Oklahoma State football will kick off its spring finale in two weeks with many question marks looming over the 2022 version of the Cowboys.
The Cowboys return much of last year’s squad that finished ranked at No. 7 in the country and concluded with a Fiesta Bowl win over fifth-ranked Notre Dame. They have also lost vital pieces in the form of players and personnel, including defensive coordinator Jim Knowles and both leading tacklers on the year, Malcolm Rodriguez and Devin Harper.
With these changes in mind and spring ball ramping up, I have a couple of questions heading into OSU’s spring game on April 23 that I hope to see answered.
What Does Derek Mason’s Defense Look Like?
Former Auburn defensive coordinator Derek Mason stepped in to fill the hole left by Jim Knowles after the latter took the same position at Ohio State. The question will be if Mason can come close to replicating the Cowboys’ defensive success from a season ago, or if we’ll see some growing pains.
Mike Gundy harped on this in interviews, revealing that Mason would be somewhat adopting Knowles’ schemes with some of his own ideas sprinkled in.
“He’s gonna put his twist on it that makes it comfortable for him to call plays on gameday,” Gundy said. “Then he’ll adjust with our staff. I see them working very well together… it’s gonna be very similar to what we had.”
We obviously won’t get a full picture of Mason’s defense in the spring game, but looking to see how substitutions are made and how physical guys are will be an early indication of Mason’s influence within the unit.
Who Stands Out at Running Back?
With Jaylen Warren, LD Brown, and Dezmon Jackson all moving on from Stillwater, fans at the spring game in Boone Pickens Stadium will be keying in on the guys in the backfield, experienced or otherwise.
Junior Dominic Richardson is the early favorite to get the start this season. As the only back on the roster with more than 15 career rushing attempts, Richardson will be looked at to carry the load left behind by the three aforementioned backs, something that coach Gundy alluded to.
“He’ll have his hands full in the first game and he’s got to be ready to go,” Gundy said. “He very well could carry it 18-20 times in the first game.”
Other guys who will be vying for snaps are redshirt freshman Jaden Nixon and true freshmen Ollie Gordon and CJ Brown, both of whom have reportedly impressed thus far in spring practice.
Does the Offensive Line Show Improvement?
It’s no secret that Oklahoma State left a lot to be desired in regards to the offensive line play last year. Injuries and lack of depth forced coach Charlie Dickey to again play musical chairs with his starting unit for a second consecutive season.
Luckily, thanks to returning talent as well as the transfer portal, OSU seems to be looking up in the offensive line department. The Cowboys lose Josh Sills and Danny Godlevske from last year’s starting five to graduation, with rotational guys like Tyrese Williams and Hunter Anthony opting to transfer.
Dickey struck gold in the transfer portal himself, landing three guys in the span of three days, all of whom went on their visit to Stillwater together.
Casey Collier from USC and Jason “Queso” Brooks from Vanderbilt were the first pieces of the puzzle to commit. Collier is a 6-foot-7, 300-pound tackle who will be a redshirt sophomore with four years of eligibility, while Brooks clocks in at 6-foot-4, 295 pounds with three years of eligibility.
Prince Pines out of Sam Houston was the final ball to drop for coach Dickey. Formerly from Baylor, Pines is a 6-foot-5, 340-pound tackle who was an FCS All-American last season for the Bearkats.
Unfortunately, none of these new guys will be in Stillwater until the summer, so we won’t get to see them play in the spring finale. However, I’m hopeful for what we’ll see from the existing line unit.
Will We See Early-Season Offense or Notre Dame Offense?
One thing I will be very critical of when I attend the Pokes’ spring game is how the offense is run. We saw clear as day in the Fiesta Bowl that Spencer Sanders and the Cowboys’ offense is leaps and bounds better when they run a high-tempo offense, rather than the slow, pick-you-apart offense Kasey Dunn wanted so badly to perfect.
Sanders had his best game of the season by far with a 371-yard, four-touchdown performance in a game that saw OSU go away from the methodical offense they have tried to run for multiple seasons now. It’s an offense that tries to turn Sanders into a pocket passing quarterback, something he just isn’t and something the Cowboys haven’t had the offensive line for.
I know it’s just the spring game and the Cowboys’ offense probably won’t be finalized yet, but if I see the respective offenses run the same slow-paced scheme that hasn’t worked for three years now, you may see me outside Boone Pickens Stadium with a torch and pitchfork in hand.
Who Backs Up Spencer?
Sanders is the clear starter for his senior season, but with both Shane Illingworth and Ethan Bullock opting to transfer elsewhere this offseason, the backup quarterback spot is ultimately up in the air this spring.
Behind Spencer, OSU returns zero meaningful snaps for the rest of its QB room. Redshirt freshman Gunnar Gundy is the only other QB with game action under his belt after some garbage time snaps in a blowout of TCU in 2021. The coach’s son threw for over 3,400 yards and 47 touchdowns his senior season at Stillwater High School, where he then walked on at OSU.
The only other options are redshirt junior Peyton Thompson and true freshman Garret Rangel, neither of whom have seen any college football action. We won’t know for sure who the backup is based on the spring game, but it will be nice to get an idea of who it might be based on their performances.