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Ragusa: Five Predictions for the 2018 OSU Football Season on Justice and Pokes’ Sack Total

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With the start of the 2018 football season right around the corner, here are five of my predictions for the 2018 Cowboy football team and why each could come to fruition.

Prior Predictions

1. A.J. Green Will Be An All-Big 12 Cornerback: The amount of press coverage Jim Knowles plays in his defensive scheme should suit the 6-1, 182-pound junior very well.  Green had some growing pains in his first full season as a starter in 2017, but we saw some flashes of talent which I think he builds upon this year.

Green will be filling Mark Gilbert’s role in Knowles’ defense. Gilbert, who is almost exactly the same size as Green, was named first team All-ACC last season at Duke. He assumed the role of the field cornerback meaning he was responsible for covering a lot of space in coverage. I don’t know if I’m ready to say Green is as talented as Gilbert, who has the potential of being an early round NFL draft pick, but I definitely think he is up to the task of handling this responsibility in Knowles’ scheme.

I wanted to show how Green compares to the first and second team All-Big 12 cornerbacks (and nickelbacks) from last season, along with the 2018 Preseason All-Big 12 cornerbacks.

Player School Total Tackles TFL Interceptions Passes Defended
A.J. Green Oklahoma State 47 4.5 4 5
D. J. Reed^ Kansas State 47 4.5 4 9
Justus Parker* Texas Tech 42 2.5 4 4
Kris Boyd* Texas 38 0.5 2 15
Ranthony Texada^ TCU 33 2.0 1 14

*2018 preseason All-Big 12 team
^2017 All-Big 12 team

You can see the only real area Green falls behind these other players is passes defended.  He and Texas Tech’s Justus Parker have the least amount of passes defended, but Parker has an excuse as he played both safety and nickelback last season as opposed to being a true cornerback.  However, with the amount of press man coverage “Lil’ Bill” will be in this season, I think he has the opportunity to make a lot more plays on the football, similar to the one below.

2. The Return of the Cowboy Back to the Passing Game:  The “Cowboy Back” term was established in 2015. In the first two seasons of its existence, the players at this position averaged a combined 410.5 yards receiving per season. But OSU saw a decline in receiving production from the Cowboy Backs as they combined for only 152 yards in 2017. However, in 2018 I think the Cowboy Backs return to their relevancy in the Oklahoma State passing game.

The Cowboys return Britton Abbott and Sione Finefeuiaki, both very talented blockers who have shown the ability to make plays in the flats, but have not shown the ability to stretch the defense vertically.  That being said, this season the Pokes add former quarterback Jelani Woods, junior college transfer Jake Ross, redshirt freshman Baron Odom and walk-on Logan Carter to the mix.

The 6-7, 245-pound Woods played tight end in his early high school career and began practicing at tight end for the scout team towards the end of last season. Additionally, Cowboy Back coach Jason McEndoo says Woods is all in on the position move. He would be a huge target for quarterback Taylor Cornelius to look for up the seam and I have big expectations for Woods in the 2018 season.

Along with Woods, Ross is a very talented athlete who will be looking to contribute. The 6-5 Odom and 6-4 Carter are also competing for playing time at the Cowboy Back spot.

My prediction is the Cowboy Backs combine for over 300 yards receiving this season. Not quite the level of production we’ve seen in the past, but double last year’s production and an added element to the Oklahoma State passing game.

3. Justice Hill Has 250+ Yards Receiving: The Cowboys haven’t had a running back go for over 300 yards receiving since Joseph Randle had 427 yards in 2010. Last season, Hill had 190 yards, and that was with two 1,000-plus yard receivers on the roster. This season, the Pokes will be looking for players to step up and make up for the lost production from James Washington and Marcell Ateman. If he’s not making it up in the rushing game, I think he will be in the receiving game.

We’ve already heard Coach Gundy talk about Hill working with the receivers in practice,

I have a feeling he will be pretty heavily utilized in the Cowboy passing attack this season.  He’s already shown he has the hands, and we know he can make plays in the open field, so I don’t see any reason Coach Yurcich won’t draw up some routes for the talented OSU running back.

4. Cowboys Allow 15 Or Fewer Sacks: The Cowboys return three starters in Larry Williams, Marcus Keyes and Johnny Wilson, along with Teven Jenkins who saw a lot of action last season.  In addition, with 24 lineman on the roster, this is the deepest unit Oklahoma State has had in a while. Junior college transfer Arlington Hambright has been performing well this offseason, and so have Dylan Galloway, Deionte Noel and Larry Joubert.

This Cowboy offensive line, which experienced quite a few injuries last season, allowed a total of 24 sacks which ranked No. 52 in the nation. With all the returning experience and depth, I believe this OSU squad can return to a level they haven’t seen since 2013, which is the last time they gave up fewer than 15 sacks on the season.

5. Cowboys Finish With 40-ish Sacks: The Cowboys have a defensive line that includes Darrion Daniels, Enoch Smith Jr., Trey Carter and Cam Murray at the tackle spots, and Jordan Brailford, Jarrell Owens and Cole Walterscheid at defensive end. These guys combined for 13.5 sacks last season.

In addition, the Cowboys return Calvin Bundage and Justin Phillips at the linebacker.  These two combined for 5.5 sacks last season. Overall, that’s a total of 19 combined sacks returning.

With guys like Amadou Fofana, Brock Martin, Kevin Henry, Amen Ogbongbemiga and Devin Harper looking to contribute this season, along with Coach Knowles’ new aggressive scheme, I think you have the recipe for a large increase in total sacks. Not to mention the blitzing safeties which will provide sacks as well.

Oklahoma State finished with 30 sacks last season, which ranked them in the low 40s nationally. They haven’t had 40 sacks since 2015, when Emmaneul Ogbah, Jimmy Bean and Vincent Taylor were causing absolute havoc on the defensive line. Even though they may not have the talent in 2018 that the 2015 team did on the defensive line, I do think the combination of the guys they have and the scheme will result in a sack total somewhere between 38 and 40.

According to Adam Lunt on the Tape Doesn’t Lie podcast, in 119 plays he watched of Duke football last season, they blitzed (five plus man rush) on 58 percent of them.  That’s an insane amount of bltizing. Knowles will bring the heat on 3rd down, which is something we didn’t see former defensive coordinator Glenn Spencer do very often, and I think it results in this Cowboy team recording a lot of sacks in 2018.

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