2010 Spring Fish Wrap – OK State Edition

Welcome to another year of WSU Football Blog’s Spring Fish Wraps!  If you are new around here, or if you just flat-out forgot, this is now the third year – IN A ROW! – that we have decided to check out each WSU opponent for the upcoming season and see how they look, post-spring-ball style.  If you are at all curious, you can see the spring fish wraps from years past right here.  And if you are wondering where, exactly, the term “fish wrap” comes from?  Per the website urbandictionary.com:

Fish wrap: a newspaper of poor repute.  “The local fish wrap presented a biased story on the governor’s speech”.

Translation:  The paper was so awful, after suffering through the experience of reading it,  you would proceed to wrap dead fish with it that you might find at Pike Place Market.  That is, you know, when people actually read newspapers?? 

Yuck.

Anyway, here we are.  And first up are the Oklahoma State Cowboys, opponent number one on the 2010 WSU schedule.  What do they look like coming out of spring ball?  What are some key questions that need to be answered before the September 4th opener vs good ‘ol Wazzu?  Read on for more….

First of all, a disclaimer – we pledge to not call our friends from Stillwater “Okies”.  Why?  Well, a couple of times this year, I have dropped that remark on this here blog when referring to Oklahoma State.  In response to said dropping of “Okie”, I received some emails from a reader, telling me without a doubt that the term “Okie” or “Okies” is quite derogatory in nature towards our friends that hail from the fine state of Oklahoma.  So, going forward, we promise not to use the “O” word while referring to those in Oklahoma….even if they did RIP OFF OUR NBA BASKETBALL TEAM!  I am sick over seeing Kevin “Durantula”, all arms and legs, becoming the next great one in an OKC jersey.  Yes, I am still crying over spilled milk.

BOO.

With that out of the way, here we go.

LAST YEAR:  9-4, 6-2 in the Big XII.   The start was promising – winners of six of their first seven games, including a season-opening win over #13 Georgia.  But things were derailed a bit late in the season, as they finished 3-3 over their last six, culminating with a 21-7 Cotton Bowl loss to Ole Miss. 

But as disappointing as the Cotton Bowl loss might have been, the worst part of the season had to be the loss to the hated in-state Sooners.  The ‘Pokes had BCS aspirations coming into that final game, sitting at #12 in the BCS ratings, but with a huge opportunity to kick down the door and get into the BCS party if they could knock off Oklahoma.  But not only did they lose 27-0 on the scoreboard, but they managed just six first downs, 109 total yards, and went a miserable 0-for-14 on third down!  Must have felt a heck of a lot like our own Coug loss to the Huskies in the ’09 Apple Cup, only, you know, there was absolutely nothing riding on that game?  I don’t know about you, but there can’t be much worse as a college football fan than losing to your bitter rival, yet it’s that much harder to swallow when that rivalry game has so much riding on the outcome.  That loss could go down as one of the biggest disappointments in modern OK State history.

LAST TIME VS. WSU:  The Paul Wulff era arrived with a thud in 2008, as Oklahoma State pulled away late for a 39-13 win in Seattle’s Qwest Field.  The Cougs did make it somewhat interesting, with a Gary Rogers to Brandon Gibson TD pass that cut the lead to 25-13 one minute into the fourth quarter.  But OK State would pull away the rest of the game on the strength of a powerful running game, and that was all she wrote.  OSU would own a 367-196 total yard edge, as well as a seven-minute time of possession advantage.  I was at that game, and aside from some major WSU special teams breakdowns, it was a pretty entertaining game overall.  But I mostly remember seeing Dez Bryant for the first time, and WOW, what a great looking player! 

Not only did he set up a TD with a 42-yard punt return, but time and again he went up and picked the ball out of the air over WSU’s overmatched defensive backs.  Size, strength, you name it the guy had it.  I know he is in the news right now for basically all the wrong reasons, but, even with his, uh, “checkered” background, it isn’t hard to see why the guy was a first-round NFL draft pick a couple of weeks ago.

