This weeks Q&A comes from Robert Whetsell of SB Nations Oklahoma State site “Cowboys Ride For Free”. This is by far the most informative and in depth one we’ve gotten back, so special thanks to the crew over there. Let’s dig in.
Whisenant: Oklahoma State seems to somewhat be forgotten in the discussions about the conference race this year despite still being in control of its destiny. How confident are you the Cowboys can win out to finish 11-1?
Whetsell: I don’t think the Cowboys are any more “forgotten” than Texas. All eyes are on Baylor. If actually forgotten, they won’t be for long with prime time afternoon and evening games against Texas and Baylor respectively over the next two weeks. Confident? How about I chuckled when I saw 11-1. If this team ends up 11-1, well, let’s just say that would be a vastly different 11-1 than 2011.
Whisenant: Clint Chelf has done well since taking the job from JW Walsh. Despite the similar statistical lines, what does Chelf bring to the table that has the team doing better?
Whetsell: Without question, the type of ball he throws. Walsh is a more accurate passer, but Chelf has a much more favorable arc on his throws, which is more advantageous on fades, shots down the field, and throws to the outside shoulder on the sidelines. His accuracy and decision making are a concern, so you’ll see OSU fans REALLY happy with 50+% completions and no interceptions. That’s a far cry from the days of Weeden.
The other thing that hasn’t been discussed a great deal, but is probably more important, is his ability to get the team into the right play call at the line of scrimmage. Gundy has alluded to it, and given his ability to obfuscate on any topic, to drop this tidbit is pretty significant in my book. Chelf is making better pre-snap reads (see Walsh audible to fade vs West Virginia).
Whisenant: The Cowboys don’t have a Dez Bryant or Justin Blackmon this year. Late in the game, touchdown needed, which receiver is going to be the go to guy?
Whetsell: Depends on where you are on the field. Plenty of room to maneuver = Josh Stewart. His leg injury (likely an ankle) is pretty worrisome for Cowboys fans, and based on what we saw (had to be helped to the locker room) and what we’ve heard, Stewart is not likely to be a factor in Austin. No need to panic, as David Glidden filled that role admirably, albeit against Kansas. Word out of fall camp was that coaches were working on packages that put Stewart and Glidden on the field at the same time because they were both equally difficult to cover in space.
If OSU is near the goal line, then the go to guys are the Moore twins…Tracy and Charlie. While both are 6-2, Tracy is the bigger body guy and Charlie plays taller. Both have deceptive speed. True freshman Marcel Ateman has shown up in the past couple of games, and at 6-4 is starting to be an outside presence.
Whisenant: OSU has one of the best offensive lines in the conference. Talk about how Joe Wickline keeps developing talent year in and year out.
Whetsell: This is OSU sideline reporter Robert Allen’s Memorial “Talk about” question (he likes to ask these of Gundy in the pressers).
Of all the things Gundy has accomplished, I think the most amazing is keeping arguably the best college offensive line coach in place for so long. He doesn’t even consider going elsewhere. It’s nuts thinking about the money that I’m sure has been offered. Hell, Texas wanted him, and he said no.
Even Wickline, though, couldn’t overcome the musical chairs OSU had to deal with through the first 4-5 games of the season, which was extremely apparent in the loss at West Virginia. Seeing the line solidify a bit over the past 3 games has been a very welcome development, and the timing couldn’t be more perfect as they are about to face a pretty decent defensive line. He is obviously a good judge of talent, and his program of moving guys around on the line has proven extremely valuable as injuries disrupt the usual routine.
Oddly enough, OSU fans have not been overwhelmingly pleased with the offensive line this year.
Whisenant: Who are the Cowboys players Texas fans need to be aware of headed into the game?
Whetsell: The aforementioned Glidden will be someone to keep and eye on, but also Ateman. OSU will need to test the Longhorn secondary, or you guys will just continue to roll up on the line. I would like to see the Cowboys get into the diamond formation more in order to force man coverage on the outside, which I think is to OSU’s advantage. Watch Chelf’s legs. He’s not the kind of QB who is looking to run, but when does it is usually for chunks of yards, and according to Gus Johnson he has more than enough speed to escape campus law enforcement. Roland will pound away as the starting RB, “but true freshman Rennie Childs has looked really special, and has almost overtaken Jeremy Smith as the backup.”
