September 1, 2013
STILLWATER — Mike Yurcich walked silently with a group of Oklahoma State staff members on the way to the elevator to the coaches box Saturday afternoon, continuing to look straight ahead rather than acknowledge a familiar face that passed by.
Yurcich was heading upstairs to begin what could ultimately be characterized as an uneven debut as the Cowboys' new offensive coordinator in a 21-3 OSU victory. It was a first game that featured plenty of outside heat as OSU staggered through much of the first half. It included a quarterback switch, rather than an expected two-quarterback system, and a heavy dose of run game.
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The overall set of play calls often resembled the Larry Fedora/Zac Robinson style, rather than the Air Raid attack that had turned the Cowboys into one of the most explosive offenses in the nation the past three seasons.
Which leaves this question — now what's the identity of the 2013 OSU offense?
Mike Gundy isn't even completely sure.
“I think it's too early,” the Cowboy coach said. “I'm not sure that we're in position to really say that we've created any identity yet. We had too many mistakes, we had too many penalties, we weren't able to make as many big plays as what we have over the last few years.
“It'll take a while. It may take three or four games for us to really kind of figure out what we want to do and who we are on that side of the ball.”
Saturday, Yurcich catered to the dual-threat nature of quarterback J.W. Walsh, who has seized the starting job from Clint Chelf after entering the game for the third offensive series and never departing.
The run truly opened up the pass in the second half, even with a patched up offensive line that's been struck hard by injuries in recent weeks. There weren't a lot of throws downfield. There were six screen passes thrown to running back Jeremy Smith, a guy who caught three passes all of last season and has never displayed consistently reliable hands.
Yet perhaps the best way to illustrate the OSU blueprint with the Yurcich twist is the wildly successful three-back formation — originally called the “diamond,” now called the “trey” — the Cowboys often used Saturday. That look was originally installed when Holgorsen arrived with the Air Raid, but Saturday featured a new zone read play for Walsh.
It sprung the quarterback for a 46-yard scamper that set up the Cowboys' first touchdown late in the second quarter. And that play sparked the offense overall, picking up 24 quick yards in the two-minute drill to set up a field-goal attempt before the half, then staging two more touchdown drives by the second minute of the fourth quarter.
“We came out in the second half and I think we really established ourselves with some good runs, some good play-(action) pass, some quick-game throws,” Yurcich said. “Did some really good things there that gave us some rhythm.
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“It's really important to continue to have those positive gains and to move the ball forward and to feel it start to click and I think in the third quarter we did that pretty well.”
So that's what we saw Saturday. But what will we see moving forward?
When will the Cowboys open up the passing game to utilize that stacked receiving corps? All-Big 12 receiver Josh Stewart led the Cowboys Saturday with four catches for 39 yards, yet 21 of those came on one play.
Now with the quarterback situation settled (at least for the immediate future), perhaps OSU's next two opponents — at Texas-San Antonio Saturday and against Lamar on Sept. 14 — will give the Cowboys the opportunity to sling the ball around and see what works.
And don't forget that, while Robinson was a true weapon with his legs, he threw the ball down the field plenty. He had some guy named Dez Bryant to haul it in. Walsh has Stewart and Tracy Moore and Jhajuan Seales and Marcell Ateman — and also has a noticeably improved arm.
OSU's offense Saturday might have been a flashback to the pre-Air Raid days. But that doesn't mean the 2013 Cowboy attack will be filled primarily with sideways passes and quarterback runs all season long.
Gundy's not even sure yet.