Oklahoma State to show off new-look rushing attack
After months of hard training and preparation, the 2016 home opener feels long overdue. The Oklahoma State Cowboys seem to be entering the new season in the right state of mind, body and spirit.
“We’re a healthy football team and practice has been going very well,” Cowboys head coach Mike Gundy said. “We’re excited about playing a game. The offense and defense have gone against themselves so much that I think they’re ready to play a game.”
With their first game being against Southeastern Louisiana, the outlook of the game no longer becomes results based — because it’s virtually assured that they’ll win easily — but more about the process. One would hope that whatever questions about the team makeup would be answered after this game.
One of those questions would be the running game. As good as the offense was last season, it was largely one-dimensional. The Cowboys rushing attack ranked No. 113 in the FBS in yards per game at 126.8. With the additions of Barry J. Sanders — who came to his legendary father’s alma mater as a graduate transfer from Stanford — and incoming freshman Justise Hill ( 1,948 yards and 32 touchdowns at Booker T. Washington HS), Gundy believes that the running game is much improved.
“(Hill’s) done very well in camp and were trying to make some adjustments in the running game,” Gundy said. “We think that the group that we have now, the three or four, is better than what we were using last year with really two to three. So he’s part of that group that we think makes us better.”
Cowboys offensive coordinator Mike Yurcich described the rushing approach entering this season as a, “tailback by committee to start, then see who has the hot hand and go from there.” That being said, he is very much impressed with his two new backs.
“Barry has done a real nice job of some tough runs,” Yurcich said. “Coming out of our endzone, I can recall a couple scrimmages back, it was one on one with him and a safety … He put his shoulder down and blew right through him and got the first down for us. The tough yards are there. We feel confident that when we hand him the ball, there will be a positive gain. Obviously, we can’t block them all, he can make the other guy miss or go through them. He has that toughness factor and that strength. Veteran player that has been in the weight room for several seasons and it’s pretty obvious that he has that maturity level and the physical factor for him.
“(Hill) has play-making ability,” he continued. “He is a very well-rounded tailback. He’s really good through the hole. He doesn’t stutter around a lot. He has good top-end speed, good change of direction and good hands as well. He’s a back that can do a lot of different things, although a young back and just learning the game. His role will grow as more experience comes. A running back with just a lot of natural traits: change of direction, speed, vision. He is a smart player and a great person. Those things make him a valuable part of our team.”
Gundy also alluded to the possibly of Sanders being utilized as a punt and kick returner.
“So far he’s done really well,” Gundy said. “We’ll have a group that will return punts and kicks. We feel like we have more depth there than we did last year. So we’re going to use a few different guys early in the season and try to see who works best for our team.”
The question of the Cowboys’ run production isn’t reserved for only the backs to answer. The offensive line will also have a part in this. OSU return all five starters from last year and redshirt freshman Marcus Keyes could also be a key contributor this season. They did a good job protecting quarterback Mason Rudolph last year but their run block left plenty to be desired.
While the matchup between Oklahoma State and the FCS flavor of the year isn’t quite fascinating, seeing the Cowboys’ new look run game might be enough reason for the fan to tune in.
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