Oklahoma State enters 2018 coming off of a third straight 10-3 season. That is a stellar accomplishment and demands more attention and respect than what Oklahoma State is often given.
I believe the perception of the program lacks due to their inability to breakthrough against the leagues elite, primarily Oklahoma. The other team that is a consistent thorn in their side is Kansas State, which creates the “always lose to a team they shouldn’t” perspective.
Truthfully, the Mike Gundy era has produced a consistent winner poised to breakthrough each year. They will be in that position again, but I do not think 2018 is that year.
Game 6 – OSU
This is a retooling year in Stillwater. New quarterback, new lead receiver, new defensive coordinator, new defensive scheme. How those variables are managed and the individual play associated with it will determine their path in 2018.
Oklahoma State is a team that admits, and the statistics support, a reliance on turnovers to create winning margins in games. While their defense tends to under-perform relative to the individual talent and the offense remains stellar each year, the turnover margin equalizes the defensive lapses and creates “dagger” moments for the offense.
Take a look at the margin and records and draw some conclusions from the information below:
2011 – 44 TO gained / +21 TO margin / 12-1 / Weeden / 71% comp
2012 – 22 TO gained / 0 TO margin / 8-5 / Chelf-Walsh / 63% comp
2013 – 33 TO gained / +15 TO margin / 10-3 / Chelf-Walsh / 57% comp
2014 – 14 TO gained / -8 TO margin / 7-6 / Garman-Rudolph / 55% comp
2015 – 28 TO gained / +13 TO margin / 10-3 / Rudolph / 62% comp
2016 – 25 TO gained / +11 TO margin / 10-3 / Rudolph / 63% comp
2017 – 24 TO gained / +3 TO margin / 10-3 / Rudolph / 63% comp
This is fascinating. 2012 and 2014 were retooling years for Oklahoma State. In particular, they were transition years at the quarterback position. That is the same scenario for the 2018 season. OSU used multiple quarterbacks in those two years while seeking the most efficient play and formula for their continued offensive dominance.
Note the glaring difference in the turnover margin in those years. A key component of OSU success was missing in those transition years. A zero and negative turnover margin did not allow for the winning margin to be created in critical games.
The turnover margin in the 10+ win seasons is quite remarkable and certainly contributed to their success. The anomaly is last year, however, that was softened by a third year starter at quarterback and dynamic playmakers in the backfield and on the edges.
A final note – one that is not necessarily related to Oklahoma State’s success – but I am discovering is correlated with winning programs. Note for OSU that only two seasons have they had less than a 60 percent completion percentage. I will also reveal that Alabama, Ohio State and Clemson, college football powerhouses, during the 2011 to 2017 seasons have all completed more than 60 percent of their passes each season.
If you want to win in college football, you need to be completing 62 percent or more of your passes in order to do so. If you win, as OSU did in 2013 with below the 60 percent mark of achievement, it is because there is a running game dominance usually fueled by a mobile quarterback threat.
Iowa State has completed more than 60 percent of its passes in only one year between 2011 and 2017. Last year they completed 62 percent of their passes. They won as many games as they had in the previous three years combined. It isn’t the strongest of indicators, but it does matter.
Taylor Cornelius will start the year at quarterback. He has the most experience in the program. None of the options have appreciable experience on the field. Spencer Sanders, the true freshman, has the most talent of the stable. Therefore, I am expecting Oklahoma State to have a typical transition year which means that multiple quarterbacks will garner significant playing time.
The stabilizing force for the Cowboys will be outstanding running back, Justice Hill. Hill is a top-shelf runner and J.D. King is a capable back-up. The offensive line will be solid. The presence of a threat laden running attack can allow Oklahoma State to overcome its inexperience at quarterback and win games it might not otherwise be expected to.
Defensively, the switch to a 4-2-5 is generally beneficial in that it is now the preferred base defensive scheme in the league. However, the turnover emphasis may not be the same. It is anyone’s guess as to how the talent operates in the new system, but several things will be the same.
Oklahoma State always has talent on the defensive line and this year is no different. The ability to get pressure with a four man rush leads to a higher probability of turnover production. While the defense may not take as many risks as it has in the past, there exists the possibility that the same turnover sharks will show up on the defensive side of the ball.
