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Game Week #7: Oklahoma State Preview

The Cowboys haven't quite lived up to their expectations yet this year, but their goals for the season are still within reach. We break down the offense and defense to see if TCU can crush those goals

The Cowboy in his natural habitat- note the bright colors!
The Cowboy in his natural habitat- note the bright colors!
Brett Deering

The Frogs head to Stillwater for the second year in a row as victim of A&M's inherited scheduling greed (screw Texas A&M) still trying to figure out what to make of their season.  Their opponents this week are in a very similar state, as the Cowboys dropped a road game to a bad West Virginia team and barely escaped a Kansas State Wildcat team that repeatedly gifted the Cowboys opportunities to turn their contest into a blowout.  TCU will be the best team the Cowboys have faced so far this year, but OSU has had two weeks to prepare for the Frogs- it should be a good one, so let's break down what Oklahoma State is likely to do on offense and defense.  If you're interested in watching what a TCU team that actually plays well in the first half looks like you can watch last year's game against the Cowboys here on Frogs O' War (though don't watch the second half, it's ugly).

Oklahoma State Offense

The Cowboys are one of the big spread teams, as you'd expect from a team that employed Dana Holgorsen to run the offense.  After Holgorsen the Cowboys slowly started to move away from the air raid to a more balanced spread to feature running back Joseph Randle.  The Cowboys are breaking in a new offensive coordinator this year after Todd Monken left to hop on the sunken ship of Southern Miss football in hopes of salvaging it, so FCS coach Mike Yurchich came aboard to take over the offensive duties.  Under Yurchich the total yards have been there and the balance in playcalls have been there, but the rushing offense has been very underwhelming in the pair of Big 12 games, being held under 3.5 yards per carry against Kansas State and less than 3 against West Virginia.  As a result the Cowboys have had to lean heavily on quarterback J.W. Walsh, who has thrown 85 passes in two Big 12 games with mixed results- against Kansas State Walsh threw 38 times at a 63% completion rate and ran 11 times, which is a heck of a workload, but still didn't get to 300 total yards.  Against West Virginia Walsh collected three touchdowns and ended up accounting for 63 plays- 47 passes and 16 rushes, but struggled on third downs, with completion percentage (just 42%) and threw two interceptions, one of which was a pick 6 that really got West Virginia started.  To his credit though, Walsh has spread the ball around effectively, with no less than seven receivers catching passes in every single game for the Cowboys so far, though OSU doesn't have a Justin Blackmon or a Dez Bryant freak talent as a #1 target to draw additional attention and decimate opposing secondaries, but Josh Stewart has emerged from his role as a possession receiver to bump his yards per catch average to almost 16, and is likely to draw the attention from Jason Verrett.  The offensive line is a bit of a mystery so far, as though they've been good in pass protection, allowing just four sacks through five games, but haven't faced a lot of pressure inside (which Hunter and Pierson are likely to provide) and are at least somewhat culpable for the steep dropoff in the running game.  It will be an interesting matchup against the TCU defense which is so effective against the pass, when Oklahoma State's competence has been limited to passing in Big 12 play- will better coverage lead to more pressure and more mistakes from Walsh?  This is one of the games key questions, and the answer will likely determine if we're looking at a low scoring game or having to pray that the offense can come up with a point explosion we've only seen in the second half against SMU.

Oklahoma State Defense

The Cowboys are replacing a coordinator on the defensive side of the ball as well, but for different reasons.  Coordinator Bill Young- who left the coordinator job at Miami to turn a bad Cowboy defense into a turnover forcing one that was enough to win the conference in 2011.  The turnovers dried up a bit in 2012 and the gratitude for leaving Miami and the conference championship lasted exactly one season as coach Young was unceremoniously dumped in favor of younger linebacker coach Glenn Spencer with one goal- more aggression.  To that end the results have been mixed, collecting four sacks in the opener against Mississippi State before dropping to just one per game in each of the next three contests.  There have been interceptions though, as Oklahoma State has collected nine in five games, which to a sane mind would indicate that it would be safer to stick with running the ball early in the game.  That's where the good news comes in, as Oklahoma State has been run on successfully, particularly by the dual threat rushing attack of Kansas State's Daniel Sams- who is not as good a passer as Trevone Boykin, if you can believe that.  The Cowboys return 7 starters from last years defense, two on the line including penetrating DT James Castleman who is sure to give TCU fits up the middle if the o-line doesn't start pulling together.  The Cowboys are likely to lean on their linebackers to bring the added aggression while working in the zone blitz, so there will be opportunities for the Frogs to use their size up front to shove linebackers out of the way and get our running backs working one on one against defensive linemen in space- if the Frogs will commit to running the ball on reasonable downs and distance.  Oklahoma State's secondary is similar to TCU's in one respect they're aggressive playing the ball.  This can lead to turnovers, but they aren't as good in recovery mode as TCU's secondary, so double moves and play action are likely to be effective if the Frogs have time to do it.  Oklahoma State has only been truly stout against the run against West Virginia (who can't run the ball against anyone) and hasn't faced as talented a backfield as TCU has yet this season- if the Frogs commit to the ground early and try to shorten the game they can control the tempo and get away with opportunistic scores like in the Texas game last year, while if they throw it will likely lead to another wild comeback attempt with uncertain results.

Overall I like the matchup of the TCU defense against the Cowboy offense, while I dislike the TCU offense against the Cowboy defense.  That said, I think that the Frog offense has produced at least a bit against more talented defenses than the one we'll see in Stillwater, so even with the game on the road I think TCU has a good chance to win this one.  Will they?  It will all come down to Jarrett Anderson.  I'm nervous.