STILLWATER, Okla. — Question No. 2
• How long will it take for Oklahoma State to become comfortable in Dana Holgorsen’s new offense? By the looks of things over the spring practices, and if history is any guide, it won’t take the Pokes too long.
Installing a new, high-octane brand of offense is typically a source of excitement and a good talking point for fans and the media, but the actual execution of a new system doesn’t typically fall in to place until year two.
This is seen time and time again in college football, but the implementation of new Oklahoma State offensive coordinator Dana Holgorsen’s spread attack could prove to be the type of approach to buck the trend.
“It’s been a lot easier than I thought it would be,” sophomore receiver Justin Blackmon said. “When you learn a new offense, normally it takes a lot of time. After a couple days of install, we basically had it down.”
An easy comparison for the one-year experimental period can be found in Stillwater, as well. Prior to OSU’s offense becoming nationally feared in recent years, the first year in coach Mike Gundy’s era didn’t produce on offense. While the Cowboys were adapting to former offensive coordinator Larry Fedora’s system in 2005, they limped to a No. 96 finish nationally in total offense.
In year two, the Cowboys rebounded to finish No. 17 in total offense. Then the Cowboys finished in the top 10 in 2007 and 2008.
The 2008 numbers were put up in the post-Fedora era after he accepted the head coaching post at Southern Mississippi when Gundy and co-offensive coordinators Gunter Brewer and Trooper Taylor ran a version of Fedora’s system.
The Cowboys finished a lower-than-expected 61st in total offense in 2009 after entering the season with darkhorse national title contender status and totaled just one score in their final eight quarters of the season, which likely prompted Holgorsen’s addition to the coaching staff.
Holgorsen’s offense at Houston, on the other hand, led the nation in total offense in ‘09 with 563.4 yards per game. The Cougars also tied for first in points per game with undefeated Boise State at 42.2.
The Cowboys became very familiar the U of H and its high-powered attack, falling 45-35 to the Cougars in Stillwater on Sept. 12.
Gundy said he has been impressed with how quickly the offensive personnel has bought into the system.
"I think we got a lot better (this spring) ... I thought our offense gained an understanding of the system quicker than I would have expected,” Gundy said.
Holgorsen’s offensive approach is based in the same mindset as former Texas Tech coach Mike Leach, who Holgorsen coached under for several seasons.
OSU defensive tackle Shane Jarka said the similarities between Houston, Tech and the offense they now face in practice are hard to miss.
“It’s very similar, if you remember the Houston game and all the screens that they ran against us, all the short crossing routes,” Jarka. “After watching film on the U of H game and Tech game, I see a lot of the same things every day so it’s definitely similar.”
The similarities shared by Tech and Houston should serve as an encouraging sign for Cowboy fans, because even when OSU’s offense was humming from 2006-08, it didn’t match the total-yardage output of the Red Raiders or the Cougars.
OSU was No. 17 in total offense in 2006, Houston finished second and Tech eighth.
OSU finished No. 8 in 2007, Tech and Houston ranked third and fourth, respectively.
OSU was No. 7 in 2008. Houston and Tech ranked Nos. 3 and 4.
“It definitely pushes you to a different limit because it’s so sideline-to-sideline, it’s so fast paced,” Jarka said. “You have to learn a lot about yourself and find that other gear and keep pushing harder. It’s tiring, but (as a defense) you have to keep going because they throw the ball a lot.”
Perhaps the greatest beneficiary of the system will be OSU’s new starter under center. Quarterback Brandon Weeden, a 26-year-old former first round pick of the New York Yankees as a pitcher out of Edmond Santa Fe High School, has flourished this spring under Holgorsen.
Weeden capped off the spring with a 257-yard, four-touchdown performance on 22-of-34 passing in the OSU Spring Game on April 17.
“I think we’re going to be good,” Weeden said. “The wide outs are stepping up, we’ve got five or six guys at least who are really taking over that role so it’s going to be fun. Before it’s all said and done I think we have a shot to be pretty good.”
Weeden’s ascention this spring shouldn’t serve as a shock given the history of quarterbacks in this system. Tech and Houston have routinely turned moderately-recruited quarterbacks into statistical juggernauts.
“It’s the little quick routes because the defense doesn’t really know if you’re going deep or short, they can’t cover it all,” Blackmon said. “Even if we’re going to run the ball, we did a lot of screens with Kendall and the running backs. We keep em on their toes because they don’t know what’s coming and that’s pretty much the difference. We always got something else. Anybody can catch a screen, anybody can run it.”
Weeden said one of the greatest benefits he has had this spring is building a rapport with his receivers because of how much they throw the ball in practice, giving him an understanding of what to expect from the men he will be looking for streaking across the middle on Saturday’s come September.
“We’re throwing hundreds of routes to them each day, so you kind of know what guys can do with certain things,” Weeden said. “That’s one thing that’s nice about being a quarterback is, like I mentioned, you know what those guys can do. You can kind of base your read on that at times.”