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The Rundown: Gundy Talks Big 12 Championship, Opt-Out Trend

Everything Mike Gundy said Monday.

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After a tough loss to TCU on Saturday, Mike Gundy faced a lot of criticism this weekend, but the Cowboys’ coach was back at it Monday.

Gundy met with reporters via Zoom for his weekly news conference. Here is what he said.

Opening statement

“Well, what I said after the game was accurate. Our players played extremely hard and competed. I shared that with him last night in meetings that I was proud of their effort. There was a few contested throws in the game that they made and we didn’t. When you play TCU, that’s what it comes down to the times. It’s almost like an NFL game. You’re not going to have receivers running wide open. They’re going to be contested. And if you make those catches and get those big plays, you usually win. If not, then it’s a little bit more difficult. And the same thing on the other side of the ball, they hit us on a couple big plays in the throwing game.

“But our guys continue to play hard and compete. And it was really enjoyable to watch them, particularly Sunday morning as I watched it on tape, and I shared that with them last night that I really, really appreciate their effort, what they bring to the table. I thought our game plans on both sides were really good. We struggled a little bit offensively when we lost Tylan Wallace. That gave them a little bit more leverage in the running game. Then defensively when Tre Sterling and Rodarius [Williams] went out, made it a little bit more difficult for us defensively. But we had tremendous effort from all our players, the guys that came in, so I was excited about them and excited about what they gave to the game.”

On if he has an update on Sterling, Williams and Wallace

“Well, we’ll know a lot more tomorrow just like always. They do all their exams. I think they’re going to be OK, just in kind of seeing them yesterday. But I hate to play doctor when it comes to that, so we’ll just have to wait and see.”

On if the film revealed anything about the offensive struggles that he didn’t see on Saturday

“No, the film revealed what we knew going in, that TCU has a good defense. They’re good in the box and the running game. They cover really well. You can watch all their games, they don’t have a lot of people running open. They’re really skilled at the at the corner position, particularly No. 1 (Tre’Vius Hodges-Tomlinson) is a really, really good cover guy. We knew going into the game that it’d be a difficult matchup in certain areas, but we had good game plans, we had chances. You have to make contested throws and catches when you play TCU in order to beat them.”

On Baylor

“People are going to get an idea of who Baylor is based on the record, but if you go back and look at their games and their scores, Baylor’s been in pretty much every game that they’ve played. They’ve been right there. They’ve had a few things happen to them and in the end and not been able to win those games. But, they’ve been right there, and they’re competing. Obviously they played well Saturday night. This is like every game for us with where we’re at now, is we’re starting to get a little bit better up front with some guys. Then as we start to continue defensively and try to make up for a few guys not being in there, every game will be challenging for us. We have to have great practices and really be committed in order to give ourselves the best chance to have success.”

On Baylor’s offense

“They had a couple of backs that were out, so they threw the ball pretty much every snap, I think 56 times against Oklahoma. I don’t know if maybe that’s the direction [Larry Fedorda] wants to go or if they felt that they needed to do that with their backs. The quarterback’s a savvy player. He gets the ball out. He’s a tough runner. If you don’t watch your lanes when you’re rushing him, he’ll pull the ball down, take off and run. He’s really good at that. They’ve done some different things based on, I guess, where they were at maybe with COVID and injuries and different things like that, I’m not sure.”

On if he has kept in touch with Larry Fedora

“I don’t stay in touch with anybody. I don’t talk to anybody, my family and that about wraps it up. I have a lot of coaching friends, but I don’t waste time on the phone texting people and calling people and all that. But Larry and I have a great relationship. We go all the way back to Baylor in the 90s. We were down there together in ’96 I think, and we got fired. And then we all scattered across the country, and then we reunited here. He was working for me and then he went on, but we have a really good relationship and his family, his wife is really close to my family. But I don’t talk to anybody.”

On what makes the offense struggle without Tylan Wallace

“Well, I wouldn’t say we struggled to get going, we were still somewhat effective, but you take a player that’s a potential early round NFL draft pick and take him out, the defense doesn’t have to be as aware of where he’s at. So, if you had the wide view of our game and if you went back and studied it, you’ll see that they played a corner underneath him and safety over the top of him. Well, that’s one less player to defend the run. And if he’s not in and they feel like they’re equal, in my opinion, just from looking at it. And that gives them one more player to defend the run.”

On if there is a guy he feels is going to take over the reigns at receiver when Wallace leaves

“I’ve always been a little bit tentative say that. Tylan played a year here behind James Washington, and nobody knew who he was. James Washington played a little bit as a freshman, and he was behind some guys. Justin Blackmon redshirted, he was on the scout team for one year. So, that’s a really good question, but I always hate to throw a guy out there and put them in that category because you’re talking about a big time elite category. I don’t want to put that much pressure on those guys.”

On the importance of developing second-line guys in case of injury

“If you exclude the offensive line, we’ve had, a little bit late in the year here, we’ve had a lot of reps by what would be our twos, with with Tre and [Kolby Harvell-Peel] and Rodarius and some guys being banged up a little bit. As a coach, I fully expect that second wave to be ready to go in and compete where we can execute our defense. Now, I don’t think any of us should say that you’re going to take a guy like Rodarius, which should be a relatively early round pick, and another guy go in and it’s going to be the exact same. Anybody that says that probably is not worth listening to when they’re talking.

