it seems like our output offensively is the red line below from game to game whereas the blue line would be much more satisfying even if it wasn’t as good in some games.

I don’t have the data to back this up (yet), but this is the feeling I get from watching single games. There doesn’t seem to be as much game-to-game sustainability as there was with Monken and Dana. But let’s not bemoan when it’s really cranking (like it was on Saturday).

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Yurcich now has more games (6) than his predecessors had (5 for Monken and 2 for Dana) in which his teams averaged 8.0 yards per play or better. He’s also had more chances but still. He’s not the failure you all make him out to be.

3. Bad Yurcich

OK, let’s talk about the issues. Here’s my thing sometimes with the Oklahoma State offense. It feels like it is playing to complete Madden challenges instead of to get Ws. That is, it seems like we are trying to unlock coins on Madden by getting check marks on the following:

  • Play an entire game while only targeting one receiver
  • Go an entire half without giving the ball to your best running back
  • Make James Washington run seven miles in real yardage during a single game

Stuff like that.

Now the flip side of that is that you go with what works (i.e. Dez, Weeden2Blackmon), and I get that. It just never feels like OSU strives to keep a defense thinking and off balanced. Maybe Thomas Fleming will prove me wrong next week in his breakdown. Gundy even sort of admitted this in the postgame though.

4. What was up with Rudolph?

I am in an vortex of Rudolph confusion right now. There is a part of me (a big part of me) that 1. Wants him to be elite because I want OSU to be good and 2. Wants him to be elite because I want to be right about him being elite.

One problem: He has not been elite this year. Despite racking up 540 yards on Saturday against Pitt, he missed a couple of handfuls worth of throws. High, wide, low … the whole deal. His 540 yards felt like they should have been about 840.

Now again, this is all relative because I’m complaining about a QB who shattered the school record for yards in a game and is now 14-4 as a starter in Stillwater, but there are 1st round expectations here. He should be glad that we are frustrated with his performance because the way he plays makes it clear that his ceiling is maybe higher than any other QB to ever wear orange and black. He is pretty clearly a great QB, but he has not played like a great QB so far in 2016.

I mean, there were moments on Saturday when he was tossing dimes. The stuff that makes you re-raise the ceiling. Stuff like this.

Then there were other times when I wondered if him and Kolar switched unis.

There are some pretty substantiated rumors of No. 2 battling a mild injury that would explain the high balls, but that’s not an excuse for him buckling down and getting the job done on 8-10 throws on Saturday. He “got away with it” because his deep ball was pretty good (for most of the night) and because Pitt’s CBs would struggle to cover me and Carson, but he has to be better on the intermediate throws in Big 12 play.

OSU can be great without being great at rushing the ball, but not with the way No. 2 is playing right now.

(Also the fumbling thing is weird)

5. Was the running game actually good?

There are a number of different ways to look at OSU’s yards per carry numbers from Saturday. Let’s take a gander at a few of them.

  • Yards per carry: 3.1
  • Yards per carry without QBs: 5.6
  • Yards per carry without Childs’ long TD: 1.1
  • Yards per carry without QBs and Childs’ TDs: 2.6

I realize it’s a little unfair to take the Childs 67-yard run out of there, but it’s also a little unfair to take the QB sacks and scrambles out as well. Pitt is good at stopping the run as well. This ain’t UTSA up in here.

But the bottom line after non-conference play is this: OSU is not going to be amazing at running the ball this season. It can be good. It can certainly be good enough to win nine games. I realize it faced better competition this season, but the final non-conference YPC numbers for OSU going into B12 play are a little bit startling.

  • 2015: 4.9
  • 2016: 3.1

Not great!

On the flip side, good for Rennie Childs. Four TDs when he had six in his career coming in. Gundy clearly loves him, and it’s good to see dudes like him get some nice run on the national stage.

Also, this is an insane stat.

And this was an insane run.

