Cowboys hope to erase run game struggles

The words of Mike Gundy left no doubt where he stands when the subject of Oklahoma State's running game is broached.

"We are a very average football team, I think everybody is aware of that," the Cowboys head coach said. "We have to establish a running game on offense."

When it hosts Texas Tech on Sept. 25, OSU will enter Big 12 conference play averaging 4.2 yards per carry, which ranks seventh in the conference. It's unusual territory for the Cowboys, who averaged 4.9 yards per carry --ranking second in the Big 12 behind Baylor (5.1) -- and 181.3 rushing yards per game during the previous five seasons.

Gundy was particularly unhappy with the Cowboys' running game after OSU's win against Texas-San Antonio last weekend as he knows his team will have to establish a more balanced offensive attack if they hope to insert themselves in the Big 12 title race again this season. The Pokes had 49 carries for 162 yards (a 3.3 yards per carry average) against UTSA.

"Our offense relies on the run and throw," Gundy said after OSU's 43-13 win against UTSA. "We're very balanced, and if we're not effective in one area, we have to manufacture a way to be effective in the other."

The Pokes' offensive line was solid in the season-opening loss to Florida State but hasn't built upon that performance, taking a step backward in wins against Missouri State and UTSA to finish their non-conference campaign.

"We just didn't block anybody," Gundy said. "We didn't move anybody out there. I'm sure there is a contributing factor, which is the youth. We're going to have to move people out of there if we're going to play in this league because we aren't going to be able to protect and throw the ball down the field every game. We have to get better up front."

The ups and downs along the offensive front aren't unexpected for OSU. The Cowboys have 47 career starts among its five starting offensive linemen including 11 combined starts among sophomore center Paul Lewis, sophomore right guard Zac Veatch and redshirt freshman right tackle Zachary Crabtree. The inexperience is one reason OSU ranks ninth in the Big 12 and No. 77 among FBS schools with 23.8 percent of its rushes resulting in zero or negative yardage.

The weekly progress of the offensive line will be a glimpse at the impact of new offensive line coach Bob Connelly, who took over for long-time offensive line coach Joe Wickline after Wickline left for Texas after last season.

Yet, it's not all doom and gloom for OSU's running game which still finds itself among the Big 12's leaders in multiple categories. The Cowboys rank third in rushing yards (529), second in rushes of 10 yards or more (21) and are one of four Big 12 teams with at least 300 rushing yards before contact this season.

"We just have to get better each week," Gundy said. "They've got three games under their belts and there's some youth there so we just have to bring them along. We have to improve them."