2016 Oklahoma State Football Thoughts and Preview
2015 Review: 10-3 Record
Losses: Baylor, OU, Ole Miss (Consecutively)
Passing Leader: Mason Rudolph
Rushing Leader: Chris Carson
Receiving Leaders: James Washington
Key Losses: JW Walsh (QB)
David Glidden (WR)
Brandon Sheperd (WR)
Jeremy Seaton (CB)
We are going to embark on a summer long preview of the 2016 Oklahoma State football program. Our goal is to provide Offensive and Defensive previews followed by positional breakdowns over the course of the summer. Part 1 is going to be a broad, but comprehensive season preview for the Offense.
The 2015 season ended on a sour note indeed, but there is a lot to be excited about in 2016. Even with a 10 win season in the books, the season left players, fans and others around the program wanting more while understanding key deficiencies that needed to be improved upon prior to the 2016 season. The biggest deficiency on offense is clear, run blocking and rushing. Both are mutually dependent making this a huge emphasis this past spring and into the upcoming summer workouts. As bad as the OL and running game looked over the course of the 2015 season, there are a few reasons to be excited and hopeful for a significant improvement in 2016.
Reasons for OL improvement:
1. Continuity- Not only is OSU returning 74% of its offensive production, but they are returning every starter on the offensive line. Yes, you might think to yourself as this not necessarily being a good thing, but chemistry/communication is monumental for a developing OL.
2. Upgrades- Talent trumps continuity and OSU may have some potential lineman break into the starting lineup. Redshirt freshman Marcus Keyes has garnered a lot of attention. A late commitment switch from LA Tech, Marcus has been mentioned by numerous coaches and program insiders as being the most talented lineman on campus. While Keyes may have the talent, he is only a redshirt freshman and thus, he lacks the brute strength necessary to excel at the tackle position. Hopes are that he can improve his strength over the course of the summer to a formidable level allowing him to be an impact on the edge in 2016.
JUCO All-American transfer Larry Williams is another lineman offering new talent in 2016. Being a JUCO transfer, Larry needs to rapidly learn the mental side of the game in order to be a factor in 2016. If he does, look for him to be playing inside at the guard position. Larry is a huge lineman with great strength and aggressiveness which is something OSU has been missing at the guard position since Lane Taylor's graduation. The only other player with a reasonable chance of getting 1st team snaps is Johnny Wilson at the center position. While current starter Brad Lundblade understands the mental side of being a center, he has struggled mightily when faced with strong and quick defensive tackles. Everything starts with the center and it is mandatory that we can provide a strong center for Mason Rudolph. Wilson is still learning, but he has a nasty streak to him and is a hard worker with good strength.
3. Natural Development- Strength is one of the most important attributes of an offensive lineman. 3 of the returning starters (Lundblade, Crabtree and Robinson) are all going to be Juniors. Typically, unless you have a 5* OL recruit, it takes 3 or 4 years in a program in order for a lineman to grow strong enough to play at a high level. These three are all hitting this mark and it provides some optimism going forward. Additionally, Victor Salako is entering his 2nd year in the program while being a 5th year senior. I must note that he played with painful bone spurs in his ankle last year so I expect a large increase in production and effectiveness out of Victor this year.
4. Coaching Stability- We are just over one year removed from hiring Greg Adkins as our OL coach. Greg has a career of success and having a full year under his belt should pay dividends in 2016. Stability in coaching, whether it be a Head Coach, Offensive Coordinator, or Positions Coach is always a good thing. In OSU's case, the prior two OL coaches did us no favors in the development and recruitment aspect of OSU's OL. Greg seems to have found his stride in recruiting and we expect to see a much improved OL in 2016.
The other half of the running game is, of course, the running backs themselves. It is no secret that OSU has a prolific offense, but most of the production is coming from the passing game. This poses a problem as defensive coordinators can focus on the passing game in their gameplan, thus reducing the production of OSU's offense. A well-balanced offense is Coach Gundy's goal as he states every year that both phases be equally successful. So it follows that 3.6 YPC and 126.8 yds/game average will not meet that standard. While we have touched upon the offensive line and what they need to do in order to improve, the running backs need much improvement as well. Assuming the offensive line is doing their job, these are several reasons why I expect to see improvement from our rushers:
1. Improved OL- This is the single most important factor in determining a stark improvement from our running backs. As we all know, the more holes, cutback lanes, and less defenders in the box can make an average running back look good. If the offensive line improves then so will the running game.