FANS ARE:  Alright.  Sure, they are disappointed with how 2009 ended, but it has been a strong run the last couple of years under coach Gundy.  And some good players have come out of the program in recent years, players who have now moved on to the NFL.  In fact, there were seven total players from OK State’s 2009 team alone who were either drafted in this year’s NFL draft, or signed free agent deals afterwards.  But maybe the biggest fan issue right now is the number SEVEN.


Why does Seven matter?  Well, depending on where you look, seven is the number of returning starters – total – for Oklahoma State. That means 15 total starters on both sides of the ball have left the building.  Concern on who’s back might be an understatement right now. 

’09 OFFENSIVE STATS:  61st in the country in total offense, averaging 367.2 yards per game.  The good in those offensive numbers was that they had the 21st-ranked rushing attack, with 187.8 yards per game.  The bad?  The passing game came in at a disappointing 96th in the country, averaging 179.5 yards per game.  Even worse?  The Cowboys averaged 12 points per game LESS in ’09 – 28.4 ppg – compared to 2008’s whopping 40.8 ppg! Now, perhaps a big reason for the dropoff in statistical prowess was Dez Bryant getting suspended after three games into the ’09 season.  Bryant’s crime?  Hanging with PRIME TIME Deion Sanders.  Bryant was off to a strong start, with 17 catches and four TD’s in those first three games, but losing a weapon like him was a major setback in offensive production.  Add in an injury to star running back Kendall Hunter (more on him later), and you really start to see the reasons for the dip last year. 

OFFENSIVE SYSTEM:  It’s a WHOLE NEW WORLD in Stillwater! 

After that 96th-rated passing attack and scoring output down 12 points from ’08, all from the spread-read-option style offense last year, Oklahoma State decided enough was enough.  What did they do?  They went out and grabbed a highly regarded passing guru from a monster offensive system in the Houston Cougars, landing coordinator Dana Holgorsen to lead the Cowboy offense.  Holgorsen was easily one of the “hot” assistants out there in the 2009 who’s-who among assistants, and it’s easy to see why after Houston lead the nation in scoring (42.2 points per game), passing yards (433 per game) and total offense (563 yards per game).  Holgorsen comes from the Mike Leach coaching tree, so if you’ve watched Texas Tech and Houston light it up through the air in recent years, yeah, that’s pretty much what you can expect to see this September.

TOP RETURNING OFFENSIVE PLAYER: While WR Hubert Anyiam emerged as a true sophomore, catching 42 balls for over 500 yards and three TD’s, there is late news that Anyiam has suffered a broken foot during spring ball.  They do expect a full recovery over the next couple of months, so Anyiam should be on the field in September.  But even if Anyiam was 100% right now, I would still go with the biggest playmaker on the roster, running back Kendall Hunter.

Like some other offensive players from Oklahoma State, Hunter’s ’09 season was a disappointment.  Coming off a huge 2008 season where Hunter ran for 1555 yards and 16 TD’s with a ridiculous 6.5 yards per carry (WOW!), Hunter’s ’09 was derailed early by an ankle injury suffered in week two vs. Houston.  The injury would cost him six games of playing time, and he never did return to top form in ’09.  A fireplug-type at 5-8, 190, Hunter’s game is all about fantastic speed and serious cutback ability, and having a bum wheel hurt his production in a big way, finishing with just 382 yards and one rushing TD.  But word is this spring that Hunter is healthy, hungry, and ready to bounce back with a huge senior year.  Check out the YouTube clip for an idea of the kinds of plays this kid is capable of, every time he touches the football:

Adding in a new Houston/Texas Tech style offense might seem like it could hurt Hunter’s stats next year, but for one thing – Houston’s offense under Holgorsen used the running backs extensively in the passing game.  Last year for example, Houston’s frosh sensation Charles Sims – a running back – caught 70 passes out of the backfield! If Hunter’s healthy and back to normal, expect a ton of touches per game from the dynamic threat!