“Now, in the offensive line, it’s considerably different because the guys that are playing for us right now is the third wave. We have eight guys that have not been available that were available to us in June. And once we started doing some of our OTA stuff, as of this last game, we had eight guys that were not available. So we’re into the third wave of the offensive line. That’s a little different. We, meaning the coaching staff, have to be really patient as we develop those guys. They came from just hanging out at practice, drinking some Gatorade, looking forward to what lunch was going to be to all of a sudden you’re a starter. That really is a difficult situation for them.

“[Jake] Springfield was a guy that we celebrated him being a walk-on freshman and gave him a scholarship, and it was an awesome deal. Then two weeks later he’s starting. So you have two different waves that we’re dealing with right now. [Springfield], [Hunter Woodard] and [Preston Wilson] as freshmen, for what they’re doing right now, based on where they’re at in their career, they’re playing their a– off, awesome. Now, they get beat, they get pushed back, but they’re not backing down from anybody. They’re getting a little better every game. They just don’t have enough meat on their chicken bone right now.”

On if he is excited about future depth

“I’m as excited as I ever have been about what we have. We talked about [Thomas Harper] and [Jason Taylor] and [Jabbar Muhammad] and [Korie Black] and some of those guys played on defense, OK? That’s kind of the second wave. That’s normal, we’ll get past all that. The offensive line, the third wave, the good news about this is this, all those three freshmen, they’re getting a lot of live reps. So when they go into January and February offseason conditioning for eight weeks with Coach [Rob] Glass, they’re going to know, ‘I better get a lot stronger because I don’t want to get my a– thrown around like I did last year.’ Until you get in the fire sometimes you don’t get it. Well they’ve been in a fight now, so they know what that street fight’s like. And they’re getting tons of reps that you just can’t get when you’re a backup.

“So that’s an exciting time, and we’re getting some guys back. [Cole Birmingham] and [Hunter Anthony] are kind of limping around practice now, and they might get a little bit of work this week and maybe a little bit more next week. So, that’s exciting for us. With all the young guys that are getting some work, we’ll have two centers, three guards and three tackles in spring ball that we feel really comfortable with based on experience, strength levels will increase and their reps. So, I get excited about that.”

On the trend of players shutting it down before the season is over

“Well there’s two sides of it. First thing is, is I don’t think it has anything to do with coaches. Coaches have been fired midseason or late season, that trend’s been going on about eight or 10 years from now. And then coaches have been leaving and taking other jobs for longer than. So there’s two ways that we can all look at this, if you look back … well, let’s talk about COVID. You had some opt-out people in July, Juneish, Julyish, a little bit in August, and it was COVID opt-out concern about the virus. All good. Well, mid-season, early to mid-season, you start seeing players all across the country that were opting out, well that’s post COVID. That’s not COVID. If you have a player that stops playing after the fourth or fifth game, and he had COVID back in August or September, then he’s not an COVID opt-out guy. Basically, he’s just a guy that stopped playing.

“So, there’s two different ways that that’s taking place. Years ago, we had the running back from LSU that didn’t play in the bowl, and I forgot his name. Leonard Fournette. He’s the first one? [Christian McCaffrey] Those two, one of those two, right? After that, I came into the staff meeting and I said guys I’m really concerned about this because, and I don’t know McCaffrey, I don’t know Fournette, I don’t know their agents, I don’t know anything about them, but I’m guessing that they had agents that got in touch with them and said, ‘Hey look, there’s no reason for you to play in a bowl game. Your value in the NFL market is going to be the same as it is right now. Why take a chance? You need to step out.’ That’s just my guess.

“Well since then, we’ve had, I don’t know, somebody could do the research, a lot of players that have stopped doing it. Well this year, now, based on COVID, and then post-COVID, we’ve got lots of players that are just stopping in the middle to the latter part of the season and not playing anymore. My concern with that is, is how the television market is going to feel about their investment in bowl games with the potential of teams, two teams playing in a bowl game and the best or most highly decorated three or four players on each team don’t play in the bowl. That’s my concern. I’m not concerned about how it works. I’m just concerned about is there going to be a market or is the television people just going to say, ‘I’ll just show a couple more NBA games on Saturday. I’m not going to show this bowl game with their five or six best players and the other teams five or six best players not playing in the game.'”

On if guys with nagging injuries have a better excuse to stop playing and get ready for the NFL Draft

“We can all sit here and talk circles around all this stuff, but I tried to explain it the best way when I was answering [the last] question. Let’s take COVID out of it because, hopefully, we’re gonna not be talking about COVID next year. But you’re still going to have players that stop playing during the season, in my opinion. This is all money driven based on information that’s coming from somebody, could be an agent, could be a financial resource, could be parents, could be grandparents. Somebody, in my opinion, is getting to players and saying, ‘Look, why do you need to play the last four games? This is what your value is, you just need to stop.’ And that could be a season-ending injury or it could be a player that just says, ‘I’m not playing anymore.’ There’s no in between.

