Dallas Colleges: Zack Craig
The only reason Hart Lee Dykes even knew who Mike Gundy was in 1986 was because Gundy’s dad would come to watch practice wearing overalls.
Soon, Dykes would get to know the skinny true freshman quarterback from Midwest City, Okla., a whole lot better.
At halftime of Oklahoma State’s third game, then-coach Pat Jones hollered in front of the team, "Gundy, you’re in!"
The Cowboys had lost at Tulsa the week before, and found themselves struggling to move the ball against Houston. But nobody, especially the team's star players, expected this.
"Thurman Thomas and I looked at each other and were like, 'Gundy?'" Dykes recalled. "But after that, we never looked back.
"He got us rolling and the rest was history."
After drilling Texas last weekend for a third straight win in Austin, Oklahoma State faces fourth-ranked Baylor in a Saturday night showdown with the Big 12 title on the line.
Before 2011, the Cowboys had exactly one conference championship -- a three-way split in 1976 -- dating back to the early 1950s.
With a victory over the Bears, Oklahoma State will be well on its way to a second in three years.
"It wasn’t that long ago you could hang your hat here on just beating Oklahoma," Cowboys offensive lineman Parker Graham said. "That was a good season here back in the day.
"But Coach Gundy has brought the attitude here that we can compete with anybody."
Before Gundy took over in 2005, Oklahoma State had only one 9-1 start in its 102-year football history. Now, the Cowboys are 9-1 again for the third time in the past four years.
Mega-booster T. Boone Pickens has played a major part in Oklahoma State's rise, spearheading a facilities overhaul that has become the envy of the Big 12.
But Gundy's steady hand has played a major part, too.
"That's Mike," Dykes said. "He never seems to get phased. Never seems to get nervous or uptight. He's the same way now as a coach he was then as a quarterback.
"He still has the same poker face."
Gundy needed that poker face in 1986.
That halftime against Houston, Gundy unseated Ronnie Williams, who had led the Cowboys to an 8-4 record and a Gator Bowl appearance the previous year.
Oklahoma State had a future All-American running back in Thomas and a future first-round wide receiver in Dykes. But against the immense pressure of replacing an incumbent starter, Gundy quickly proved the Cowboys had their quarterback of the future, too.
Gundy completed 138 consecutive passes without an interception, which was an NCAA record until Baylor's Robert Griffin III broke it in 2008. After tough losses to Nebraska and Oklahoma, Gundy quarterbacked the Cowboys to wins in four of their final five games to close out the season.
Over the next two years, Oklahoma State went 20-4, and Gundy finished his career as the Big Eight's all-time leading passer.
"If he threw a pick, I’d be jumping him, the coaches would be jumping him, but he never seemed rattled," Dykes said. "He just kept playing."
That poise has served Gundy well as a coach. And served the Cowboys well, too.
Earlier this season, Oklahoma State suffered a baffling 30-21 loss in its conference opener at West Virginia, seemingly axing the Cowboys' Big 12 title hopes off the bat.
"But he never let us lose our confidence," nickelback Lyndell Johnson said.
Instead of panicking after such a distressing performance, Gundy's Pokes kept playing. They struggled to home wins over Kansas State and TCU. Then, after a backfield change with Clint Chelf taking over at quarterback and Desmond Roland at running back, Oklahoma State finally began to click.
"After West Virginia, the season could have gone one of two ways," Graham said. "We could have gone down and lost a couple more games and got down on ourselves."
The same could have happened in Oklahoma State's first Big 12 title season. In 2011, the Cowboys were unbeaten and two games away from playing for a national championship, but were stunned by Iowa State in a double-overtime upset.
The final game against Oklahoma two weeks later also could have gone one of two ways. The Cowboys, however, put the crushing loss behind them, and destroyed the Sooners 44-10 to capture the conference championship and advance to their first BCS bowl game.
The Cowboys have bounced back again this season.
The past four games, Oklahoma State has outscored the opposition by an average of four touchdowns, including a convincing 38-13 drubbing of the Longhorns that lifted the Cowboys back into the top 10.