6. James Washington is not guard-able

The President has run for and won re-election. Washington somehow fell short of the all-time OSU record for yards in a game (300 by Adarius Bowman), but still finished with nine catches for 296 yards.

His last catch came with eight minutes left in the third quarter! I don’t know that you’ll be able to do it in the Big 12, but the fact that it’s at least on film in 2016 will give opposing defenses something massive to have to gameplan for in the upcoming weeks.

Here are your top three receiving peformances in OSU history:

  1. Adarius Bowman: 300 yards vs. Kansas (2006)
  2. James Washington: 296 yards vs. Pitt (2016)
  3. Dez Bryant: 236 yards vs. Houston (2008)

Chris Lacy, Jhajuan Seales, Blake Jarwin, Justice Hill and Rennie Childs all owe Washington a couple of steak dinners for his efforts this week. It will mean more open field for all of them to roam.

7. OSU has been all about turnovers in recent years

Ready for some real talk? If that 2015 OSU team doesn’t No. 4 nationally in turnover margin, are we sitting here discussing a 10-3 year and Sugar Bowl performance?

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Now the reality is that they did and that this has become a sustainable culture under Mike Gundy and Glenn Spencer, but the point is that if it suddenly does not happen then your defense is in a situation where it gives up a ton of points (an OSU staple) AND doesn’t create more possessions for its offense.

Not sure if you’ve been watching in the last five games vs. FBS teams OSU is +1 in the TO department and 1-4 in those games. It was -1 on Saturday against Pitt and barely sneaked out with a win.

8. What if we had a bad D-Line?

How many times was the middle of the field wide open as Pitt tried to run it up the gut but was unsuccessful because Vincent Taylor or Motekiai Maile was there to stuff the effort? It seemed like a lot in the second half especially when they started running those insane end-around plays that the ESPN cameraman is going to be seeing in his dreams when he’s 55 years old.

Pitt might have methodically stomped to a lead (OSU never trailed by the way) if not for OSU’s hockey line changes up front. I could not be more impressed with the way they have been playing.

9. The Crowd Was Not Helpful but the delay was!

On a day when Mike Gundy got his wish and striped out the stadium (“I think college football is about striping the stadium and having orange pom-poms … I just think that’s the gameday experience”), the result was a whole of folks bailing early on. I realize the delay stunk, but come on people.

I think my days of “hey, let’s call out the entire Greek community and nearly start a coup of my domain name” are over, but today’s crowd seemed pretty lackluster before the delay.

We should be better than a “well, we’re not playing a big-name team in conference and we lost last week so I’m going to get an early start on the Natty Lights today” student section. Maybe OKC Dave’s survey was right. Maybe we are spoiled. And not in the good way I thought.

The good news? The post-delay crowd was terrific (and about 5x smaller!)

10. Now what …

There’s a lot to dislike. I get that. The defense might stink (I dunno). Rudolph might not be as good as we (I) thought. The run game doesn’t look like it’s improving. OSU was holding the dagger in the first half, and just decided to throw it down the toilet. The offensive line might also stink (probably does). But guess what? The Big 12 is a complete circus. OU might be 1-2 going in. Baylor and TCU look messy. Iowa State and Kansas are awful. KSU and Tech are imminently beatable.

Maybe this team is just like last year’s. Maybe it just wins games (it should be 3-0 right now, you know, and 15-3 in its last 18). Maybe we just aren’t going to ever house teams. It sure makes for a frustrating (but incredibly exciting!) viewing experience if you’re an OSU fan. I don’t know what this OSU team is yet, but I do know it’s not fully formed. That won’t happen for a few more games. Once the Big 12 is fully underway then we can start figuring that out.

I do know that the Big 12 gauntlet starts next week in Waco and OSU needs an A+ Mason Rudolph to show up for that. It needs a better showing from its defense and every turnover it can find. The pre-conference warmups are over. Onto the gauntlet.