OSU football: Why the Cowboys are more disciplined this season but still not disciplined enough
STILLWATER — Oklahoma State has a practice uniform for everyone not in football gear.
Players wear their jerseys and pads, of course, but pretty much everyone else wears a shirt with the words "WIN WITH DISCIPLINE" emblazoned across the front. The mantra has been pushed and preached by Mike Gundy after the Cowboy coach realized neither he nor his team was disciplined enough a year ago.
So, have the Cowboys gotten the message?
Have they been disciplined enough this year?
"Enough?" safety Kolby Harvell-Peel said. "I mean, we've got two losses, so I guess you couldn't say enough."
The Cowboys are improved in the discipline department. No doubt about that. But on the day Baylor comes to town, OSU will have to step it up even more. The Bears are undefeated for lots of reasons, including being disciplined. Not a lot of penalties. Not a bunch of turnovers.
That hasn't necessarily been the case with these Cowboys.
Gundy points to three main areas when looking at discipline — penalties, coverage and turnovers.
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Last year's bunch was flagged 39 times during the regular season for 15-yard or potential 15-yard penalties. That pushed the team's total penalty yardage to 841, a regular-season high for one of Gundy's teams.
"The penalties that frustrated me last year were unsportsmanlikes," Gundy said. "Late hits out of bounds. Facemask."
Gundy knows a defensive back might get called for pass interference because he's a little too physical or a linebacker might be whistled for roughing the passer because he gets to the quarterback a smidge late. He doesn't like those, but he understands them.
The unforced errors, though, had to stop.
"Up to this point, we have eliminated non-combative 15-yard penalties," Gundy said earlier this week. "That's the discipline."
OSU had an extremely inexperienced secondary last season, especially among the safeties. It led to busted coverages and wide open receivers.
This season has been much improved. Not perfect, mind you. Mistakes at Texas, for example, led to a wide-open receiver and an easy Longhorn touchdown in a game decided by six points.
"But for most of the season, we've been pretty good," Gundy said. "We're making some strides."
Here's the fly in the discipline ointment. The Cowboys have turned the ball over 13 times already this season, and the problem is getting worse instead of better. Nine turnovers the past three games. Five alone at Texas Tech.
By comparison, Baylor has six turnovers total this season.
Harsh as it might seem, Spencer Sanders has been a turnover machine. Those nine turnovers in three games? They all go on Sanders' stat line, seven interceptions and two fumbles.
"We can't lose the turnover battle and expect to be successful," Gundy said.
Midway through the season, the Cowboys are minus-7 in turnover margin, committing 13 and forcing six. Only five teams in college football have a worse turnover margin than OSU — Colorado State, Akron, New Mexico, Hawaii and New Mexico State.
Those teams' combined record: 8-24.
With a turnover margin this bad, OSU's record should probably be worse than 4-2.
The truth is, this might actually be a really good football team. Look at that Texas Tech game. Even with five turnovers, OSU only lost the game by 10 points. The Cowboys gave the Red Raiders five extra possessions and were still within striking distance.
Bad or even average teams wouldn't have been that close.
OSU isn't bad, but we won't know how good it is until it cuts down the turnovers.
And that brings us back to discipline. Decisions have to be smart; don't throw into tight coverage where it might get picked. Choices have to be sound; don't carry the ball away from your body where a defender could strip it.
Turnovers will happen — sometimes you make a good play but a defender makes a better one — but better discipline will reduce the turnovers.
Might just increase the wins, too.
Jenni Carlson: Jenni can be reached at 405-475-4125 or email@example.com. Like her at facebook.com/JenniCarlsonOK or follow her at twitter.com/jennicarlson_ok.