As he did after that Bedlam win two years ago, Gundy ditched the poker face and showed another side in Austin that Dykes also remembers well. A side his former teammates used to relish. A side his players relish now.
"We were so excited about the win," Craig said. "As soon as we heard the door open and him come in the locker room, we started rallying up in a big circle and immediately began clapping."
With the players surrounding him, Gundy unleashed his signature bending-back dance to the floor.
"That showed just how much he cares," Johnson said.
"That’s the Gundy I know," Dykes said. "He was always one of us as a player. One of the guys. That's why he's become such a player's coach now."
Oklahoma State is on the cusp of another Big 12 championship, and if the Cowboys win Saturday, Dykes' poker-faced quarterback will surely be dancing again.
"If you were a betting man," Craig said, "that would be a pretty good bet."
Eight years ago to the day, Oklahoma State traveled to Waco for a clash of the Big 12’s worst defense against its worst offense.
That season, Baylor couldn’t move the chains. The Cowboys couldn’t keep the chains from moving against them.
The Bears ultimately prevailed that day, but only because first-year coach Mike Gundy’s offense coughed up the ball eight times.
My, how times have changed.
Saturday, instead of playing for last place, Baylor and Oklahoma State will be vying for the Big 12 title. And this time, the matchup will feature the Big 12’s best offense (Baylor) against the league’s best defense (Oklahoma State).
“Everyone talks about their quarterback, but they average 300 yards rushing a game -- I don't think people really realize that,” Cowboys safety Zack Craig said. “Their passing is great, but their running backs are some of the best in this league.
"They are, by far, the ultimate offense.”
Not only is Baylor’s offense the ultimate, it has a chance to go down as the most prolific in college football history. The Bears lead the country with an average of 61 points and 684 yards per game, which, if they held up, would both shatter NCAA records.
Baylor has already totaled 53 touchdown drives of two minutes or less (Oregon led the country with 45 last season), 50 plays from scrimmage that have gone for 30 yards or more (Indiana is second with 38) and six games with at least 60 points (Ohio State is next with only three such games).
"They are the way they are because they have great talent,” Oklahoma State defensive coordinator Glenn Spencer said. “A quarterback with a fast and accurate release, running backs who can make you miss and an offensive line that will maul you.”
Bryce Petty ranks third nationally in QBR, four different running backs have 100-yard rushing games and guard Cyril Richardson is on the short list to win the Outland Trophy. The receiving corps is as explosive as any around, too, headlined by All-American candidate Antwan Goodley.
“No doubt, this is going to be a huge test for us,” Oklahoma State nickel back Lyndell Johnson said.
But this will be a huge test for the Bears as well.
Behind a veteran core, the Cowboys have featured one of the stoutest defenses in college football all season. Oklahoma State’s defense ranks in the top 10 nationally in several “Next Level” stats from ESPN Stats & Info, including points per drive (seventh), percentage of drives that end in touchdowns (sixth) and red-zone efficiency (seventh).
Oklahoma State is also now tied for the national lead in interceptions after picking off Case McCoy three times in a dominating 38-13 win at Texas last weekend.
“They have great personnel and they do a great job,” Baylor coach Art Briles said. “They’ve done a great job recruiting the last four to five years, and it’s paying off for them.”
Thanks to those talent upgrades, this Oklahoma State defense, which features seven senior starters, has been the best of the Gundy era. By far.
Tackle Calvin Barnett is a run-stuffer up front. Linebackers Shaun Lewis and Caleb Lavey don’t miss tackles. And Justin Gilbert is a lockdown cornerback who tops the Big 12 with six interceptions.
Over seven Big 12 games, the defense has surrendered just 14 offensive touchdowns, the fewest in the league.
“We’re more athletic and more aggressive on defense than what we’ve been the last three or four years,” Gundy said. “Our players have bought into it, and they’re consistent in their play each week."
But on Saturday, Oklahoma State’s defense will find out just how stingy it is, while the Baylor offense will learn if it truly is unstoppable.
“We have a great defense and they’re a great offense,” Craig said. “When you go against somebody like this, you find out just how good you are.”
