Oklahoma State Cowboys

OSU football: Grading the Cowboys first half of the season

OSU football: Grading the Cowboys first half of the season

Oklahoma State place kicker Matt Ammendola (49) is congratulated by teammates including long snapper Sam Walkingstick (63) following a field goal in the first half of an NCAA college football game against Kansas State in Manhattan, Kan., Saturday, Oct. 13, 2018. (AP Photo/Orlin Wagner)

STILLWATER – Oklahoma State’s season has been everything but smooth through its first seven games.

With different issues arising every game while some are persistent, the Cowboys (4-3 overall, 1-3 Big 12) have been unable to garner momentum and are on the cusp of missing out on a bowl game for the first time since 2005.

Here’s a report card on all things OSU after the first half of the season.

Quarterback: C+

Taylor Cornelius hasn’t been bad, but he hasn’t been at the level OSU’s offense needs him to be.

He has completed 59 percent of his passes for 2,014 yards while tossing 16 touchdowns, though Cornelius has thrown eight interceptions.

OSU’s offense is best with a quarterback who can throw the deep ball, not turn it over and make plays occasionally using his legs. Cornelius has done the latter, but his inability to find consistency throwing deep and his turnover issues are a problem.

Cornelius hasn’t been the biggest issue, though. His turnovers have been the biggest problem, but he isn’t the sole reason for OSU’s three losses.

Running backs: B+

There’s not a lot to say about the Cowboys’ stable of running backs.

Justice Hill is the lead, rushing for 684 yards and seven touchdowns through the first seven games. J.D. King is second on the team with 33 carries while redshirt freshman Chuba Hubbard is not far behind.

Although the running backs have been strong, their inability to get into a groove during the game has been because of the offensive line.

Wide receivers: B-

A group that last season was OSU’s strongest hasn’t been as impactful this season.

Sophomore Tylan Wallace has emerged as the next start Cowboy wideout. He has 40 catches for 718 yards and four touchdowns, clearly emerging as Cornelius’ favorite target.

Tyron Johnson has 20 catches for 399 yards, both numbers that are below where I thought they would be. Johnson’s ability to make big plays has been showcased this season, but his speed hasn’t been put on display yet.

Landon Wolf has stepped into Jalen McCleskey’s role and performed well, catching 16 passes for 220 yards and two scores. But again, the lack of production isn’t on the receivers. There have been some drops, but they can’t control when they get the ball.

Offensive line: D-

The only thing keeping this group from an F is they have played well at times, showing they’re not as lackluster as the on-field product shows most of the time.

Run blocking has been suspect while pass blocking was nonexistent against certain teams, like Iowa State. The Cyclones came in with six total sacks. They got to Cornelius seven times.

The offensive line has been plowing holes, just for defenders to come through instead of running backs to run through. Hill has been forced to run east and west more than north and south (or vice versa at BPS).

OSU’s biggest issue ahead of its matchup with Texas at 7 p.m. Oct. 27 is the five men up front. If the offensive line doesn’t find its niche, OSU’s offensive will continue to struggle.

Defensive line: B

Up until the Kansas State game, this group was the bright spot on OSU’s defense.

Although it didn’t perform poorly against K-State, the defensive line has terrorized opposing offenses this season. The Cowboys have 30 sacks after seven games, which is as many as they had all of last season.

Jordan Brailford is fourth in the country with eight total sacks. He didn’t record one against the Wildcats, but the three people in front of him have 8.5 this season.

OSU’s defense will rely on its front seven to continue sacking the quarterback in the second half of the season.

Linebackers: B-

Although not stellar, the linebackers have been solid.

Justin Phillips and Calvin Bundage lead the team in tackles, and Devin Harper has played key snaps in each game. Phillips has been a disruptor in the run game while Bundage is continuing to make plays off the edge in the passing game.

There are only two linebackers on the field for most snaps in defensive coordinator Jim Knowles’ 4-2-5 scheme, but they have held their own to this point.

Defensive backs: C

Easily the youngest and most tested group, OSU’s defensive backs have had another disappointing first half of the season.

Corners A.J. Green and Rodarius Williams have had their moments, but they still struggle on deep passing situations. They have been effective on short passes, yet somehow OSU continues to struggle defending deep passes with man-to-man coverage.

Safeties are the youngest group for OSU, as two true freshmen, Kolby Peel and Jarrick Bernard, have played in every game and started a couple.

They’ve had their moments with interceptions and big hits, but they’re on the wrong side of some highlight reels.

The secondary is the defensive unit that needs to improve the most, but with it group gaining experience each game, it should help against the pass-happy offenses OSU faces down the stretch.

Special teams: B-

Matt Ammendola has been special.  So has Jake McClure on kickoffs. The punters have had their struggles.

Ammendola has made 11-of-12 field goals this season with a long of 48. He is 33-of-34 on PATs. He has been OSU’s best player on special teams.

McClure has been stellar on kickoffs. OSU has lacked someone who can constantly kick out of the end zone for touchbacks until McClure. 35 of his 54 kickoffs has been for touchbacks, often helping OSU’s field position.

Zach Sinor and Matt Hockett haven’t been the strongest punting the ball. There have also been botched snaps and weird plays, but for a unit, special teams has been one of the stronger points for OSU this season.

Penalties: F

Penalties have repeatedly gashed OSU’s chances at winning close games or finding momentum in blowouts.

OSU has had at least seven penalties in all but the Boise State game, where it had four. OSU’s offense is constantly playing from behind the chains and its defense gives up chunks of yardage on silly penalties.

Most of them come down to being sound, but if OSU can’t fix the penalty issues, it’s going to struggle to find wins in the back half of the season.

Oklahoma State Cowboys

Cameron Jourdan has covered Oklahoma State athletics since January 2017. He has written for The Oklahoman, The Tuscaloosa News and the Stillwater News Press, among others. Follow Cameron on Twitter: @Cam_Jourdan

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