“Tylan Wallace last year, he had a season-ending injury. Tylan Wallace this year, had a little leg issue before he played Kansas State. He wasn’t out for the year, but he was out for that game. Then he came back and played. There’s two different sides of it. It’s a part of college football. It’s not going away. Everybody just better learn to deal with it. Fans better get used to it, coaches better get used to it, teammates better get used to it. It’s a preference, a personal preference, of that individual.”

On if is makes it more difficult knowing OSU hasn’t made it to the Big 12 title game given the variety of schools that have

“Well, our goal every year is to get to that game and win that game, clearly. That’s what our goal is every year. Now, if you want to go back and look at … there’s two ways to look at it. So, if you have a good run and get there and then your next two years you have a losing record, is that productive?

“Would you rather get one good year and get there and then the next two years have a losing record?

“Our goal is to win a Big 12 championship, and here’s why, history will tell you if you win a Big 12 championship you have an outside shot of getting in the playoffs. If you go back for the last 10 or 11 years and they would have had a championship, we would have been in it, what six, seven times maybe? I don’t know. I don’t ever count that up because basically it’s irrelevant to me.

“The point being is this, if you get to the Big 12 championship, it’s a good thing. If you don’t win it, it’s the same as the other eight teams. You finish second. It’s like recruiting, there’s no second-place medals like the Olympics. There’s no silver medal. You either get a gold, or you get last.”

On the offensive line

“They’re doing better. They’re getting better. Myself, Coach [Charlie] Dickey, Spencer Sanders has been awesome. [Shane] Illingworth’s been awesome with them. The running backs have been awesome. You’re gonna have to be patient with them. My job is to see what kind of effort and what kind of commitment are they making to this program because it’s unfair that they’re playing right now. So, I am seeing them grow a little bit each week. When they first went in there, you guys can go back and look like four games ago, whoever we played, I mean it was a sack-a-thon, right? We got sacked quite a bit, right? Well, they’re doing better. They’re getting a little better. I’m excited about what they’re bringing to the table, but I’m also realistic that we can’t just all of a sudden make those guys that are just going to compete at a high level right now. That’s a long answer because I’m trying to give them some credit because I’m excited about their development.”

On Ry Schneider

“He is awesome. You know Ry is a guy that needs to donate his body to science next year. He’s had about every nagging injury you can have, and he just competes. He graded the highest out of the offensive line in this last game. He was at 82%, which is a really good grade for a lineman. He struggles through practices and stuff, but he loves to play football. He loves to compete. He loves his teammates. He loves Oklahoma State, and there’s a lot to be said about him in what he’s been able to do. See, he played last year in like, maybe two games when Johnny [Wilson] was hurt because Johnny was a good Big 12 center. So Ry would come in, and he was fresh. He did just fine. But when you play an extended period of time in there in the trenches, your body, I love Ry, but his body’s not really built for that, it can wear and tear on you. And he’s just competed and competed and in fact had his best game last Saturday. He’s been awesome for us.”

On how OSU’s offense gets back to a higher level of production

“We’ve never had the experience we’re having on an offensive line, ever. Period. That’s just a serious issue. And what happened is, you got to realize, those guys playing, they weren’t even working with the offense. They were on scout team. So they’re in a real training program. We’ve had a few issues, but we’ve not ever had what we’ve gone through. Even the year that we struggled up front, we’ve not had this situation.

“So, there’s not anything wrong with Kasey Dunn. There’s not anything wrong with our schemes. We just need a little bit of maturity and we need a little bit of growth, and those guys will be just fine. That’s my job, my job is to be very critical of our game plans after every game in all three phases and be very critical of myself and our coaches. Then on Sunday, I’m real detailed with them about everything I thought. We don’t always agree. Sometimes those meetings don’t go as planned and coaches don’t like it, but that’s my job.

“The playbook part’s not been that bad because the guys that are up are pretty sharp. It’s just what can we ask them to do athletically has been a bigger issue. The Texas Tech game is what we want to do, but we felt like that our matchup up front was pretty good even though we had some youth and were not maybe as strong as we want to be. We thought we had a pretty good matchup. So, that allowed us to expand what we did offensively a little bit. You can go back and watch our TCU game. We had to be very protective of what we did rushing the ball because you can see we don’t do a lot of different things based on there’s times that we felt like that we couldn’t hold up, then certainly pass protection wise. I’ll give you a good example, there’s a team in this league right now that’s playing pretty good, and over 80% of the time they throw a pass, they’ll protect the backside tackle. They’ll give him some chip help because they know that that guy can cause problems for them and cause a major setback. So it’s all the same, but the Texas Tech game we felt like we had a decent matchup, even with the youth and immaturity we had on the offensive line.

“It’s all about matchups. So, when we played with [Cowboy backs] on the edge like that, what that allows us to do is to not let that defensive end get really wide and rush up the field because there’s a tight end there. So he has a little protection, so that tackle can set and get a better feel on that guy. That defense allowed for that to happen with us. TCU’s concepts are different. We didn’t have that luxury. Well we couldn’t figure it out, that’s for sure.”

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