’09 DEFENSIVE STATS:  31st in the country in total defense, allowing 332.5 yards per game.  They were tough vs. the run too, with the 11th ranked rushing defense in the nation, allowing just 95.7 yards per game on the ground on only three yards per carry.  And they were opportunistic on defense as well, tied for 14th in the nation with 18 interceptions and 12 fumble recoveries, for a total of 30 takeaways.  There were big improvements across the board compared to 2008, when the Cowboys were giving up 406 total yards per game, including 138 yards per game on the ground. 

DEFENSIVE SYSTEM:  Your standard 4-3 defense, but they things have changed in a big way in the last year.  New defensive coordinator Bill Young showed up to lead the D last year, and there were some great strides made on the field.  Their 95.7 yards per game allowed on the ground was the best rushing defense the team has had in some time, and the first time since 1982 where they averaged less than 100 yards rushing per game!  But not just the defensive stats, but the number of takeaways  – 30 – showed that a new, aggressive tone was set on defense. 

TOP RETURNING DEFENSIVE PLAYER:  With some key defensive playmakers like cornerback Perrish Cox and linebacker Patrick Lavine moving on, the best defensive player has to be defensive end Ugo Chinasa.  Chinasa led the defensive line last year in tackles (30), and he led the team in tackles for loss (9.5), sacks (6.5) and QB hurries (8). 

Chinasa is, basically, your nightmare defensive end if you are an offensive tackle.  The senior is on the Rotary Lombardi Award watch list, given to the top lineman in the country.  He’s got really good athleticism, and blessed with that NFL frame at 6-5, 260.  Oh yeah, Chinasa is also on the Lott Trophy list, which is awarded to the biggest IMPACT defensive player in the country.  Big-time player on the edge, whoever is playing OK State better know where #91 is at all times.

TOP THREE POST-SPRING BALL QUESTIONS

1)  WHERE THE STARS AT!? – It’s going to be a different look when the season rolls around.  Seven former players, including six from the offense from last year are now in NFL camps – QB Zac Robinson, RB Keith Totson, WR Dez Bryant, LT Russell Okung, C Andrew Lewis, and RT Brady Bond (CB Perrish Cox is the lone defensive player from last year who is in an NFL camp).  And yes, we’re excited about having Okung wearing Seahawks blue, as he is now learning to hold opposing pass rushers like a real pro!

Anyway, where there is still some star-power hanging around in Hunter and Chinasa, there is no arguing the fact that a lot of offensive production has moved on.  Just how much has left?  Well, Phil Steele breaks it down in his latest blog post, in an interesting study of the percentage of returning offense in terms of yards from scrimmage that will be coming back next year (Psst – Coug fans, if you don’t want to be sick, don’t look at who’s #2 in the nation in returning offense for 2010!)  Oklahoma State came in at 112th in the country, bringing back just 34.87% of all yards gained last year.  Factor in that not only are the faces new and fresh on the field, but they also have to learn a brand new offense?  There could be a real transition period for the first month of so of the 2010 schedule.

2)  IS THE NEW QB READY TO GO? First, as many of you know, it’s never easy replacing THE GUY.  And Zac Robinson had an outstanding run as the starting QB over the last three years.  Now the all-time leading passer in Oklahoma State history with 8,317 yards, filling Robinson’s shoes won’t be an easy task.  Maybe the most talked-about player this spring is the new QB, 26-year old Brandon Weeden.  A former 2nd round draft pick in baseball by the Yankees in 2002 as a pitcher, he started his NCAA football career a lot later than most back in 2007.  But Weeden has all the tools to succeed.  Excellent size at 6-4, 224, he reportedly is a guy who can make all the throws, per some comments from new offensive coordinator Holgorsen.  And it isn’t like Weeden hasn’t ever played, in fact he got on the field last year vs. Colorado and played really well, throwing for 168 yards and two TD’s in the second half of their win over the Buffs last November. 

