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Midseason Grades: Justice, Tylan Score High; Gundy, Secondary Do Not

Grading positions, players and coaches for the first part of 2018.

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With the 2018 season halfway (!) over, it’s time to dish out some grades for the first part of the year. These are a little bit difficult to do because a lot of the good for OSU has come against weaklings (S. Alabama, Not a Team Missouri State and Kansas). They’ve played three real teams and lost to two of them.

So there’s a bit of a curve here, and I tried to mix statistical evidence with what I’ve watched with my own eyes (the TC Conundrum, some may call it). Here are my grades for various players and positions for the first half of 2018.

Justice Hill — A

He’s been awesome, hasn’t he? Consider this. Hill is averaging 6.4 yards per carry this year, which is almost a yard over his average for the first two years. That means the OSU offensive line is either better than people think or Hill has been crushing. For me, it’s probably both (we’ll get to the OL in a minute).

If he stays (the biggest if!) he can have all the career records. All of them. Maybe even all the Big 12 ones. He needs 2,300 yards in the next 20 (?) games to take down Cedric Benson’s all-time Big 12 rushing mark of 5,540 yards. But it hasn’t just been the consistent output for me this season. It’s been the magic he’s made behind the line and the electricity he’s run with in the open field. Every year, I wonder how he can get any better. Every year he does.

Taylor Cornelius — B

I’ve waffled more on Cornelius than any player in recent Oklahoma State memory. At first I was in. Then I faded. Then I was out. Then he sort of drew me back against ISU. I remain out, but I understand why people don’t think Cornelius is the biggest problem. Jim Knowles’ defense and Josh Henson’s big fellas up front are probably a bigger issue, but I contend that a dynamic QB can affect your team in intangible ways. That’s probably frustrating to hear — especially coming from somebody who spews statistical evidence as if Bill James was one of the 12 apostles — but there’s a giddyup missing from the 2018 Pokes that I believe Spencer Sanders could provide.

Cornelius’ numbers, by the way, have been all right. Basically 2015 Rudolph when the team started 10-0.

Offensive Line — C-

They haven’t been as bad in the rush game as 1. Gundy has made them out to be or 2. They looked against Iowa State last Saturday. Have they been good? Not really, but OSU’s run game still ranks top 35 in yards per carry, and they’e scoring at a good clip (see notes on Yurcich below). On the flip side they’ve been worse in pass protection than Gundy has made them out to be and than they looked on Saturday.

They’re 115th in the country in sacks allowed with 18 and 126th (!) in the nation in tackles for loss allowed with 50 (!) Only Oregon State and Florida State are worse among Power 5 teams when it comes to TFLs. Some of that is Corn-related but not all of it, and a presumed strength going into the season has turned into a liability halfway through.

Secondary — C+

As much as I want it to be good, it just hasn’t been. OSU is rotating two true freshmen with two true sophomores at safety (which is obviously not ideal despite the talent), and what Mike Gundy didn’t say about his corners was maybe most telling.

When he was asked last Saturday if they have improved over last year, Gundy paused for a beat and said, “They’ve played about the same.” What they haven’t played is OU, West Virginia or Texas yet.

OSU, by the way, is 81st in yards per attempt defended and, probably more disappointingly, 66th in interceptions.

Tylan Wallace — A+

Superstar. I’d like to say I saw it coming — and I did (kind of!) — but I did not see him staring a 1,200-yard, 8 TD season between the eyes at the midway point. He’s going to be a great one. He already is.

Defensive Line — A

OSU is averaging 9.2 tackles for loss and 4.7 sacks a game. That’s third and first in the country respectively. Those are astonishing numbers. Of their 28 sacks, 21.5 have come from defensive linemen. It honestly makes you wonder how the defense as a whole has been so lousy. Maybe they’re utilizing their linebackers too much to free up defensive linemen and sacrificing space in the middle of the field, but the majority of OSU’s big plays from the DL have seemingly been because they’ve out-athlete-d folks. I’m not sure what else you can ask them to do.

Mike Yurcich — B+

What if I told you Oklahoma State’s offense has averaged far more yardage per play this year than it did in two of Mason Rudolph’s three years as the starter? You’re not here for that, are you?

  • 2018: 7.0 yards per play
  • 2017: 8.5
  • 2016: 6.1
  • 2015: 6.1

You’re probably also not here to hear that Oklahoma State’s offensive points per drive numbers are No. 19 in the country right now, ahead of Clemson, Notre Dame and Oregon.

I think we do have to balance with a few things. The first is that Yurcich continues to struggle when it comes to making adjustments. They happen eventually (usually) but not as quickly as OSU needs them to. Also, I’m not sure they’re using their personnel as well as they could given the offensive line struggles. I’m as much an Xs and Os guy as Mike Gundy is a shaved head guy, but Cornelius seems pretty good at throws around the line of scrimmage and OSU hasn’t utilized its offensive weapons to the fullest extent around there.

Finally that last 40 minutes against Tech was enough to drop this a half letter grade. Of all the things we’ve seen this year, that was the most like the 2014 season.

Jim Knowles — D

Guys, I know the sack numbers are fun. I know unleashing Calvin Bundage is a joy (for me maybe most of all). I know OSU has been more dynamic at times. I know the Boise State game was great. But …. Knowles hasn’t been good. OSU has played two nobodies and the two worst offenses in the Big 12 to date, and they rank No. 77 in the country in points per drive given up (for context, 2017 OSU finished 58th). OU — which just fired its defensive coordinator — ranks No. 74.

I’m obviously not suggesting a change, but I’m saying that Knowles has a big half season to prove some stuff. Gundy has hinted that OSU is doing too many things defensive (too “multiple” he called it on Monday), and that’s on Knowles. In a year where the run game and defense was supposed to semi-carry a brand new QB, neither has really lived up to expectations.

Mike Gundy — C

I was ripping apart my shed early in the year in a burning rage over how little respect Mike Gundy gets nationally so hear me when I say that nobody has been a bigger Gundy proponent. But the expectations are what they are now — as Gundy has said, you have to feed the monster — and those do not include losing to Iowa State and Texas Tech at home. OSU has been undisciplined, lacked energy and creativity and been out-coached several times so far this season. That’s on the position coaches and coordinators, sure, but ultimately it’s on Gundy.

Look, Gundy’s record and achievements in Stillwater are unassailable. His legacy is safe (I think). But a step down in QB and lack of translation of the Cowboy Way (or whatever it is) from off the field to on it has revealed the harsh truth that Oklahoma State still doesn’t have a talent level commensurate with its success. That has been covered up in the past with elite QB play and could be again very soon (!). But until then, OSU looks as if it’s going to limp home to what is either going to be a disappointing season or a disastrous one. And big trajectory issues like these lay at the feet of the man with all the hair.