New backfield shines as Cowboys roll Tech
November, 3, 2013
By Jake Trotter | ESPN.com
LUBBOCK, Texas -- Back in July, Oklahoma State was the preseason pick to win the Big 12.
Saturday night, the Cowboys finally showed why.
And why they might be contenders after all.
Behind its new-look backfield, Oklahoma State unleashed the most impressive performance yet in the Big 12 season, overpowering Texas Tech 52-34 before a record Jones AT&T Stadium crowd.
"We've got a chance," answered Cowboys coach Mike Gundy, when asked if this team could win the Big 12. "We're not good enough to look past the next game. But we're improving."
Roughly a month ago, the Pokes hardly looked the part of contender in a 30-21 loss as a 19-point favorite at West Virginia. Nor did the Cowboys look it in sluggish home victories over Kansas State and TCU.
This, however, is a different team.
More specifically, a different offense.
A week ago, the Cowboys overhauled their entire backfield, replacing quarterback J.W. Walsh with Clint Chelf and running back Jeremy Smith with Desmond Roland and Rennie Childs.
They haven't stopped scoring since.
In Lubbock, Oklahoma State rolled up another 281 yards on the ground and controlled the game from beginning to end.
Michael C. Johnson/USA TODAY SportsJosh Stewart caught six passes and set up a third-quarter touchdown with a long punt return.
"We're coming together as an offense," said Roland, who plugged away between the tackles for 96 yards and his fifth, sixth and seventh touchdowns since getting the starting nod. All three touchdowns came from inside the Tech 3-yard line, as Oklahoma State scored touchdowns on all six of its red-zone possessions.
As a change of pace, Childs scooted for 70 yards on nine carries.
Even Smith contributed to the effort with a 17-yard catch and 23-yard run on the Cowboys' first scoring drive.
"We're running more physical; that's what you have to do," Gundy said. "We made a strong commitment to it three weeks ago. We've really improved in that area."
The biggest difference Saturday, though, was Chelf, whose mistakes kept the Red Raiders in the game, but whose playmaking turned them back and ultimately put them away.
Chelf lost the starting job to Walsh two ineffective series into the opener against Mississippi State. But Walsh's inability to get the ball down the field prompted the Cowboys to turn back to Chelf and his stronger arm midway through the TCU game.
Since, the Oklahoma State offense has gradually improved.
Saturday, it took off.
All told, Chelf threw for 211 yards, ran for another 88 and accounted for four touchdowns. He also connected on a 44-yard flea-flicker to Jhajuan Seales to the Tech 1 to set up Roland's first touchdown and put the Cowboys up 14-0.
"He made some big plays," Gundy said. "Some big throws."
Chelf also made one really bad play on one bad throw.
Up 28-10 in the second quarter, the Cowboys were on the verge of putting the Red Raiders away after linebacker Shaun Lewis' interception. But two plays later, Chelf tried to drop off a pass into the flat. Instead, Tech's Pete Robertson stepped in front of the throw and took the interception 21 yards for a touchdown to wake up the crowd.
The Red Raiders scored again on their following drive to cut Oklahoma State's lead 28-24 and nullify all momentum the Cowboys had built.
"There's no question they had the momentum," Gundy said.
But Chelf would help Oklahoma State regain it.
A Josh Stewart punt return led to another Roland touchdown.
Then on the ensuing drive, Chelf broke through the middle of the Tech defense on a quarterback draw for a 67-yard touchdown run -- Oklahoma State's longest run of the season.
Chelf scored again on an eight-yard keeper late in the third quarter, giving the Cowboys a 49-31 lead and all but putting Tech away.
"It's a glaring mistake when you throw it to the other team," Gundy said. "But if it's not for that, everybody's saying, 'Hey, (Chelf) played a great game.' "
Since Oklahoma State's loss at West Virginia, Baylor has assumed the role of Big 12 favorite. Texas and Oklahoma have surged into the conference-title conversation, too.
But the preseason favorite showed it should not be overlooked, either. Not with this new backfield, which has the Cowboys offense finally humming.