The most encouraging thing has to be Weeden’s spring game performance, where he not only looked comfortable and confident, he was extremely efficient.  He threw four TD’s on a 22-for-34, 257-yard performance.  Here’s some video from their spring game, including some nice throws by Weeden:

3)  HOW’S THE SCHEDULE? Not bad, and it’s really favorable early on.  They play FOUR home games to start the season, and don’t even have to hit the road until October 8th, vs. Louisiana Lafayette.  Outside of WSU to kick off 2010 on 9/4, their other non-conference home games are against Troy and Tulsa, before Texas A & M comes to Stillwater on 9/30 to start conference play.  But with all those early home games, they do have to play four of their last six on the road.  But even among those final six games, they do get Oklahoma and Nebraska at home, so that’s not too shabby.  I guess their toughest road game will be at Texas on 11/13.

WSU FOOTBALL BLOG SEZ, DOT-DOT-DOT STYLE…..While there will be a ton of new faces, let’s remember one thing – Mike Gundy has been bringing in some pretty talented football players.  Gundy has now been in Oklahoma State for five full seasons.  After a rocky first year which saw the Cowboys go 4-7, they have been winners ever since, with nine win seasons and top-25 AP finishes the last two years.  When fans are somewhat disappointed in a nine-win season like ’09, it’s clear that he has built something strong…..Recruiting has been going well.  Gundy signed the 18th-ranked recruiting class in the country in February, and after classes rated in the 40’s the prior couple of years, things are trending upward in that department.  And they just nabbed an ESPN Top 150 running back in Herschel Sims, from Abilene, TX…..Losing the sheer number of starters has to be worrisome, well, maybe the biggest thing a Cowboy fan frets about right now is the loss of four starters on the offensive line.  As WSU fans are all too aware the last two seasons, an inexperienced offensive line can destroy anything/everything you try to do on offense.  Returning one starter up front certainly isn’t ideal where there are so many other new things to break in and get into the flow…..While it’s a scary thing for OK State to be facing a new season with a new QB and an entirely new offensive system, well, the fear can be on the other team as well, especially going into a season opener.  WSU can watch film of what Houston has done under Holgorsen all summer long, but there is still going to be a lot of unfamiliarity once these teams hit the field…..Stillwater has been a tough place to play the last few years, with just three home losses the last two seasons in Boone Pickens Stadium.  Mike Gundy now has a 23-10 record at home in his five years as head coach…..The pass-happy offense they will see from Oklahoma State has WSU nation a little uneasy right about now.  Remember, WSU gave up over 1,100 total yards combined to two pass-often teams in ’09 – Hawaii (626) and SMU (504) – but on the flip side, this could be a surprisingly positive matchup for the 2010 version of the Cougar defense.  There is a true influx of speed, playmaking ability and depth for WSU’s D, which could have one of the most improved defenses in the country next season when it’s all said and done.  Of course, when you rank 120th in the nation in total defense, giving up 512 yards per game as WSU did in ’09, there’s nowhere to go but up!…..While winning nine games for the third year in a row looks like a tall order for the Pokes, OK State’s goal most definitely will be to return to the post-season.  But FoxSports.com isn’t exactly buying in, with this article that says that Oklahoma State will be a team that will disappoint in 2010…..Some of the best OK State websites/blogs/boards I’ve found this spring include GOPokes.com, part of the scout.com network; OrangePower.com, which is a huge message board community with thousands of posts; NewsOK.com’s OSU Sports Blog; TulsaWorld.com’s Sports Extra blog; and finally, ESPN.com’s Big 12 blog, run by David Ubben.  Very similar to Ted Miller’s Pac-10 blog, it’s a great place to browse all things Oklahoma State/Big 12.

That’s all for now.  Enjoy your Monday, and as always, GO COUGS!

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