STILLWATER — Surely Oklahoma State offensive coordinator Mike Yurcich thinks about football a little differently with the embarrassment of riches he has at his disposal this season.
Surely Yurcich looks over what has rightly been called the best receiver corps in college football and knows opposing defenses this season will have a hard time slowing them down.
“I think you always have to try to think differently to a certain extent because every unit is different from year to year,” Yurcich said. “We’ll be different this year than we were last year. We lose significant Cowboy backs in (Blake) Jarwin and (Zac) Veatch, which changes the dynamic of personnel to some degree, a certain percentage of your snaps. So you play the hand you’re dealt and you play to your personnel’s strengths.
“So, how do we improve? How do we get more yards? How do we get more points? And how do we take care of the ball very well, as we have here for a long time? Those are the things that go through your brain.”
It’s a fair point. The tight end/fullback hybrid position was an important one for Yurcich over the last two seasons, a pivotal spot on the field that determined what kind of plays he called, where he wanted to attack, how he tried to set up defenses.
Throwing the football is more than just finding a 4 x 100 relay team and chucking it deep on every down.
And yet, just glance at OSU’s receiver group.
James Washington leads all active players in the Football Bowl Subdivision with 28 touchdown catches and 2,923 yards. He had six 100-yard games last season, including 296 against Pitt and 171 in the bowl game against Colorado, and finished with 71 catches for 1,380 yards and 10 TDs.
Jalen McCleskey isn’t the deep threat Washington is (who is?), but led the Cowboys with 73 catches last season and was second on the team with 812 yards and seven touchdowns.
Chris Lacy is back after catching 31 passes for 489 yards and three scores, and at 6-foot-3 is a tall, athletic wideout.
Then add Marcell Ateman, a 6-4, 220-pound target who caught 45 passes for 768 yards and five TDs in 2015 and is back from a foot injury that cost him all of 2016.
LSU transfer Tyron Johnson hasn’t caught a pass in Stillwater yet, but he’s a former 5-star recruit who started his career at LSU and coaches and players say he’s been very good in practice.
“A lot of talent,” Yurcich said, “and a lot of unselfish players coupled with that, which is unique about the guys that are coming back. Not only are they talented, but you look at how many guys have four years playing experience. McCleskey will be one of those, but he’s not a senior. So you’ve got Lacy, who’s played since he was a freshman. So did Ateman and so did James. It’s significant.”
Washington could be an All-American. But Yurcich said there’s not necessarily a push to get the football to him — or to anyone else.
“That’s the luxury of coaching in this program,” Yurcich said. “Our players understand that, ‘Hey, he might get 10 touches this game and I might only get two.’ The defense may double-team 28. I don’t know that. They may say, ‘You know what? We’re gonna play a corner pressed inside and we’re gonna play a safety over the top and force you to run the ball or throw to the other guys.’ And our players recognize that.
“We always want to get balance, and we want to spread the ball. We want everybody to get touches. But the reality is we have to make sure we recognize defense and what they’re taking away and be balanced — not in run-pass ratio, not in touches, but just make sure we’re recognizing the defense and we’re going the other way with it.”
Columnist John E. Hoover is co-host of “Further Review with Hoover & Rew” and can be heard every weekday on The Franchise in Tulsa from noon to 3 p.m. with co-host Lauren Rew. In Oklahoma City, catch him Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday mornings at 10:25 and every Friday afternoon at 4:05. Listen at fm107.7 in OKC, fm107.9/am1270 in Tulsa, on The Franchise app, or click the “Listen” tab on The Franchise home page. Visit his personal page at johnehoover.com.