On the defensive side of the ball, Calvin Barnett and James Castleman will be a great match up for the Texas offensive line. Shaun Lewis and Caleb Lavey are easily the best linebacker tandem in the conference, and there is a reason this front seven is tough to run on. I personally think the trenches on both sides will be a place to watch as neither team is all that dynamic in the passing game. It will be interesting to see how the Cowboys set up defensively given that McCoy is not a huge threat to take off.
As far as the secondary, the obvious guy to watch will be Justin Gilbert as he will likely get matched up with Mike Davis a lot. Safety Shamiel Gary and CB Kevin Peterson have had great seasons, but both are a bit banged up. Lyndell Johnson, who converted from LB to safety, has the speed to cover sideline to sideline with the physicality of a linebacker, but has experienced some growing pains in his pass coverage. Daytowion Lowe has also had a really good season at the other safety spot opposite Gary.
Special teams would have been a bigger concern for Texas had Stewart not been injured, but Gilbert on kick returns should be enough of a concern. The kicking game has been a struggle at times, so watch Kip Smith’s punting and Ben Grogan if he gets ANY opportunities at FG attempts.
Whisenant: As I ask everyone, your thoughts on Texas Head Coach Mack Brown, and if its time for him to go.
Whetsell: If Texas runs the table then Mack is back. Texas faithful can say what they want, but going undefeated in the conference should result in another season if you have a national championship on your resume. Besides, who do you replace him with? I would be really thrown for a loop if Nick Saban even considered the idea. Maybe David Shaw from Stanford? Charlie Strong?
In my book anything else results in Brown “resigning/retiring,” and I think it is time for that to happen.
Whisenant: Brown expects the Cowboys to load the box to stop the run, making McCoy throw to win. Give us your thoughts on Case McCoy as a QB.
Whetsell: While the Longhorns have done a great job covering up for McCoy with the running game, there is no question he has made some big throws that have allowed his receivers to make plays. That’s what happens when teams have to commit to stopping the run. Both teams will be looking to make the other one dimensional without putting extra players in the mix. Big advantage to whoever manages to do that first. McCoy has yet to be forced to win the game with his arm alone, so it will be interesting to see if the Cowboys do anything extra to make that happen. The exact same can be said for the Texas game plan against the OSU offense.
Whisenant: How big of an impact has Greg Robinson had on the Texas defense from your perspective?
Whetsell: H.U.G.E They can still be had, but Jeffcoat has been a beast the past few games, and we haven’t seen big plays given up since the departure of Diaz.
Whisenant: Who are the Longhorn players you are most concerned with headed into the game?
Whetsell: Bergeron, Davis, Shipley, Jeffcoat, Diggs. Daje Johnson. Will be interesting to see if Whaley’s loss has much of an affect. I feel like Texas should be able to plug someone in and go.
But my biggest concern is with McCoy. OSU has had a history of making mediocre QB’s look like Heisman candidates in losses (see 2012 in Stillwater, 2013 in Morgantown). Glenn Spencer has done a tremendous job taking the same athletes Bill Young had, for the most part, and turning up the intensity just enough for them to be quite formidable. They are physical up front, which is what Gundy has been trying to build, so this will be a huge test. If Case can hurt them with the passing game, this could be a long night.
Whisenant: Do you feel the retirement of DeLoss Dodds is a benefit to the conference as a whole, if you have an opinion on such.
Whetsell: Hmmmmmmm…not really sure I care. He was a strong AD for Texas, and UT is the 800 pound gorilla in the room almost no matter what, but who wanted or didn’t want whom when they did or didn’t want them, or who really wanted to leave or not leave the Big 12, I’m not sure.
The bottom line for me is that the Longhorns must want to be in a strong Big 12 conference, which for me means getting back to 12 teams, and a bit of a window was missed with that opportunity. Can’t count on the schedule working out this way every year and giving the league defacto championship games/weekends. If the other schools want to get out from under the shadow of Texas, there is one way to do that….produce winning football programs.
Whisenant: Give us a score prediction.
Whetsell: As I said in our weekly podcast, I’m not confident that our offense will do the damage they need to do to keep our defense from getting pounded. I’m also using a little reverse psychology on myself…I predicted a Tech victory, and OSU won, so I’m trying that again. Longhorns prevail, 34-24.