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OSU football: Sean Gleeson needs the green light in the red zone

Last week at Texas, offensive coordinator Sean Gleeson 
 and OSU drove inside the 10-yard line five times but scored touchdowns just twice. [Bryan Terry/The Oklahoman]
Last week at Texas, offensive coordinator Sean Gleeson and OSU drove inside the 10-yard line five times but scored touchdowns just twice. [Bryan Terry/The Oklahoman]

STILLWATER — The quarterback in orange and black took the shotgun snap, and with his offensive line surging left, he stuck the ball in the gut of his running back.

As the defense went left, the quarterback held onto the ball and rolled right on a naked bootleg. As the defense changed course, he looked back to the left where that same running back was streaking down the sideline. Defenders were flat footed, and the quarterback lofted the ball to his wide-open target in the end zone.

What a nifty play by Princeton, masterminded by Sean Gleeson.

Such information may cause heartburn for Oklahoma State fans. A week ago in a one-score loss at Texas, the Cowboys were inside the 10-yard line five times but scored touchdowns just twice. They threw no passes on any of those plays inside the 10.

They were unsuccessful and unimaginative.

So, as OSU prepares for another test against hard-nosed, no-nonsense Kansas State, how do you square what happened against the Longhorns and what Gleeson has done before?

That stretch-read, naked-boot, throwback touchdown is just one example of the red-zone ingenuity from his Princeton days. Creativity near the end zone became one of Gleeson’s biggest calling cards.

Did he forget his bag of tricks in New Jersey?


It’s possible his first season in bigger spotlight has given Gleeson a bit of stage fright, but he doesn’t seem like a guy who lacks gumption. That we didn’t see any of his uber-creative red-zone plays against Texas, even when OSU was desperate, has led to speculation Mike Gundy is calling the plays in the red zone.

Earlier this week, I asked the Cowboy coach about his involvement with the offense during games, and it sure didn’t sound like he took over.

“Every once in a while, I’ll say, ‘You know, we might think about this’ or ‘You know, every time we’d done this, we’re plus,’” Gundy said. “I’ll throw stuff out. Sometimes they take it. Sometimes they don’t.”

Now, we all know Gundy fibs. So, it’s entirely possible Gleeson’s headset goes dead when the Cowboys get inside the 20 and Gundy takes over the play calling.

But it’s way more likely Gundy’s powers of suggestion take over.

After the game in Austin, Gleeson told reporters Gundy “was pretty clear over the headset that we could still run the ball” because of the way the Texas defense was aligned and the talent the Cowboys had in Chuba Hubbard. But time and again, the running lanes just weren’t there.

Gleeson saw it.

“I had a good vantage point from the booth after watching a few of the replays – we’re getting knocked back a little bit,” said the man who still kept calling running plays.

Gundy says he makes it clear when he shares opinions he isn’t doing so as some dictatorial head coach.

“You can use it if you want. If you don’t, you can throw it in the trash can,” he will tell his offensive coaches. “I just want to at least give you my information after 30 years of coaching offensive football.”

But it can be difficult to trash suggestions and ignore opinions when they come from the boss.

Maybe Gleeson will do that more often the longer he’s in Stillwater; Gundy says that's what Mike Yurcich did. Maybe Gleeson will be more comfortable as time goes on returning to the red-zone razzle-dazzle that has been so successful throughout his career.

But maybe Gundy should encourage it, too.

When he was OSU’s offensive coordinator, he would get perturbed when he thought Les Miles, then the Cowboy head coach, was holding him back. Gundy, for instance, ran off the field after a Bedlam romp in 2002 mostly giddy but partly glum; he told our reporter in passing that he "had eight more plays I knew would work and Les wouldn't let me run them."

Gundy might not think he’s holding back Gleeson, but calling plays in the red zone last week that go so against type is a sign he doesn’t feel comfortable.

His calls used to be technicolor. Last week, they were gray and dreary.

Give Gleeson the green light in the red zone.

Jenni Carlson: Jenni can be reached at 405-475-4125 or Like her at or follow her at

Jenni Carlson

Jenni Carlson, a sports columnist at The Oklahoman since 1999, came by her love of sports honestly. She grew up in a sports-loving family in Kansas. Her dad coached baseball and did color commentary on the radio for the high school football... Read more ›