Very much appreciate Mark Travis from Cowboys Ride For Free for taking the time to answer a few questions. Mark posted my answers earlier this week (go check them out!) and I've been running behind all week. Thanks again to Mark for being so gracious with his time.
VTM | I feel like Texas Tech and Oklahoma St. are quarterback controversy soulmates as there are fans lining a bit up on the two different quarterbacks that have played. Talk a bit about the style of play for Clint Chelf and J.W. Walsh and who do you prefer.
CRFF | Our quarterback controversy is full of irony and not a lot of production. Chelf is billed as the pocket passer, yet he's 20-of-51 passing in the past two games and he actually gained more yards on the ground (85) than he did through the air (78) against Iowa State. Walsh is billed as the mobile quarterback, yet Oklahoma State's rushing offense since the Mississippi State game has been MIA with Walsh at the helm, and he's looked like the better passer for most of this season. Walsh has a maddening tendency to throw behind receivers on slants and post patterns and his throwing motion makes Tim Tebow look like Peyton Manning. Chelf is a bit more accurate when he's throwing to someone running the correct route, but he's good for at least eight throws out of bounds over the course of a game, which is awesome because the sideline has zero interceptions on the season. Both players are pretty good on the move when running the read-option; Walsh is the more dangerous threat because he's got more straightline speed once he gets to the edge, but Chelf is, as Gundy says, nifty.
I believe Walsh gives this team the best chance to win. I trust him more as a passer and think he's a bigger threat on the ground. There has also been a disturbing trend that when Chelf comes in the game, Josh Stewart, OSU's best playmaker, tends to get less touches than when Walsh is in there. It's hard to find the root of the problem, but it's happened enough to be considered more than a coincidence at this point. Unfortunately, this season's quarterback situation has been about picking the lesser of two evils, so there's not an appreciable difference when either is in the game. Since you guys aren't using Michael Brewer, who once put up 50 points on my high school team, we'd love to borrow him for the game. Doesn't matter if he's healthy.
VTM | The defense has been fantastic thus far for Oklahoma St., what's the reason for this team's success this year?
CRFF | Glenn Spencer was promoted from linebackers coach to defensive coordinator this season, and he's shown a great ability to manage things in-game as well as making solid adjustments to OSU's base schemes. He's been very aggressive with his playcalling, introducing something that we like to call the Psycho formation, in which linebackers, defensive backs and even defensive lineman will wander up to the line of scrimmage and take a two-point stance. Spencer loves to use this sub-package on third down, and he mixes up between sending the pressure with man coverage on the outside (usually cover-1) and having the backers bail into zone coverage at the snap.
Under Spencer's tutelage, this senior laden group has taken a huge step forward, to the point where they are carrying this team.
VTM | Desmond Roland has stepped up the last couple of weeks and has been the focal point of the offense. What's been the reason for the shift to a running game against Iowa St. or do you think that Oklahoma St. falls back to more of a passing team like they did against the three prior opponents?
CRFF | Mike Gundy's teams have always been run-first with the exception of the Brandon Weeden years, so the reliance on the running game is no surprise. What is surprising is that, inbetween the season opener and last week's game versus Iowa State, the Pokes couldn't get anything done on the ground. Senior Jeremy Smith waited for his turn to be the primary back for this team after backing up Joseph Randle and Kendall Hunter over the past few years, but he has really struggled to get anything going this season. Part of that has to do with an offensive line that has been jumbled around and hadn't had any consistency as far as combinations and practice time up until last week (OSU lost projected starting left tackle Devin Davis to a torn ACL in the pre-season), but he seems better suited for a back-up role as a change of pace guy that attacks tired defenses with downhill runs, and that's why Roland started against Iowa State.
Interestingly enough, many folks believed Oklahoma State would change their starting tailback for that game, but the popular opinion was that freshman Rennie Childs would get the gig. Childs gave the Pokes a spark against TCU, rushing for 45 yards and a touchdown while catching a pass for 34 yards while Smith and Roland combined for just 25 yards on 15 carries. Roland's start and his performance against Iowa State totally surprised me. He put up video game numbers (219 yards, 4 touchdowns, 8.4 yards per carry), and although it came against a horrible run defense, this is a team that rushed for 2.7 yards per carry against UTSA earlier this year, so any sight of a run game is welcome. With uncertainty at quarterback, I'd imagine OSU will try and win this game on the ground unless the Red Raiders pack too many guys into the box for the Pokes to attack.
