Perhaps more than almost any other season the school has played, the words are everywhere about Oklahoma State football this August.
Experts, fans and anyone with a social media account are raving about the Cowboys’ offense. And there is a lot to like, from a returning pro prospect at quarterback to five or six really strong options at receiver to a freshman All-American running back.
And yet, this is football. And while the glamour of football comes from those who throw, catch, and carry the ball, the backbone of any great team comes from what happens in the trenches.
The line gets a big boost in the return of former Cowboy lineman Josh Henson, who returns to the staff as Offensive Line coach.
And does the Cowboy offensive line have enough to match what quarterback Mason Rudolph and his skill players can do? That question more than perhaps any other likely will determine the fate of this season.
The finish of last year’s Oklahoma State-Central Michigan game became one of the memorable moments of the college football season. Most have seen it by now: leading 27-24 with four seconds remaining, Cowboy quarterback Mason Rudolph heaves a high pass into the stands on fourth down, expiring the clock.
But it’s called intentional grounding and CMU (incorrectly) is given an untimed down. The Chippewas covert a hook-and-lateral off a Hail Mary pass, score a touchdown, and leave Stillwater with the win.
What a deeper breakdown of that game shows is how the Cowboys got to that spot in the first place. After jumping out to a 14-0 lead in the first quarter, the Cowboys went through wide stretches of the game not being able to move the ball consistently. CMU ultimately took the lead in the fourth quarter at 24-20, with the Cowboys needing a trick play to score late and take the lead they sort of didn’t hold.
The same thing happened later in the year in Norman as Oklahoma stifled pretty much everything the Cowboys tried to do in the second half, outscored OSU 21-0 in the half and rolled to victory and a Big 12 title.
It’s one thing when an Oklahoma with its talent does something like that. It’s quite another when a MAC team that finished 6-6 can.
Perhaps a Freudian slip, but when the preseason All-Big 12 team first was released by the conference office, Zach Crabtree was incorrectly listed a first-team offensive lineman from Oklahoma. Not Oklahoma State, where he actually plays.
The school has had its share of good linemen, but there haven’t been a ton. Sam Mayes was an All-American at guard in 2004. Russell Okung was consensus All-American and a top five NFL Draft pick in 2009, while Levy Adcock was an All-American tackle in 2011 who later spent some time in the Canadian Football League.
The Cowboys do return experience. Crabtree and center Brad Lundblade are in their third year as starters. And an experienced new face is Cal transfer Aaron Cochran, a 6-8, 350-pound monster who is very much in the picture at left tackle.
Perhaps the biggest factor in all this is how Henson will fit in coaching the group. Since his playing days in the mid-1990s at OSU, he has extensive coaching experience, including time as Offensive Coordinator while at the University of Missouri.
Get an effective performance upfront, and then get Rudolph slinging passes to a variety of talented guys, and it could add up to a tasty recipe for the boys in orange and black this fall.