A veteran quarterback, a beefed up running attack and an improved defense may spell success for Oklahoma State in 2016.
Last year, Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy inserted quarterback J.W. Walsh in relief of Mason Rudolph in certain situations. Walsh has graduated.
“We won’t handle Mason any different and if we have somebody on our team that can help contribute on game day, whether it would be in a package similar to what J.W. executed for us last year, some short yardage and goal line packages,” Gundy said. “Then if there is somebody out there, then we will certainly take advantage of their efforts. If not, then we develop a scheme for Mason that fits those categories. Our goal will be to establish a back-up quarterback as quickly as possible and you (sportwriters), most of you have covered college football and watched it for a long time and that’s not something that happened overnight. It takes some time. But we will do the best we can to get a young man prepared in case we need him.”
Rudolph had surgery before the Sugar Bowl and was not at full strength.
“When we finished spring ball, he was very close to being pain free,” Gundy said. “He’s a tough football player and in the bowl game he wasn’t 100 percent. But at this point I have not talked to him about it, but I would guess that he feels like he did prior to the injury, and he’s had a really good summer. He’s continued to develop mentally, he’s been very humble, understands the team concept, and he looks really good. His strength levels are the highest they’ve ever been so we’re excited about watching him play this fall.”
While Rudolph threw for almost 4,000 yards, the OSU running game was way below Cowboy standards in 2015.
“You’re being nice and saying we ‘struggled’ with the running game,” Gundy told reporters at Big 12 Media days. “We weren’t very good at all. When you look back at the last couple of years with our running game, we didn’t do a good job of covering guys up and giving our backs an opportunity to make cuts. We were making too many cuts behind the line of scrimmage.
“So we worked considerably hard in the spring and I feel like we’ve established continuity and we’ve got a group of running backs returning that are a little more fresh. They are bigger and stronger than they were last year, and I think when we put all that together we’re going to improve in the running game.”
Barry J. Sanders, son of OSU Heisman Trophy winner Barry Sanders, Sr., graduated from Stanford with one year of eligibility and has transferred to Oklahoma State. He brought with him high expectations.
“I haven’t been around Junior much,” Gundy said. “He finished up at Stanford in the middle of June. He came in and has been with us for a few weeks now. Took him a week before he could pass all of his physicals and take care of everything he needs to do before he could start working out. At that time, we were in camp and I’ve been gone some.
“So I know that he’s a college graduate. I know that he’s mature. That he’s dependable and seems to be durable. He came from a winning program and from an offense that obviously runs the football. So we’re excited about him being a part of our team. We hope that he will make a contribution that will help us be a better running football team.
“But his personality, his attitude has been really good up to this point from the people inside the program that keep me up with what’s going on. I’m excited about getting out there with him in August and seeing just what he can do for our football team.”
Gundy played with his father when Gundy was a quarterback at OSU.
“ I think we have — I know we have more continuity this year than we’ve had in the last two years and in offensive line play that helps,” Gundy said. “We have more size and strength and that’s going to help.
“I feel like we’ll cover guys up. We’re excited about Junior being here. In my opinion, his dad was the greatest running back in college football, maybe ever. So to have him in our program at this point in his career, I think, is great for Oklahoma State and Oklahoma State football.
“When he was coming out of high school he had expressed a desire to maybe go somewhere else based on maybe a small part of not wanting to follow in his dad’s footsteps and I think we can certainly understand that. At this point, he’s excited about being at Oklahoma State and we’re excited about having him on our team.”
Gundy doesn’t have a set idea about how the Big 12 should work the resumption of the Big 12 Championship game next season.
“Well, I don’t know that any of us know what direction we will go,” Gundy said. “I will say that I have a lot of faith in the Big 12 Office, our presidents and athletic directors through statistics and data have come to the conclusion that we need a championship game in ‘17. So I’m behind them 100 percent.
“I have seen a few different layouts for ways to decide who those teams would be. My only suggestion would be to make sure that the two teams that play in a championship game are the teams that have earned a right to get there and have the best records in our league.”
Gundy was reluctant to comment on the Baylor situation. Baylor fired Coach Art Briles after a report showed the athletic department was lax in handling complaints of sexual harassment.
