OSU football: The good, the bad and the ugly of the first half of the Cowboys' season
STILLWATER — Oklahoma State reached the midway point of its 10-game regular season with last Saturday’s 41-34 overtime loss to Texas.
The first five games were a rollercoaster, mostly because of injuries, though the Texas loss added an unexpected dip in the ride.
Let’s take a look at some of the good and bad of the first half of the OSU season:
Most pleasant surprise: Safeties. The defense came into the season with only one new starter in junior safety Tanner McCalister. He has been a source of big plays on multiple occasions with three pass breakups, and fellow safety Tre Sterling has emerged as the team’s leading tackler through five games with 37. Five of those have been for lost yardage, tied for the team lead. Kolby Harvell-Peel has remained one of the most dangerous defenders in the Big 12, already with 15 tackles and two of the Cowboys’ three interceptions.
Most impressive newcomer: Offensive lineman Josh Sills. On a team with so few newcomers playing major roles, this category came down to a pair of offensive linemen, Sills and redshirt freshman left tackle Jake Springfield. Springfield suffered an injury against Texas, which was unfortunate, but at the same time, it highlighted Sills’ value. The 6-foot-6, 326-pound Sills has played three positions on the offensive line, and likely will be the starting left tackle when the Cowboys take on Kansas State on Saturday if Springfield can’t return.
Most improved player: Cornerback Rodarius Williams. He was thrown at often last season with current Cleveland Browns cornerback A.J. Green on the other side, but this season has been a total flip. Williams’ receiver has been targeted 15 times and he has allowed just five receptions for 38 yards all season. Pro Football Focus currently grades Williams as the No. 11 cornerback in college football.
Biggest concern (positional group): The health of the offensive line is by far the most concerning factor for this team, because it plays into so much of what the offense does. The run game has been grinding this season, and that slows down the play-action, and run-pass option plays that the Cowboys like to live off of. Three starters have been lost to injury so far, and it’s unknown when any of the three — Springfield, Hunter Anthony or Cole Birmingham — will return.
Biggest concern (other): Quarterback Spencer Sanders’ turnover issues. Coach Mike Gundy says the three turnovers against Texas were not as concerning as the turnover issues Sanders battled through in his redshirt freshman season of a year ago. It’s up to Sanders to prove that’s true, and that he isn’t going to be a turnover liability going forward.
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Goal status: Mostly intact. The Cowboys probably needed an undefeated season to get to the College Football Playoff, but winning out — including the Big 12 title game — might get them back in the mix, though they’ll need some help. The race for the conference title game is a jumbled mess, but OSU controls its own destiny, starting with Saturday’s game at Kansas State. Win out and the Pokes will play for a Big 12 title on Dec. 19 in Arlington, Texas.