Iowa State matches up well with OSU. The last two years have been one touchdown games. In both, ISU captured a winning margin, but the defense was unable to sustain the winning effort for the full four quarters.
I expect Oklahoma State to attack Iowa State with a heavy dose of the run game. Iowa State struggled to contain Hill in 2017. It will be important for OSU to establish the same type of run efficiency.
However, Iowa State’s run defense will be stout. This makes the run game paramount in this match-up. Strange to say against an Oklahoma State team that has been fueled by the passing game for its immediate history.
Iowa State will need to do the same thing. Keep the defense off the field by controlling the game with the running game. If a lead is obtained, then show the ability to close it down by getting first downs when the defense is geared to stop it.
The big plays in this game will seem to be big connections over the top for either team. But, those opportunities will be created by the running game and the running game will decide the winner.
Iowa State is more balanced with experience throughout the lineup. Iowa State has an advantage at quarterback. Montgomery and Hill are a wash in my opinion. Can Iowa State’s offensive line rise to the occasion and provide the stability and consistency required to maintain a lead I expect them to gain?
Preferred Plan of Attack:
Run the ball with vigor on offense. Force an adjustment and target the 12 to 20 yard zone with the passing game. When Zeb Noland entered the game (and played very well by the way) in 2017, he attacked the OSU defense in the mid to deep levels with great effect.
If the running game is able to sustain its effectiveness, there will be significant opportunities to gash Oklahoma State with the talented receiving corp.
Defensively, a four-man front is the order of the day. In addition, I would utilize a delay blitz package. The delay blitz was effective, or as effective as one could be, against the Rudolph led attack at Oklahoma State. Iowa State will have more speed at the middle linebacker position than last year. Harvey and Spears are effective in that role as well. If the defensive line can get its expected level of disruption, then a delayed blitz will cause additional disruption in the passing game.
The run must be stopped on the outside. Hill’s running tendency is to cut in and jump cut to the outside. OSU also targets the edge frequently. That means ISU must attack with discipline from the end positions and bring support from the secondary aggressively, outside-in, to focus the running game to the strong middle of the defense.
Lane discipline and consistent leverage on the outside with delayed blitzes on passing downs and where a pass tendency is shown, will make for a long day for the Oklahoma State faithful.
The “X” Files:
The “X” factor for the Oklahoma State offense is the obvious factor – the play of the quarterbacks. By this point in the season, I expect Sanders to be taking snaps along with Cornelius. Can they complete their passes consistently and avoid turning the ball over. If so, Oklahoma State can score and put Iowa State in an uncomfortable position offensively.
The “X” factor for the Oklahoma State defense is the play of their cornerbacks. Iowa State utilizes aggressive and large outside receivers. Oklahoma State has struggled at corner in the recent past. If Iowa State is to be contained and slowed down, then the OSU corners must match Iowa State’s aggressiveness on the edges.
The “X” factor for the Iowa State offense is Kene Nwangwu. Kene’s speed to the edges and through the hole, in contrast to Montgomery’s powerful shifts, will be key in threatening a defense geared up to stop Montgomery. Nwangwu should be hitting his full stride by this point in the season and he will be a key to gaining a winning margin.
The “X” factor for the Iowa State defense is Enyi Uwazurike. I love Ray Lima and have talked often about JaQuan Bailey’s potential. I believe the difference maker for the Iowa State defensive line will be the versatile, large, and athletic presence of Uwazurike. If he moves forward to playing with instinct and freedom of movement, he will be a force against the run and with pressure up the middle. That type of play will be needed to slow down the Oklahoma State attack.
On Sunday, I expect to be writing about the following:
Iowa State breaks through on the road.
Absent injury and surprises, Iowa State is talented and experienced enough to beat Oklahoma State in this transition year. Oklahoma State is retooling and Iowa State is moving forward. Iowa State has an accurate passer and multiple threats from the backfield. They will score.
More importantly, Iowa State sports a key defensive advantage. The defensive line play against the run and the pass. Sustained effort in the trenches can maintain the advantage the offense can gain.
Six games in to the season and Iowa State will have played 2017’s top three teams. Obviously, the performance in these contests will set the stage for the second half of the season. Regardless, a strong run to the end of the season starts in week 6.