“I think the situation at Baylor is like having a discussion with politics and religion in that there is not anything that any of us can say other than we have confidence or I have confidence in our league that we will do everything possible to try to make the best decisions possible,” Gundy said. “It hasn’t really affected us at Oklahoma State.
“We’ve had a pretty unique way of handling things in our program. We have a lot of confidence in it, and we always try to do the best we can. So I’m hoping in the long run it will work out for everybody.
“I will say this: I’m guessing the question is going to get asked. I know very little about what’s going on at Baylor, you guys know more than I do. I’m not on the inside down there and I’m not comfortable in commenting on any situation, but I will say that I thought it was a very smart move in hiring Jim Grobe. I’ve had some conversations with Coach Grobe, and I was in the ACC for a period of time and I think he’s a first-class guy. I think he’s experienced. I think he’s intelligent. He’s patient and was probably as good of a hire that they could make at that time with the situation that they had.”
Gundy took a bit of chance when he hired Mike Yurcich as offensive coordinator. Yurcich was highly successful, but at a Division II program.
“Mike has come a long ways,” Gundy said. “The reason that we brought Coach Yurcich to Oklahoma State is because we felt he was a young, upcoming, innovative coach and I had been very fortunate as a head coach to have that style of a coach with Larry Fedora and Dana Holgersen and Todd Monken – guys that are innovative and strong-willed and can make a decision. Mike’s fallen into that category.
“He’s an extremely hard worker. He’s a really, really good recruiter, and he’s turned into a very good play caller. He made some adjustments, certainly different being at Oklahoma State than where he came from. He’s been willing to make some adjustments and he’s done a really good job. You see different style of play, you know, his involvement with our J.W. Walsh package last year was maybe as good of a coaching move as we’ve had at Oklahoma State in a long time.”
Gundy signed a two-year extension to his contract this summer and looks to be the head coach at OSU for some time.
“Oklahoma State has been very good to me, and the administration with Mike Holder, our Athletic Director and Burns Hargis, our president, we’ve all been there for a long time now and we’ve developed a relationship where we can work together as a group and long-term commitment,” Gundy said. “I believe in my profession is very important and I’m at a place that I’m very happy and enjoy being around the young people, so I’m always honored and feel privileged to be able to essentially get another long-term contract at Oklahoma State.”
Can OSU win the Big 12 and compete for a national title?
“I feel good about our defense,” Gundy said. “We have depth. I was visiting with a couple guys earlier on my third, fourth, fifth, sixth, seventh, eighth, ninth years. We had been competitive across the country and won a lot of football games, but at this Media Day the conversation was our depth on the defensive line was the concern. And could we stay healthy?
“Joe Bob Clements has done a tremendous job of recruiting defensive linemen for us. We have some depth. The one area that is a concern is Emmanuel Ogbah (who was drafted in the NFL) because he was a great player for us last year, and we have young players at the defensive end position who don’t have as much experience and are hopefully six or eight games away from getting to what a Jimmy Bean level of player was.
“Jimmy Bean was a really, really good football player for us last year. Ogbah is an unfair comparison because essentially you’re talking a guy who was picked in the first round. I know he was second round first pick, but there wasn’t 32 picks. If there were 32 picks he would have been first. So we have experienced linebackers, and we have some experience in our secondary. We need to get some good corner play with the style of quarterbacks that we face in this league. We’re in a turnover year, again, where the quarterback play is going to be so good in this league that if you turn the ball over a couple times, you may end up scoring 31 points and lose the game. The other team may score 40 and that’s what can happen in this league. So defensively we try to do the best we can to limit big plays, continue to force turnovers and put the ball back in the offense’s hands.”
OSU plays Southeastern Louisiana, Central Michigan and Pittsburgh in nonconference games. OSU plays five of their first six games at home but must play road games at Oklahoma and TCU.
“We get asked about big games and during the season they will say it’s a big game this week, and we all know in college football every week is a big game,” Gundy said. “If you don’t win one to get to the other then in the end, you’ll have a hard time making up ground. In the Big 12, I think it’s fair to say that you can go back over the last four, five years and see that you could have a good football team that went on the road at many places in this league and were supposed to win and not play as well as you should and lose. So each school in our conference has a great home venue and when you play on the road you have to be able to run the ball effectively and you have to be able to limit big plays on defense to try to control the crowd and that’s what we lean on when we play on the road.”