Entire offensive line, Baylor: Anytime you gain 781 yards -- including 329 rushing yards with just 13 yards lost rushing -- the big guys up front deserve a lot of credit. Led by All-America candidate Cyril Richardson, the Baylor offensive line is better than people think and has been for several seasons. As explosive as BU’s offense is, it would struggle to get off the ground without a quality group of linemen.
Running back Darrian Miller, Kansas: Looks like the Jayhawks found another one. KU already features terrific running backs in James Sims and Tony Pierson, but Miller showed he’s a name to watch with 14 carries for 72 yards in the Jayhawks’ 31-14 win over South Dakota. If Miller continues to emerge, it will allow Charlie Weis to get even more creative when divising ways to get the ball to his various playmakers in Lawrence.
Receiver Tramaine Thompson, Kansas State: His two-reception, 46-yard performance on offense wasn’t earth-shattering. Yet Thompson single-handedly sparked the Wildcats in KSU’s 48-27 win over Louisiana-Lafayette. He opened the third quarter with a 94-yard kickoff return for a touchdown., then returned ULL’s next punt 79 yards to the ULL 3-yard line. Thompson finished with 234 all-purpose yards.
Safety Quentin Hayes, Oklahoma: Sooners defensive coordinator Mike Stoops has praised the athleticism and range of Hayes in the OU secondary. The junior finished with eight tackles and a forced fumble in OU’s 16-7 victory over West Virginia. His versatility and coverage skills could help make the Sooners’ secondary even better than last year’s unit.
Safety Zack Craig, Oklahoma State: The senior safety quietly played a key role in the Cowboys' 56-35 win over Texas San-Antonio. Craig, a backup safety, finished with seven tackles and two pass breakups, including a pass breakup that led to a Shaun Lewis interception. At one point, the Pokes were without both starting safeties because of injury and Craig stepped in to fill the void. He brings a veteran presence to OSU’s secondary and special teams.
Receiver Mike Davis, Texas: Overshadowed by the Longhorns' defensive collapse in Provo, Davis is off to a superb start in his senior season. He had eight receptions for 114 yards and two touchdowns in UT’s 40-21 loss to BYU. If Davis continues to consistently produce, it should open up opportunities for UT’s running backs.
Defensive tackle Terrell Lathan, TCU: Lathan stepped in and stepped up after Chucky Hunter was injured during TCU’s 38-17 win over Southeastern Louisiana. The sophomore had four tackles, including two tackles for loss and one sack. If the backup defensive lineman continues to progress, he could provide quality depth along the defensive front for TCU.
Receiver Bradley Marquez, Texas Tech: The junior had just two receptions for 94 yards and one touchdown in the Red Raiders’ 61-13 victory over Stephen F. Austin. But Marquez could be a key piece in Kliff Kingsbury’s offense with defenses focusing on Eric Ward, Jace Amaro and Jakeem Grant. Marquez has the speed and athleticism to make defenses pay if they leave him one-on-one.
Receiver Kevin White, West Virginia: He didn’t play a perfect game in his first outing in a WVU uniform, but the junior college transfer showed signs he could emerge as a playmaker who will test Big 12 defenses this season. He finished with seven receptions for 80 yards and one fumble in WVU’s 16-7 loss to Oklahoma. White is big, athletic and physical, so it won’t be easy for Big 12 defenses to match up with him, giving Dana Holgorsen another one-on-one mismatch to exploit in 2013.
Note: Iowa State did not play in Week 2.
Next up: Oklahoma State.
Strongest position: Pass-catchers
I'll have to apologize to Oklahoma State's trio of safeties in Daytawion Lowe, Shamiel Gary and Zack Craig here, but I'm going with the guys hauling in balls in OSU's pass-first offense as the strongest position. I don't care to debate whether Blake Jackson is a receiver or a tight end (he's the former), but I'm obviously including him in this group. He'll be an interesting guy to watch this year after struggling with drops but clearly possessing loads of potential and averaging better than 20 yards a catch on his 29 grabs.
Oklahoma State had nine players with at least 12 catches and 150 receiving yards last season and returns six of those players, including Tracy Moore, who was given an extra year of eligibility. He won't be joined by Michael Harrison, who sat out 2012 and was expected to return, but won't be doing so after a strong 2011 season under Justin Blackmon.