VTM | Talk a bit about three guys on offense and defense that you think are the key players to this game.
Josh Stewart - Perhaps the conference's most dangerous all-around player, Stewart can totally change the complexion of a game if he's given a sliver of space. He leads the nation in punt return yardage (301) and touchdowns (2) and he can get up field in an instant - the Pokes like to use what I like to call the "Michael Crabtree screen" to get him the ball at the line of scrimmage with blockers downfield. Who starts at quarterback may have an impact on how involved Stewart is in the passing game, but it doesn't take a large number of touches for him to make a big impact (although I'd love for him to be more involved each and every week).
Desmond Roland - Roland has been solid in spurts throughout his career but last week was the first proof we've seen that he can be a feature back. He had never had more than 13 carries in a game before he toted the rock 26 times last week, and if the junior can come close to his career average of six yards per carry, then the Cowboys will rely on him to carry the offense. Roland is a taller back at 6'2" and he's not all that fast, but he's got good vision and a little slipperiness that allows him to get through the hole.
Brandon Garrett - Garrett's play has seemingly helped cure some of the ills the Cowboys have faced in the trenches this season of late. Getting a strong push up front is likely the biggest key for the Pokes the rest of this season offensively, and Garrett has helped procure a little more running room for Oklahoma State's running backs.
Tyler Johnson - Johnson has been Oklahoma State's best pusher this season and his play has garnered some attention from NFL scouts. He's a converted linebacker that is playing defensive end and his agility has proven to be a great asset on speed rushes on the outside. Glenn Spencer has also drawn up some exotic pressures in which Johnson drops off the line and into coverage, where he can fair quite well given his experience as a linebacker. Oklahoma State's passrush is just about the only thing truly lacking with this defense, but Johnson has shown an ability to get to the quarterback in recent weeks. The former high school running back also had an impressive fumble recovery for a touchdown last week after which he compared himself to Walter Payton.
Shaun Lewis - Really, it's hard to list Lewis without fellow senior linebacker Caleb Lavey. Those two have been tremendous together against the run, and Lewis has done some really nice work when asked to do some strange things with his alignments. Lavey tends to come off the field on passing downs but Lewis plays the majority of snaps, and the two provide great leadership and production for this defense.
Tyler Patmon - Justin Gilbert is one of the best corners in the country and safety Shamiel Gary has been a monster this season at eating up quick hitch routes that are prevalent in air raid/spread offenses, so I expect them to play well this Saturday. But with Texas Tech relying heavily on spread formations with 10 or 00 personnel, I imagine we'll see a lot more nickel and dime packages from Oklahoma State than we have so far this season (against TCU's spread, Spencer chose to keep Lewis in as a nickelback/QB spy hybrid, but I doubt we'll see that this week). That will put some pressure on nickel corner Tyler Patmon, a transfer from Kansas who has already won more games at OSU than he did in his entire career at KU. Patmon has looked really good this season and has made some big plays for this defense. If he can give the Cowboys a fourth quality pass defender in the secondary, the Pokes defense should give Kliff Kingsbury's offensive attack their biggest test of the season so far.
VTM | What's the general feeling of the program overall? Mike Gundy danced a bit with Tennessee during the offseason and there are some thoughts that he might not be completely happy at Oklahoma St. or maybe he just wanted to see his value as a coach. Do you think that Gundy is at Oklahoma St. for the long-term.
CRFF | I think we're starting to become spoiled. The Cowboys are 6-1 right now and just became bowl eligible for the eighth straight season (Gundy has been here nine years) and most of the fanbase is either bored or angry with how the team has played. After getting used to the high powered offenses that have carried the Pokes in years past, this defensive squad is a little bit harder for most fans to get behind, simply because their strengths are subtler. Of course, it's never fun to root for a team without a quarterback, but if OSU was having this season a decade ago, folks would be slobbering over them.
Perhaps that means we've begun to take Gundy for granted, and he's certainly catching a lot of heat for the way he's handled the quarterback situation, but I don't think Gundy is going anywhere. There's an allure to Stillwater that I think appeals to him (as well as other coaches and players). Before this semester began, I saw Travis Ford and his son shopping for back-to-school supplies at Staples. That's not happening for Gundy if he's at USC or Texas, although I'm sure if either of those programs reach out, he'll listen.