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October 15, 2013

Is Oklahoma State's line as bad as everyone thinks?

Frustrations are growing around here.

We aren't sure if seats are getting hot just yet from an administrative standpoint, but if the fans were in charge (which thankfully, they aren't), a few seats would be on fire.

Here's the truth-Oklahoma State has the 49th ranked offense out of 123 college football teams. They're averaging 445.2 yards and 38.0 points per game, which is down 101.8 yards and 7.7 points per contest from last season's fourth-ranked offensive squad, and 100.8 yards and 10.7 points per game from the Big 12 Championship 2011 team.

I wrote a story on this pretty recently, pointing out that the play-calling was probably the biggest issue with why a unit that brought back almost everyone, and has suitable replacements for those who departed (most notably Jeremy Smith taking over for Joseph Randle) is doing so poorly according to the standards set here before this season.

My story was written on opinion a few weeks ago, and yesterday I got the chance to ask the OSU players what they thought.

To my surprise, most of them agreed without flat-out telling me they did.

"(I've felt) kind of iffy about our offense so far," receiver Josh Stewart said. "I think we just need to find our identity. We've been slow-playing it. We need to get back to speed and our fast-paced offense. We've got the weapons, we've got guys everywhere, and honestly I think we still have the best offense in the Big 12. We just need to find our identity.

But another problem that almost every fan is aware of is the Offensive Line Theory. It basically says that the offensive line isn't as good as it had been in the past, and that's been the biggest problem thus far.

While I won't argue that last year's offensive line that lost an NFL roster player (Lane Taylor), and two other players who were invited to NFL camps (Evan Epstein, Jonathan Rush) is worse than this year's unit, I will say that you have to look at the big picture.

Last year, offensive coordinator Todd Monken aired it out no matter who was at quarterback, and built his approach off slants, dig-routes, and curls, as well as an assortment of runs. Defenses came into the game knowing that, and knew that he would find holes if they left themselves vulnerable.

That meant that they would concentrate more on coverage and defending the pass than they would trying to disrupt Oklahoma State's game plan overall.

This season it's no secret that the offense is struggling, and have fallen in love with lateral passes to the perimeter in the form of screen passes and shallow routes. The OSU blog "Cowboys Ride For Free" did an excellent breakdown on this a few days ago, and when you look at it I want you to concentrate on where the Kansas State defenders are lined up.

On every play, the safeties sit at about 9-12 yards off the ball, and everyone else is within 6 yards of the line of scrimmage.

Get what I mean? Defenses are playing Oklahoma State much, much different this season. Instead of knowing in the back of their head that this offense can, and probably will, beat them like the past, they know it's extremely vulnerable and won't dare to beat them downfield until they absolutely have to (See: The game-winning drive against Kansas State).

Now, they're cheating up to the line of scrimmage, blitzing the fire out of J.W. Walsh and his offensive line, and daring him to throw the ball over their head.

And guess where this approach is rooted? I'll give you a hint, the only blemish on their record.

"We expect a lot of blitz and man coverage," Stewart said. "At the West Virginia game, they saw that their defense had a lot of success blitzing us. We game plan for that and expect that because we haven't been playing that good."

That blitzing almost the entire game is why fans might be led to believe that this offensive line is much worse than the lines of the past. Maybe they are, maybe they aren't, but they're facing a different monster than those of the past did.

"West Virginia blitzed us a ton," lineman Parker Graham said. "I think TCU will play a lot of gaps. They're going to be sound, and that's why they're a good defense."

The biggest problem is rooted in play calling, and until that gets sorted out, the rest of the units will suffer mightily because they aren't in position for success.

That includes the offensive line, that may or may not be on par with what Oklahoma State expects out of their big uglies.


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