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Despite Struggles, the Cowboys’ Offense Is Solid on Opening Drives

OSU has averaged 48.2 yards per opening drive this season, a stat a lot of Big 12 teams thrive in.

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[Devin Wilber/PFB]

STILLWATER — It’s not breaking news that the Cowboy offense has struggled in 2021, but stylistically, the Pokes are scoring when they need to.

Oklahoma State has relied on its defense through its first five games. Typically, defenses work better from ahead, holding onto a lead, as opposed to having to find some way to score. In three games this season (Missouri State, Kansas State and Baylor), the Cowboys’ offense has scored a touchdown on its opening possession.

OSU is averaging 378.4 yards of total offense a game this season, which ranks seventh in the Big 12. But on opening drives, OSU’s offense is averaging 48.2 yards, that’s even with the 2-yard outlier in Boise. Opening drives are something a lot of Big 12 teams are good at, though, as OSU’s 48.2 yards per opening drive actually ranks fifth in the conference.

Team Yards Per Opening Drive
K-State 71.6
Baylor 67
West Virginia 65.3
TCU 50.4
Oklahoma State 48.2
Texas 43
Iowa State 42.4
Texas Tech 41.8
Oklahoma 30.2
Kansas 10.6

OSU coach Mike Gundy said he thinks offensive coordinator Kasey Dunn comes into a given game with a certain number of plays he wants to get in before halftime (Gundy said he thinks Dunn usually has 18 plays). Gundy said those plays are for 1st-and-10s and 2nd-and-normal, not third-down or goal-line calls.

“I always had 22 plays that you have that you wanted to run those plays before halftime, to make sure you were able to run the plays you thought gave you the best chance to score points,” Gundy said. “And then maybe identify deficiencies or see how they lined up to tell you what to do later in the game. About 75% of the time that I was calling plays that happened, sometimes you don’t get through it. That means things aren’t going very good, and you really have to regroup at halftime.”

It’s given the Cowboys something to hang onto, making way for the offense not having to win the game in the second half, where it averages 6.8 points a game. The Cowboys can use more Jaylen Warren and Spencer Sanders run as opposed to trying to sling the ball downfield.

“You want to score early,” OSU coach Mike Gundy said Monday. “You want to try to get to where you’re in a position that you’re not becoming one dimensional offensively. If you’re one dimensional offensively then, in today’s game in my opinion, you could be deficient in areas because defensive linemen, particularly outside pass rushers, are getting much better each year. They’re almost like the NFL, to where if they know it’s a pass, it’s extremely difficult to protect. I’m an offensive lineman, you’re more athletic than me, and we’re both running back here, and I’m trying to keep you from getting to him and he knows where he’s going, and I don’t know where you’re going.

“It’s a tough issue. It’s affecting this level almost like it is in the NFL, and if you become one dimensional if you don’t keep yourself in the game, then you’re at a disadvantage because now your offensive line really has to protect when the other team knows you’re going to be throwing passes.”

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