Somehow, we've gotten this far without mentioning the unit's headliner, breakout star Josh Stewart. He was overshadowed by a trio of superstars in Baylor's Terrance Williams and West Virginia's Tavon Austin and Stedman Bailey, but all three are gone and Stewart is easily the Big 12's best returning receiver. He caught 101 balls for 1,210 yards and seven scores last season, which is more than 150 yards more than any other returning receiver in the league. Stewart's underrated for now, but that could change soon, even though Oklahoma State has a ton of depth at the position with guys like Austin Hays and Charlie Moore filling out the position and Blake Webb emerging late in the season. Will incoming freshmen like Ra'Shaad Samples and Marcell Ateman find space to make an impact right away? It won't be easy, because this is Oklahoma State's biggest strength.
Weakest position: Defensive end
I've got nothing against juco transfers, who can walk on campus and be game-changers immediately, but if you're bringing in guys to do that, it shows a weakness at the position. Oklahoma State is doing that with Sam Wren, the nation's No. 16 overall juco prospect, after the Pokes lost three defensive ends from last season's team in Nigel Nicholas, Ryan Robinson and Cooper Bassett. Tyler Johnson is a solid player who made six tackles for loss a year ago, but OSU needs to find him help on the other side or opponents will be able to shut him down with double teams. Kansas State's Joe Bob Clements is a new addition to the staff who'll coach the position and try to sort it out this spring, but look for guys like Trace Clark, Jimmy Bean and early enrollee Naim Mustafaa to try to earn a starting spot, too.
More Weak and Strong.
OFFENSE: Landry Jones, QB, Oklahoma
Jones threw for a school-record 554 yards and six touchdowns in a 50-49 win over West Virginia, and his sixth touchdown pass of the day gave Oklahoma the win. He broke his own school record set a year ago against Kansas State, and moved into fifth place in the NCAA all-time passing yards record book. He's now the fifth consecutive West Virginia opponent to win Big 12 Offensive Player of the Week.
DEFENSE: Joe Williams, CB, Baylor
Williams intercepted then-Heisman frontrunner Collin Klein twice and made 11 tackles (nine solo) in Baylor's 52-24 upset of No. 1 Kansas State. His first ended what would have been a game-tying drive in the second quarter deep in Baylor territory.
SPECIAL TEAMS: Zack Craig, S, Oklahoma State
Craig blocked two punts and returned the second one 30 yards for a touchdown in Oklahoma State's 59-21 win over Texas Tech. It was the first time since 2010 OSU had blocked multiple punts in a game.
Landry Jones, QB, Oklahoma: West Virginia has played the Big 12 Offensive Player of the Week in its past four games. That's not quite a coincidence. Jones is in line to become the fifth. He set a school record with 554 yards on 38-of-51 passing and threw six touchdowns in Oklahoma's 50-49 win over West Virginia in Morgantown. His final score of the night was a 5-yarder to Kenny Stills, who caught four on the evening and won the game with just 24 seconds to play.
Sam Richardson, QB, Iowa State: The freshman had been waiting all season long for his chance, and he took advantage when Paul Rhoads gave it to him. He broke out in a huge way in Iowa State's 51-23 win over Kansas, completing 23-of-27 passes for 250 yards and four touchdowns without an interception. He also ran for 43 yards and a touchdown to get the Cyclones bowl eligible for the third time in four years. Four of his touchdowns were in a crazy second quarter that helped Iowa State race to a 38-17 halftime lead.
Zack Craig, S, Oklahoma State: When you're hot, you're hot. Craig blocked two Texas Tech punts and returned the second one 30 yards for a touchdown during Oklahoma State's 59-21 win over Texas Tech. For any special teamer, that's a fantastic season. Craig called it Saturday. He added a tackle for loss on defense. That's quite the performance.
Isaiah Anderson, WR, Oklahoma State: Anderson didn't touch the ball in the second half, and only touched it five times in the first. Sometimes, that's all that's necessary. He scored touchdowns on three of his four catches and finished with 174 yards. He scored on plays of 60, 66 and 33 yards and added a 26-yard run on his only carry of the game, an end around.
