After a solid but disappointing 8-4 record for Oklahoma State in 2020, many wonder how an offense that loses Chuba Hubbard, Tylan Wallace and Dillon Stoner carries the momentum of a Cheez-It Bowl victory over Miami into 2021. The Cowboys’ offense left much to be desired a season ago, but second-year offensive coordinator Kasey Dunn will look to further establish his offense after years as the wide receivers coach. I have compiled a few things that I believe will define the success of Oklahoma State’s offense this season. Things that will be the difference between another mid-tier season and a highly competitive 2021 that sees OSU competing for the Big 12.
1. Will It Finally “Click” For Spencer Sanders?
Quarterback Spencer Sanders’ play over his two full seasons as a starter for the Pokes has been spotty, which hasn’t been entirely his fault in my opinion. A restrictive playbook and O-Line woes have plagued his college career thus far, but it’s no secret that Sanders has had a problem with consistency. Over two seasons, he has 30 passing touchdowns to 19 interceptions, with his 11 interceptions in 2019 leading the Big 12. He also has a tendency to try to do too much with the ball while under pressure when throwing the ball away or even taking a sack would better suffice. Instead, he tries to make a miracle play and ends up forcing balls into tight windows, leading to picks. If Sanders can stomp out the consistency issues and do what made him the Texas Gatorade Player of the Year at Denton Ryan High School, I think the Cowboys will have considerable success this season.
2. Steady Offensive Line Group
It was evident to anyone that followed the Pokes last season that the offensive line was a major weakness throughout the year. The Cowboys finished seventh in the Big 12 in average yards per rush and 80th in the country for sacks given up. A couple of transfers and an early retirement right before the start of the season threw a wrench in the O-Line rotation and coach Charlie Dickey just could never recover. Thanks to the reasons I listed as well as injuries seemingly every week, we witnessed a musical chairs style of line that changed from game to game, making it impossible to establish a consistent group. Left guard Josh Sills was moved to right tackle midway through the season, then was switched to left tackle the last four games. Right tackle Teven Jenkins got injured at Bedlam and missed the rest of the season. Just an unfortunate set of circumstances that no one could have seen coming. OSU returns all their starters on the O-Line except Jenkins, so I have confidence that, barring injuries, the Cowboys will be better on the offensive line in 2021.
3. Play calling, play calling, play calling
My No. 1 complaint a year ago, Oklahoma State had just some of the most baffling play calling throughout the entire season that I’ve ever seen from a Mike Gundy team. OSU relied on go routes, wide receiver screens and sideline comeback routes in terms of passing, with most of those going to Tylan Wallace, who is off to Baltimore. With him gone, you now have no one to bail you out when you’ve run your millionth contested go route, so better route combinations must be introduced. In the run game, Kasey Dunn liked to run these stretch plays that brought the entire defense to where the running back was trying to go. I don’t think it ever resulted in more than three yards and usually ended up behind the line of scrimmage. If Dunn wants to have more success in his second year as play caller, he’ll have to spice up his playbook, as the Cowboys became painfully predictable to opposing defenses, averaging the school’s worst points per game mark (30.8) since 2014 (27.6). Oklahoma State would have finished with a significantly better record last year had they had better play calling, and I believe that will play a huge role in the team’s success this season as well.