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On OSU’s Dependence on Chuba Hubbard and Tylan Wallace, Is It Sustainable?

Gundy: “We’re a different team when Chuba is on the field.”

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The top storyline for Oklahoma State’s 2019 season so far has been the record-setting start to Chuba Hubbards’ sophomore year, and whether the recent Heisman buzz will turn out to be founded. Not far behind that is the continued excellence, and efficiency, of last year’s Biletnikoff snub, Tylan Wallace.

These two stars tower over most of their contemporaries, as well as all of their own teammates, in terms of production and workload. But how sustainable is that throughout an entire season? And what about the other guys who, at some point, OSU will need to lean on?

LD Brown, OSU’s third-leading rusher behind Hubbard (938 yards) and Spencer Sanders (380), has totaled just 61 yards and one score on the ground in 21 carries. Mike Gundy was asked about that disparity on Monday.

“LD (Brown) ran better,” said Gundy. “He got east and west on this field, north and south on most other fields, but he’s moving forward. He dropped his pads. He was aggressive. He didn’t stutter around with his feet, so he improved.

“The other guys are getting consistent work in practice. It’s just hard to take Chuba out right now. So, when he’s in the game then LD gets his, and he was running better, it’s just hard to get to down-the-line guys right now. When (Hubbard) is on the field, we’re a different football team. The justification for that isn’t really in place.”

The imbalance in targets and catches in OSU’s receiver corps is also pretty stark. Tylan Wallace has been targeted 44 times, or 32.3 percent of all OSU pass attempts. He’s been uber efficient, paying that off for 28 catches, 618 yards and six scores, more than 14 yards per target.

But just like in the ground game logic would dictate that, at some point, the Cowboys will need to lean on someone else. Wallace has eclipsed 100 yards in three of his five games, but the next highest receiving output from any other Cowboy was Braydon Johnson’s 69 yards against McNeese, and that was on one catch. The next highest was C.J. Moore’s 59 yards, also on one catch and also against McNeese.

It’s exciting that they have home run threats in a pair of youngsters, but what if they have to rely on someone other than Tylan Wallace to take the brunt of targets? OSU is going to have to spread the ball out to the other guys by necessity, if not just for the sake of allowing those guys to develop.

Gundy admitted that he’d like some of his other guys to get the ball, but also that Wallace and Hubbard are just too good not to feed, if defenses allow it.

“We’re getting good play from X, (Jordan McCray), (C.J. Moore) and those guys, but the ball hasn’t gotten to them very much,” said Gundy. “They’re not doing anything that’s disappointing. They’ve actually improved considerably, and they need to get the ball more than they have. But I think most everybody would agree that it’s important right now that (Hubbard) gets his touches and (Wallace) gets his touches.”

An Historic Piece of the Pie

This got me thinking. Just how huge a piece of the pie are these two stars sharing? So I looked it up compared to recent OSU offenses.

Chuba, the nation’s leading rusher by a decent margin, has 938 of OSU’s 1,455 rushing yards, or 64.5 percent. Wallace, the No. 5 receiver in college football, has accounted for 51.2 percent (618) of OSU’s 1,206 receiving yards.

The pair is on a ridiculous pace combining to make up just over 56 percent of OSU’s total yards from scrimmage so far. (Scrimmage yards includes rushing, receiving, kick and punt return and interception return yardage.) If the duo were to continue on this pace, they’d share a workload the likes of which we haven’t seen in quite a while.

Here’s a look at the Cowboys’ top two all-purpose gainers the previous 10 years, ranked by their combined portion of the offense.

Duo Combined Workload Year
Tyreek Hill/Brandon Shepherd 43.6% 2014
Justin Blackmon/Kendall Hunter 41.5% 2010
Tylan Wallace/Chuba Hubbard 41.4% 2018
James Washington/Justice Hill 38.5% 2017
Keith Toston/Perrish Cox 36.6% 2009
James Washington/Justice Hill 35.2% 2016
Justin Blackmon/Joseph Randle 34.8% 2011
Josh Stewart/Joseph Randle 34.2% 2012
Josh Stewart/Desmond Roland 28.9% 2013
James Washington/David Glidden 26.7% 2015

I didn’t do the math on every year, but this gives you a good picture of offensive distribution in the modern era. Just for fun, I did look up Barry Sanders’ and Hart Lee Dykes’ numbers from 1988, Barry’s Heisman year, and the two accounted for over 70 percent (!) of the Cowboys’ all-purpose yards.

When we’re talking about 2019, it comes down to the question of how sustainable this is. How do you get the ball to your best playmakers without wearing them down before November?

OSU doesn’t have another Tylan Wallace in its receiving corps, but I’m fairly confident that the Cowboys have enough dudes who can make plays. I’m not quite as confident that it has a comparable backup plan at running back behind Chuba. Hopefully, we never have to find out.

 

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