Sittler column: Oklahoma State offense shows no signs of slowing
BY DAVE SITTLER World Sports Columnist
Tuesday, September 21, 2010
9/21/10 at 10:33 AM
THE MOST prophetic comment I heard before the Oklahoma State-Tulsa game came from Bo Van Pelt. "I think Bullet's going to get leg cramps," Van Pelt told me last Saturday morning during an interview on the Sports Animal's (97.1fm) South Central Golf Hour.
Van Pelt, who moonlights as one of the world's top golfers when he isn't predicting college football games, bleeds orange and black.
One of a plethora of former OSU All-Americans now making millions on the PGA Tour, the Tulsa resident would never pick against his beloved Cowboys.
But Van Pelt, one of only 30 players who qualified for this week's prestigious Tour Championship event in Atlanta, was dead, solid perfect in his concern about Bullet's health.
A black American Quarter Horse gelding, Bullet is one of the nation's best college mascots. In one of coolest scoring celebrations in sports, the black beauty races to midfield at Boone Pickens Stadium while Pistol Pete's six-shooters blaze away after every Cowboys' touchdown.
Bullet, who carries an OSU flag-waving "Spirit Rider," had his legs severely tested during OSU's 65-28 win. He might have required ice packs, an oxygen mask and a deep massage if Cowboys' coach Mike Gundy hadn't pulled back the reigns on his rambunctious offense.
Bullet needed the halftime break as much as TU's defense. The Cowboys scored five touchdowns the first half and three more after the break en route to a record-smashing offensive explosion.
But if the pundits are correct, Bullet's bound for the pasture and Pistol Pete can pack away his ammo. Many critics, you see, wonder if OSU's new offensive scheme is, well, bulletproof.
They dismiss OSU's 3-0 record and gaudy statistics by pointing to the opponents. All three wins came at home against teams that all stand 1-2 - Washington State, Troy and TU.
It's true that OSU's schedule to this point wouldn't qualify as a murderers' row. None of three foes ranks higher than 102nd in scoring defense or 107th in total defense.
Still, the seamless adjustment to the "Air Raid" scheme implemented by new offensive coordinator Dana Holgorsen has been impressive. The 722 yards of total offense the Pokes hung on the Hurricane were the most in school history.
Just wait, the Holgorsen doubters warn, until OSU starts Big 12 Conference play. The Pokes' eight-game schedule includes No. 6 Nebraska, No. 7 Texas and No. 8 Oklahoma. It opens Sept. 30th against Texas A&M (3-0), which ranks 10th nationally in total defense and 16th in scoring defense.
But there are some other things to consider before automatically assuming Bullet should stay in his barn when Big 12 teams come to Stillwater. The Cowboys' probably won't continue to average 57 points a game, but encouraging developments during the 3-0 start suggest they are going to light up a few Big 12 scoreboards.
Holgorsen has some things going for him at OSU that weren't available during his previous stops at Houston and Texas Tech. The three biggest factors are quarterback Brandon Weeden, running back Kendall Hunter and defensive coordinator Bill Young.
Weeden has lived up to Holgorsen's preseason claim that the OSU junior has the best throwing arm he has coached. And he never had the luxury of working with a back with Hunter's All-American ability.
It's a run-pass combination that challenges Holgorsen to find ways to expand his scheme. It also allows him to rip up defenses that key on one area, like he did to TU when the Hurricane surrendered eight touchdown passes while trying to shutdown Hunter.
"Obviously, we were hitting on all cylinders and Tulsa's plan was to stop the run," Gundy said Monday. "They put us in a situation where we had to throw passes. Fortunately, we had some good throws, some good protection and some guys who would go get it."
Those "guys" are a bevy of wide receivers who caught 574 yards worth of passes against TU. Justin Blackmon remains the unquestioned go-to receiver, but there's considerable more depth at a position that was a preseason concern.
OSU had 13 players catch a pass in the TU game. Eleven of them had at least one reception that went for 16 or more yards. Junior wideout Hubert Anyiam, who returned from a foot injury to grab two TD passes, adds to the numbers of targets available to Weeden.
And then there is Young. The knowledge of the Pokes' veteran D-coordinator takes a lot of heat off Holgorsen, who previously worked at places where defense was an afterthought.
Injuries and a lack of depth at some position have tested Young's smoke-and-mirrors experience. Like on offense, the defense must have several young Cowboys continue to grow and mature at their current rate.
On yesterday's Big 12 coaches teleconference, Gundy didn't bite when asked if he'd seen any surprises in the conference through the first three weeks.
"I don't really pay much attention to anybody other than us," Gundy said. "So it would be hard for me to comment on surprises."
The rest of the league is paying a lot of attention to OSU's surprising success. The addition of Holgorsen, and Weeden's rapid development, has a bunch of conference and national people talking about the high-scoring Cowboys.
Perhaps the Cowboys will hit a Big 12 defensive wall. But just in case of some potential cramps, OSU should have a Bullet backup loaded in the stable and ready to run.
Original Print Headline: Pokes show no signs of letting up