STILLWATER – Mike Gundy’s teams generally perform well after a loss.
Since Gundy became the head coach of the Oklahoma State football team, he has directed his squads to a 31-17 record after losing a game. The last two seasons, the Cowboys are undefeated (6-0) after suffering losses.
When OSU (3-1 overall, 0-1 Big 12) travels to Lawrence, Kansas, to battle with the Jayhawks at 11 a.m. Saturday, Gundy and Co. will try to continue the positive trend.
“It’s back to work,” wide receiver Tyron Johnson said. “We don’t plan on losing games. It’s just how it goes; we win some, we lose some.”
Kansas (2-2, 0-1) presents the first road challenge OSU has faced this season. Although the Jayhawks have been down the past few seasons, true freshman running back Pooka Williams Jr. is giving fans a reason to believe.
Williams Jr. has rushed for 377 yards and three touchdowns in three games this season. He missed the season opener against Nicholls State, but his 125.6 yards per game average leads the Big 12. He has been a different maker for a Jayhawk offense that has otherwise struggled to maintain momentum throughout a game.
Here are three things to watch for on Saturday:
Can the defense bounce back?
Although Texas Tech is known for its prolific passing attacks, the Red Raiders gushed the Cowboys’ defense on the ground, racking up 224 yards. That total is two yards more than OSU gave up in its first three games combined.
Junior linebacker Calvin Bundage being hurt doesn’t help the defense’s cause. His status is unknown heading into Saturday’s contest, but the defense as a whole needs to find a way to contain one of the best running backs it will face this season. If not, game two of Big 12 play for Jim Knowles could present more challenges.
The defense will face adversity against the Kansas attack. How it responds, and whether that response comes early, could be a big factor.
Where art thou, offensive line?
Before the season, Gundy praised the depth he had on his offensive line.
Through four games, the Cowboys are scrambling to find the five guys who can effectively block for an entire series.
The play of the offensive line has been lackluster this season, and it is a big reason an average Texas Tech defense hampered OSU’s offense. Although Taylor Cornelius didn’t have a great game himself, he rarely had time to set his feet in the pocket before Texas Tech’s defensive line was breathing down his neck.
Along with some poor snaps from center Johnny Wilson, the Cowboys are having major troubles up front. Gundy said in his weekly news conference Monday they’re working every day to improve the play of the front five. Saturday’s contest could be a big sign to show whether there will be season-long issues or if they can play with some cohesion.
Taking care of business
The Cowboys are better than the Jayhawks.
There is no reason why OSU shouldn’t go to Lawrence, play a solid game and come back to Stillwater with its first conference win. Although Jalen McCleskey, who Gundy said will redshirt and transfer, won’t play Saturday, is no longer with the team, there are plenty of targets on offense who can score and playmakers on defense who can disrupt the Jayhawks’ style of play.
Running back Justice Hill, who had only 12 carries against the Red Raiders, could see that number double against Kansas. Last season, Hill had less than 20 carries three times during conference play: once when he was injured early against West Virginia and twice during blowout home victories against Baylor and Kansas.
Hill’s electric abilities in space and shiftiness are key to the Cowboy offensive attack. It’s pivotal for Hill to get the ball more than he has because he makes plays when he gets it.
All in all, OSU should win Saturday, aside from the distractions of a conference-opening loss and departure of a senior leader. But the Cowboys can’t afford a letdown against Kansas, and it shouldn’t happen.
DETAILS TO KNOW
What: Oklahoma State (3-1, 0-1) at Kansas (2-2, 0-1)
Where: David Booth Kansas Memorial Stadium (Lawrence, Kansas)
When: 11 a.m. CT Saturday
TV: FSN (Mark Followill, Brian Baldinger and Lesley McCaslin)
Radio: 96.1 KXY, Cowboy Radio Network (Dave Hunziker, John Holcomb and Robert Allen)