One-half of Oklahoma State’s stat sheet looks fantastic. Through six games, the Cowboys average 40.7 points per game. That ranks 17th in the nation and is thanks to Mason Rudolph’s piloting with new efficiency — 13 touchdowns to just two interceptions compared to a 2:1 ratio last season — coupled with a sense of urgency running the ball. Freshman Justice Hill is already 111 yards away from eclipsing Chris Carson’s team-leading 517 yards from last season.
Flip the script to the defense for the plot twist.
Compared to last season as a whole, things don’t look that bad. The 2015 Cowboys allowed 30.5 points per game while posting 39.5 points of their own. Allowing 28.7 points per game this season along with raised production on offense says the Cowboys should be winning five percent more this season a la Bill James’ adjusted sabermetrics.
Yet, here the Pokes stand with two losses compared to going undefeated through 10 games last season. The culprit being that through the first six games last season, Oklahoma State was only allowing 20 points per game, boosting their expected win percentage to 80 percent compared to 70 percent this season.
At risk of over-simplification, the Cowboys aren’t containing the quarterback like they once did. Sure, they’re second in the Big 12 with 10 sacks in conference play. As a side note, that’s a thousand dollars donated to the Regional Food Bank of Oklahoma thanks to the Sack Hunger program. But seven of those sacks came against Iowa State last week.
After allowing 435 yards through three quarters, Oklahoma State held the Cyclones to just 13 yards in the fourth quarter, thanks in part to two sacks on the last-ditch effort from ISU to end a 17-0 run from OSU. With a forced fumble near the end of the third quarter as well, Oklahoma State forced two turnovers in the final 18 minutes of the game to turn the game in its favor.
This is not the first time OSU is experiencing unreliable quarterback containment. Baylor’s Seth Russell operated on similar terms as Lanning did, but to even greater effect — that game was lost. Russell ran for 65 yards on 10 carries that day and was sacked just once.
On a bye week right now, these are among the top priorities for the Cowboys to dwell on in the film room, learning about what went right in the last quarter against Iowa State and how that could have been applied to rewrite the loss against Baylor — more importantly, how to prevent future losses. Even Kansas poses a threat now after being just a game-ending field goal away from taking down TCU.
The answer might lie within getting more bodies involved regularly, as there’s no clear bell cow like Emmanuel Ogbah last season. Against Iowa State, backup defensive tackle Dequinton Osborne had 2.5 sacks and an additional hurry. One of those sacks was during ISU’s last drive, not only showing quantity but quality and timeliness of wrapping up the quarterback.
If the Cowboys can keep tapping into role players like Osborne for more consistent production from start to finish, this potential for heartbreaking losses will diminish.