OSU football coach Mike Gundy says O-line has played 'musical chairs' but hopes Bedlam brings out high notes
STILLWATER — For all the concern over the health of Chuba Hubbard and Tylan Wallace, and the ability of Spencer Sanders to take care of the ball, none of those things are the primary key to victory for Oklahoma State in Bedlam on Saturday night.
The Cowboys have to find a way to block OU’s reinvigorated defensive line.
The Sooners got Ronnie Perkins back from suspension just as the defensive front was finding itself, and Perkins instantly became the most dangerous weapon in the group.
Now, as the No. 14 Cowboys prepare to face No. 18 OU at 6:30 p.m. Saturday night on Owen Field, the Sooner defensive line is trending upward, while the Cowboy offensive line is searching for its footing.
“It’s a challenge for us,” OSU coach Mike Gundy said. “This will be our biggest test. Now that they’ve got some of those guys back, they’re competitive, they can rush the quarterback and they’ve been good against the run.”
Meanwhile, the Cowboys have been on a constant search for answers up front.
Gundy has described the situation as “musical chairs” on multiple occasions, and it’s a fair assessment. “An abundance of misfortune” would be another way to describe it.
OSU was set to return three starters this season, along with the addition of graduate transfer Josh Sills from West Virginia.
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But Dylan Galloway chose to retire from football in the summer, and Bryce Bray was dismissed and headed to Tulsa in early August.
That sent the Pokes into scramble mode before they’d ever played a game — and things didn’t get better when they played. In the first half of the season opener, Cole Birmingham and Hunter Anthony went down with serious injuries and haven’t returned.
Against Texas, Jake Springfield was lost with a leg injury that kept him out against Kansas State, and his status going forward is not known.
Star right tackle Teven Jenkins has missed short portions of games with injuries, and center Ry Schneider has been sidelined for a couple of stints as well.
Only Sills — who has played three positions on the line — has been in for every meaningful snap this season. And while he was dominant at his natural position of left guard, he struggled at times playing left tackle against Kansas State pass rusher Wyatt Hubert. OU’s Perkins and Isaiah Thomas are an even tougher assignment.
The Cowboys need to run the ball effectively, because that sets up so many other things in their offense, from play-action passing to the quarterback run game in the zone-read option. When the run game was stagnant at Kansas State, so was the offense as a whole.
But in the second half, the run game sparked the rest of the offense.
“Offensively, we have to have a really good strategy,” Gundy said. “We have to be patient in the way we want to attack, and reduce turnovers, and play as consistent as possible up front with our blocking schemes.”
Communication and cohesion are highly important factors of a good offensive line. The constant movement and replacement of players hamper those traits.
“Everybody practices every position and is expected to know every position that you could possibly play, and know the communication that is involved in that,” Schneider said. “When (new players) come in, you’ve got to believe that they’re gonna step in and do their job.
“As soon as you start worrying if they’re gonna do their job, that’s when you’re gonna start messing up.”