- Brandon Chatmon, ESPN Staff Writer
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Make no bones about it, Oklahoma State’s offense doesn’t look like the high-powered attack that ran teams out of Boone Pickens Stadium in recent seasons.
While some OSU fans yearn for Clint Chelf, a closer look at the offensive numbers reveal quarterback J.W. Walsh might be playing the role of scapegoat for his team’s offensive difficulties. Several of OSU’s passing numbers are quite similar to last season and it’s been the running game that has let the Cowboys down. Here’s a closer look at some statistics, thanks to ESPN Stats and Information, that represent the offensive struggles in Stillwater and some ways to improve the Cowboys offense in the second half of the season.
Yards per play: The Cowboys averaged 7.01 yards per play in 2012, leading the Big 12. This season OSU is averaging 5.95 yards per play. It’s a clear sign the Cowboys aren’t as consistently explosive this season as they were last season.
The fix: OSU has to start having more success on the ground. Most people think of OSU’s offense as a high-flying attack, but its running success was the foundation. If the Cowboys can force teams to respect their running game more, play-action passing will open up and the big plays will follow. If not, teams will stack the box and force Walsh to beat them deep with his arm.
Yards per carry: Last season the Cowboys easily led the Big 12 in yards per carry at 5.41 yards per carry. This season they rank in the bottom half of the conference at 4.14 yards per carry. Running back Joseph Randle has been sorely missed and the Cowboys’ offensive line hasn’t created the running lanes current starter Jeremy Smith was accustomed to in 2012, when he averaged 5.3 yards per carry. He’s averaging 3.7 yards per carry this season.
The fix: Better offensive line play. The loss of left tackle Devin Davis in the preseason has been devastating. Parker Graham was forced to move to left tackle from right guard and Chris Grisbhy was thrust into a starting role. But the offensive line is a unit, so one player isn't to blame for the entire line’s struggles. The starting five simply needs to play better and execute more efficiently.
Carries of more than 10 yards: OSU led the Big 12 with 88 rushes for 10 or more yards in 2012, an average of 6.76 per game. In 2013, it ranks No. 8 in the conference with 22 rushes for 10 or more yards in five games, an average of 4.4 per game. Randle had 40 carries of 10 yards or more last season.
The fix: This is where the offensive line and Walsh could help make life easier on Smith and the rest of the Cowboys running backs. Smith been forced to make defenders miss in the backfield too often and rarely has had one-on-one opportunities in the open field. The senior needs to be decisive with the ball in his hands, the offensive front needs to limit missed assignments, and Walsh needs to make teams pay for overloading the box.
Yards after contact: The Cowboys finished with 1,227 yards after contact in 2012, an average of 94.38 per game. This season, they sit at the bottom of the Big 12 in that category with 282 in five games, an average of 56.4 per game. It’s an area where the Cowboys clearly miss Randle, who gained 713 of his 1,417 rushing yards after contact in 2012.
The fix: Randle was a special player; he’s playing in the NFL for the Dallas Cowboys for a reason. Nonetheless, Smith needs to attack defenses like he did in 2012 and OSU needs to give No. 2 running back Desmond Roland more opportunities to make plays. Using the duo together in their Diamond formation more often would be a good place to start.
Yards after catch: One of the few passing categories with a significant difference between last season and this one. OSU gained 2,252 of its 4,312 passing yards after the catch in 2012 (52.2 percent). This season, the Cowboys have gained 679 of their 1,502 passing yards after the catch (45.2 percent). Josh Stewart is the lone Cowboy who has gained more than 75 yards after the catch this season, with 196 of his 332 receiving yards coming after the catch.
The fix: Walsh could be more accurate with his passes, allowing receivers to catch the ball on the run more often. OSU tends to only try to get Stewart the ball on the move, but they have their deepest group of receivers in recent memory. Therefore, they need to spread the ball more and give young receivers with upside, such as Brandon Sheperd and Marcell Ateman, more chances to make teams pay for leaving them in one-on-one situations and give Walsh more playmaking options.