Baylor's offensive line: Can't really give it to one back or one player on Baylor's team in Saturday's 52-24 evisceration of Kansas State. The big uglies up front took care of business and treated K-State's front seven like nobody had all season long. The Bears ran for 342 yards and five touchdowns and averaged 7 yards a carry on the Big 12's No. 2 rushing defense. Nick Florence wasn't sacked, and scoring 52 points on this K-State defense isn't easy. Every Baylor skill position player was in awe at their performance after the game.
Tavon Austin, RB/WR/KR, West Virginia: Normally, helmet stickers are reserved solely for players on winning teams, but I couldn't resist here. Austin put on one of the greatest shows in Big 12 history in the 50-49 loss to Oklahoma. In his first game at running back, he rushed 21 times for 344 yards and two touchdowns. He also caught four passes for 82 yards and returned eight kicks for 146 yards. That's 572 all-purpose yards in one game. Are you kidding me?
Johnny Manziel, QB, Texas A&M: Johnny Football just keeps putting on a show every week. In the Aggies’ 47-28 win over Sam Houston State, he passed for three touchdowns and ran for two touchdowns and just may have taken the lead in the Heisman Trophy race. The only thing he did wrong was miss an extra point in the third quarter. Manziel became the fifth player and first freshman in FBS history to pass for 3,000 yards and rush for 1,000 yards in the same season. -- Chris Low
Well, the Red Raiders didn't lose by 60. That's about the only thing Tech accomplished in Saturday's 59-21 loss to Oklahoma State in Stillwater, where the Cowboys have won every matchup between the two dating back to 2001.
Clint Chelf has two career starts and both were lopsided wins over conference teams at home. That train's rolling these days, but could probably get running with a little more efficiency. The junior finished with 229 yards and three touchdowns on 11-of-21 passing against the Red Raiders, who entered the day leading the league in total defense.
The day's biggest star was Isaiah Anderson, who scored three first-half touchdowns and turned his four catches into 174 yards. He also broke a 26-yard run on an end around.
There was no doubt about the best defense on the field on Saturday; Oklahoma State held Seth Doege to just 5-of-12 passing for 30 yards and an interception in the second half before he was pulled for backup Michael Brewer.
J.W. Walsh was reportedly available last week, but returned from an injury on Saturday that OSU previously said would end his season. Walsh's dad disputed those reports to multiple media outlets, and it appears he was right. Walsh ran for a touchdown and threw for Oklahoma State's first score in his return. Sketchy stuff there from OSU.
What happened to Texas Tech's special teams, though? The Red Raiders gave up a pair of blocked punts to safety Zack Craig, who returned the second one 30 yards for a touchdown that put the Pokes up, 59-14.
Last week's near-loss to Kansas, which is winless in Big 12 play, got a whole lot easier to believe when you saw Texas Tech's performance on Saturday. The Red Raiders ceded to Oklahoma State in the Big 12 standings and the bowl pecking order by way of the one-sided loss. For now, Oklahoma State's likely slotted for a trip to the Alamo Bowl, but a win at Oklahoma next week could change that and keep the Pokes' slim BCS bowl hopes alive.
2011 conference record: 8-1
Returning starters: Offense 6; defense 8; P/K 2
RB Joseph Randle, WR Tracy Moore, WR Isaiah Anderson, CB Brodrick Brown, LB Shaun Lewis, S Daytawion Lowe, LB Alex Elkins, CB/KR Justin Gilbert
QB Brandon Weeden, WR Justin Blackmon, S Markelle Martin, DE Jamie Blatnick, C Grant Garner, RT Levy Adcock, WR Josh Cooper, WR Michael Harrison
2011 statistical leaders (*returners)
Rushing: Joseph Randle* (1,216 yards)
Passing: Brandon Weeden (4,727 yards)
Receiving: Justin Blackmon (1,522 yards)
Tackles: Daytawion Lowe* (97)
Sacks: Jamie Blatnick (8)
Interceptions: Justin Gilbert*, Brodrick Brown* (5)
1. Handing the reins to the youngster: I had my doubts about whether OSU would actually pull the trigger and name a starting quarterback. For the Cowboys to name 18-year-old true freshman Wes Lunt is a big move, and proof of the staff's confidence that the Illinois native is the best man for the job. The summer will be about him establishing himself as the team's leader, but seeing how he handles the fall will be fascinating.