2. Chris Carson- Due to Renderick V. Childs having concussion issues and at times durability issues, I fully expect Chris Carson to get the lion's share of carries. Carson had a wildly inconsistent 2015 season after transferring from JUCO. While his yards per carry were above the team average (3.9) he averaged a meager 43yds a game. Chris Carson is an upright runner with marginal ability to make a defender miss in the backfield. Essentially, he needs 4 or 5 steps before he can maximize his ability and that can only happen if the offensive line is blocking well. Chris Carson would be a 1,000 yard rusher four or five years ago when we had OL such as Taylor, Adcock, Okung, Webb, etc, as they would provide holes in order for him to get up to speed. Chris' 2016 season has a lot riding on the improvement of the Offensive Line, more so than any of the other running backs on the team. On that note, Carson showed flashes of a good running back at times and especially late in the season after he healed from a season nagging ankle injury. With another year in the conditioning program and adjusting to the speed of BIG 12 football, Chris will be able to run faster due to him being able to process and diagnose the plays quicker. There is much riding on the play of Carson out of the backfield in 2016.
3. Barry J. Sanders- I won't touch on the sentimental value and excitement Barry will bring to the football team this fall because of his father, the greatest running back of all-time, but I believe Barry could end up being the X-Factor in our running game this season assuming an improved line. Put simply, Barry is like a 5th year version of Jeff Carr, whom I will speak on later. Yes, Barry J is bigger, but he brings many attributes to the table that Rennie and Chris cannot. He provides us with a running back capable of making players miss in the backfield, something we desperately missed last year due to the atrocious OL play. Sanders is a seasoned change-of-pace back with elusiveness not currently had by Childs or Carson. I see Barry being used in 3rd down situations where he could get a pass off of screen plays. He is an impressive receiver out of the backfield that could provide for more options on 3rd down situations that will have the defense with eyes in the backfield giving the passing game needed gaps downfield.
4. Jeff Carr & Incoming Frehsman- It is very hard to speculate on the impact Jeff Carr and the true freshman players will have in 2016, but I do expect one or two of them to get multiple carries a game. I will speak more on them in the positional breakdowns later in the summer as I do not see either one being a breakout player/major contributor in 2016. With that said, Gundy is not afraid to throw a true freshman RB into a game to see what he is capable of.
The above is a fairly comprehensive look at what improvements are needed and what we can reasonably expect to see in 2016 from the offensive line and rushing attack. The next segment is going to focus on the already highly successful, but not infallible, passing attack. With everything that has already been written about the running game, I believe a Big 12 championship title will be determined by the amount of success achieved through the air. Yes, an improved running game will aid the passing game, but the reverse is also true. If your strength is exceptional enough then it can hide your deficiencies. Look at the Golden State Warriors, they shoot the ball at such a remarkable rate that they do not need a Center or even a Power Forward, for that matter, on the floor to win games because their shooting commands too much attention from the defense. Oklahoma State's passing game has the capabilities of being good enough to where an average or below average running game will be negligible in determining the overall success of the season. The passing game could be great enough as to allow the running game to be artificially better than it is. Flashes of this brilliance was seen multiple times last year, sometimes in quarters and sometimes for a whole game (see TCU).
OSU's total offense was ranked 23rd nationally while the passing game was ranked 8th nationally at 353yds/game. I would not be shocked to see OSU's passing yards to increase to 400yds/game in 2016. As we all know, it starts and stops with Mason Rudolph (Jr.). There is no reason to analyze Rudolph's numbers as they were skewed due to the play of JW Walsh. JW Walsh brought a necessary component to the offense, but his snaps took snaps from MR that would have given him much higher ratings because JW was used almost exclusively inside the redzone. This year, Mason is going to be on the field for every offensive snap. While we are losing the efficiency monster of JW, there is no doubt the snap continuity will benefit Mason and his numbers, as well. Many fans pondered the question of whether or not we would have been better off if JW was rarely used and OSU let Rudolph take all the snaps last year. That question was not answered due to the fact that JW was successful so it was rarely seconded guessed. In 2016, we will find out the differences, good or bad, in having an elite quarterback taking all the snaps or two really good quarterbacks splitting snaps where the other is deemed more effective.
