Oklahoma State hit rock bottom in its 28-7 loss to Texas in mid-November. The Cowboys' offense was without hope or big plays and their young defense showed its inexperience in the home loss to the Longhorns.
Three games later, the Cowboys head into the offseason with plenty of hope, along with wins in Bedlam and the TicketCity Cactus Bowl. It was a remarkable transformation after a head injury to quarterback Daxx Garman resulted in true freshman Mason Rudolph taking over the offense for the final three games.
Our Big 12 team-by-team season report cards continue Thursday with Oklahoma State.
The offense wasn’t the Cowboys offense we became accustomed to during OSU’s rise up the Big 12 standings in recent years. The Pokes finished in the bottom half of the Big 12 in nearly every offensive category and looked hopeless during a four-game stretch against TCU, Texas, West Virginia and Kansas State. OSU averaged 1.78 points per drive (No. 7 in the Big 12) and 5.43 yards per play (No. 7) as the Cowboys offense struggled for the bulk of the season, with an overmatched offensive line making it hard to have any success with Garman at quarterback. Hope came in the form of Rudolph, who helped the offense average 2.1 points per drive and 6.12 yards per play in OSU's final three games. The true freshman’s savvy, confidence and overall talent provide plenty of hope for 2015.
The Cowboys defense is full of talented youngsters, including Big 12 defensive lineman of the year Emmanuel Ogbah, who was the conference’s breakout player with 11 sacks and 17 tackles for loss. Yet they finished in the middle of conference in several defensive categories. OSU allowed 5.79 yards per play (No. 7) and 2.14 points per drive (No. 7). Inexperience made it difficult to be one of the conference’s better units, but the defense kept OSU in most games while not getting much help from the offense for much of the season. Ogbah, safety Jordan Sterns and linebacker Seth Jacobs were among the breakout performers who could become the foundation of the defense in 2015.
Special Teams: A+
The Cowboys special teams won several games for OSU in 2014. A bowl appearance would not have happened without the departed Tyreek Hill, who returned kicks for touchdowns in wins over Iowa State, Kansas and Oklahoma. The OSU coverage units were solid as well, finishing among the conference leaders in net punting average (39.75, third in Big 12), opponent punt return average (3.16, second) and blocked kicks (six, first). Ben Grogan was one of the Big 12’s best kickers, converting 22 of 28 field goals.
Outside of waiting too long to hand the offense over to Rudolph, Mike Gundy and the Cowboys coaching staff did a solid job with a inexperienced squad. The Cowboys competed -- even when completely overmatched -- and saw the fruits of that labor in their surprising 38-35 Bedlam overtime win over Oklahoma and TicketCity Cactus Bowl victory over Washington to finish 7-6. Without the strong finish, this season would have been remembered for a hopeless offense and lengthy losing streak, which underscores the mistake of keeping Rudolph on the sidelines until Garman's injury forced the Cowboys' hand. Rudolph’s arrival under center changed the destiny and perception of the Pokes' season.
The Cowboys pretty much met preseason expectations, as few projected OSU to insert itself in the Big 12 title race in August. Young talent emerged on both sides of the ball as OSU fought its way into a bowl game on the season’s final day, and none of OSU’s six losses were a major surprise, particularly with an offensive line that allowed 40 sacks in 13 games. Making a bowl game was a huge accomplishment for this roster, but it doesn’t completely erase a four-game stretch of hopeless offense and the delayed removal of Rudolph’s redshirt.