2. Rebooting the offensive line: You could say OSU must replace four starters on the offensive line, but sixth-year senior Jonathan Rush has plenty of experience while he returns from a knee injury, and Lane Taylor returns, too. Michael Bowie was a starter-quality contributor last year, and Parker Graham earned rave reviews for his work in the second unit last year, moving into a starter role for the final five games. Evan Epstein is the man at center, but replacing Grant Garner won't be easy. This is a unit hardly devoid of experience.
3. Emerging stars at receiver: OSU knew Justin Blackmon and Josh Cooper would be gone this year, but Michael Harrison's exit from the team was a surprise. OSU needed talents to emerge in the spring, and they did. Josh Stewart was a big standout, as was juco newcomer Blake Jackson, in the mold of former Sooners star Jermaine Gresham. Charlie Moore exploded for 243 receiving yards and three touchdowns in the spring game.
1. How far can Lunt take the Cowboys? Oklahoma State will carry the banner of defending Big 12 champs for the first time in school history next fall. They'll do so with a wide-eyed true freshman making his way through plenty of unfamiliar territory and playing plenty of new faces for the first time. His ceiling is high, but Oklahoma State will start in the top 25 and is good enough to be a factor in the Big 12 title race. How far will Lunt carry them?
2. Who's filling in for Markelle Martin? Martin was the leader of the defense in 2011, but defensive coordinator Bill Young says replacing him will be done by committee. Lavocheya Cooper, Zack Craig and Shamiel Gary will be in the mix, but how will that rotation work out in the fall?
3. Can the defense carry more of the load? OSU forced 44 turnovers last season, the most of any team in college football. It also finished 107th nationally in total defense. The Cowboys won't have the same awe-inspiring offense in 2011, but the defense returns a lot of experience and a lot of talent. Defensive ends Jamie Blatnick and Richetti Jones leave holes in the pass rush. The defense should be better, but it has to be. The margin for error will be much smaller.
You can see the full chart here.
A few thoughts:
- Gundy made it official on the depth chart: It's a three-man race for the QB job, and right now, junior Clint Chelf doesn't have the advantage. Chelf and freshmen J.W. Walsh and Wes Lunt will compete for the job in the spring and are all separated by an "or" on the chart.
- Junior college All-America tight end Blake Jackson just signed with OSU and has already earned a bit of pre-spring hype, and he'll enter the spring as a starter. Not at tight end, though. He's starting opposite Josh Stewart at inside receiver. That's an interesting selection. Not many 6-foot-3, 238-pound inside receivers in the Big 12. Jackson was listed at 220 when he signed, too. Looks like he's packed on a lot of muscle.
- Grant Garner leaves a huge hole in the middle of OSU's offense at center, but Evan Epstein will start the spring as his replacement. Parker Graham played a lot in 2011, but he'll replace Levy Adcock at right tackle after playing left tackle last year. Senior Michael Bowie will move to left tackle after playing a reserve role in 2011.
- Cooper Bassett and Ryan Robinson slide up, as expected, to replace OSU's pair of departed defensive ends, but those jobs aren't settled. Nigel Nicholas and Tyler Johnson are newcomers to the position. Nicholas played DT last year and Johnson was a linebacker. Nicholas is a co-starter with Bassett and Johnson is No. 2 behind Robinson.
- Lavocheya Cooper gets the first crack at replacing Markelle Martin at safety, but he's probably going to have a battle on his hands with Zack Craig for that spot. Cooper missed time with an injury last year, and Craig was the top reserve at the position.
- Sad to see Michael Harrison not on the depth chart. A personal issue prompted the NCAA suspension and his decision to leave the team, but I hate to see potential go unfulfilled. Harrison had a whole lot, and he was my pick to be the next big-time receiver in the program.
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