Here are several reasons why I expect an improved Air Attack in 2016:
1. Mason Rudolph- Mason is the head of the Posse and it begins and ends with him. After starting the last 3 games of his true freshman season followed by a strong sophomore campaign despite a poor offensive line and losing redzone snaps to JW, Mason Rudolph is expected to be the seasoned captain steering this offense in the right direction. I am a big believer in the "3rd year theory" and Mason is now in his 3rd year. Without citing the recent breakout years by 3rd year players, Mason is going to be the most comfortable we have seen him standing in the pocket. Add the fact that he knows JW will not be running from the sidelines to substitute him out, he will have more confidence than ever.
2. Multi-Dimensional Receivers- James Washington is a budding national star that is also entering his 3yrd year. He had more than 1,000 yards receiving and 10 touchdowns last year and is fully expected to make another leap this year. Washington has elite ball skills along with great top end speed and route running. Seales, a senior, is similar in athleticism to Washington that is capable of making big down the field plays. Consistency is and has always been the biggest concern with him. Marcell Ateman is our "big man". Watch last year's highlights of the Iowa State game and you'll see why. Having Washington and Ateman both on the outside gives our coaches a broad range of plays and flexibility due to their skill set. I expect Ateman to be a big-time redzone target this fall now that JW will not be running. Then, we move onto the inside and we have Jalen McCleskey and Austin Hays. Both of them have good hands and are good route runners. If Jalen continues his rapid development we saw last year then I expect him to be a stalwart across the middle and in the seams next season. Jalen is extremely fast and pays attention to detail that allows him make up for his lack of physical strength. OSU boasts, yet again, a strong receiving core. Critics will say that they haven't lived up to some of the preseason hype the last few years, but I expect OSU's receivers to be the most complete and dominant since Justin Blackmon and Company. You will not find a better first five in the Big 12 than Washington, Ateman, Seales, McCleskey and Hays. Also, do not be surprised to see Chris Lacy becoming a factor in the passing game as he has shown flashes of being a top-level Big 12 receiver.
3. Improved WR Blocking- This is one aspect that has seemed to be almost non-existent since the departure of Blackmon, Anyiam and then the Moore's. Our type of offense depends a lot on outside blocking by the receivers. Washington, Seales, Ateman and Lacy need to become above average blockers on the perimeters as one block can be the difference between a 3 yards or 15 yards on a WR screen pass. I believe another year for our receivers will make a difference on the perimeter in 2016.
4. Mike Yurcich- The most polarizing coach at Oklahoma State, Mike Yurcich is entering his 4th season as the Offensive Coordinator (What?! It's been that long?!). You will never find more than 5 OSU fans that have the same opinion of Yurcich, plain and simple. I am not going to focus on why he is or is not good enough for the Big 12, instead I am going to focus on the things in which he has had very little control. Lincoln Riley, Doug Meachum, and other spread offense OC's would all have had issues running a high powerful offense with the level of offensive line play the last few years. Having a Ferrari may be nice, but if you only have 3 wheels on it then you're going to have issues. The one year he had a decent line was his first year and we won 10 games while boasting one of the best offenses in that nation. Doesn't seem that bad does it? The 2016 season is shaping up to be the most successful for Yurcich.
Final Thoughts- Oklahoma State's offense is going to be great regardless of how much the OL improves. If the Offensive Line does make the jump from below average to average or better than it will make OSU lethal in all facets on the offensive side. Mason is the key to everything and OSU's ultimate success will fall on his shoulders. After the current upheaval and issues at Baylor it appears that OSU's first Big 12 road trip is looking better all the time. I expect Oklahoma State to have no less than 8 wins before meeting TCU on November 19th. Do not be surprised if OSU rolls into Fort Worth undefeated or with 1 loss either.
W/L Prediction: 10-2
Last edited by a moderator: