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Four Quarters: Sanders, Kickers, and weird stats

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Oklahoma State fans are still celebrating the Cowboys’ 34-27 upset over Iowa State on Saturday. After losing two straight and having to deal with an idle week in the middle, it’s been a long while since fans and the team had something to be excited about.

Despite the “W” there’s still plenty to unpack from this game, though for one week, we get to make it mostly positive.

First Quarter: Well that was weird

There are a few stats and facts we need to talk about.

  • First, OSU didn’t have a single possession inside Iowa State’s redzone. In fact they never snapped the ball inside ISU’s 28.
  • Take that one further, Oklahoma State only ran 11 offensive plays on Iowa State’s side of the 50, and the first one didn’t come until midway through the 3rd quarter.
  • Iowa State dominated time of possession, holding the ball for 34:19 compared to OSU who had the ball for just 25:41.
  • The Cyclones ran 88 offensive plays to Oklahoma State’s 56 and had 30 first downs compared to OSU’s 14.
  • The Cowboys’s offense was out-gained (152 yards to 115) and outscored (14-6) in the second half.
  • OSU was 2 for 12 on 3rd downs.

If I told you all of that was going to happen before the game, would you predict an Oklahoma State victory? Yeah, me neither. Yet here we are.

Ain’t college football grand?

In the end, the stats that decided the game were these: 3-1 turnover margin in Oklahoma State’s favor. Three interceptions in the fourth quarter. Scoring plays of 50, 65, and 71 yards. And some defensive stats we will get to in a bit.

The biggest takeaway from this game is this; this team is talented enough to beat just about anybody in the Big 12, when it’s not shooting itself in the foot. That happened on Saturday and despite a few mistakes and some questionable coaching decisions in the second half, OSU was able to right the ship and nab it’s fifth win of the season.

Second Quarter: Sanders is making strides

Spencer Sanders played probably his best game since Week One against Iowa State on Saturday. It wasn’t a masterpiece by any means, but he made some plays that impressed me.

One in particular was on the final OSU drive before the half. Oklahoma State faced a 3rd and 8 and when Sanders first options fell apart, he checked down, and threw the ball to Chuba Hubbard. No, they didn’t get the first down — Chuba was two-yards short — but Sanders took what was given to him, didn’t force the issue or try to play hero ball.

I know it sounds silly to praise him for a play that didn’t convert a first down, but considering how often in those situation he makes a major mistake (see the interception on OSU’s second drive of the second half), and you can tell his decision making is improving.

No he wasn’t perfect. The interception was bad and the near interception in the first half was as well (though it was an obvious miscommunication between Sanders and Wolf).

After the game, Gundy commented on Sanders’ interception, and what he had to say was promising.

“He played well. I know offhand he missed four reads, but he ran the ball effectively. He had an interception, and he did exactly what everybody in this room knows you’re not supposed to do, which is throw across your body back to the middle of the field. As soon as he came off the field, I didn’t even have to tell him. He said, ‘I know. I’m not supposed to throw across my body back to the middle of the field.’ I said, ‘Well I highly recommend that you don’t do it since you know it.’”

Here’s the thing; we anyone finds themselves in high pressure situations or gets stressed, they revert to what they know, their habits. I think Sanders is making strides, and I do think he’s a guy that can bounce back from mistakes. That said, I think when the pressure starts to mount (like it did in the fourth quarter against Baylor) that’s when Sanders reverts back to his bad habits.

Bad habits are hard to break. It takes time to replace them with new ones. Gundy, Gleason, and Sanders are working to do it. It’s a work in progress, but it’s getting better.

Third Quarter: Have a day young man

Kolby Harvell-Peel, before he went out in the first half, had 5 pass break-ups. First, that’s a crazy number. It’s in part because Iowa State kept targeting the pass catcher he was covering. He ended the day with an Oklahoma State single-game record six pass break-ups.

Even more than that, when Iowa State stopped targeting him, he still performed, ending the day with eight tackles, including one TFL.

Let’s not forget Malcolm Rodriguez who led the team in tackles with 11, had a defended pass, and of course, had the game winning score; a pick-six of Brock Purdy.

In all, it was a great performance by the defense. Perfect? No, they still seem to have some issues when it comes to wrapping up running backs. But when the defense accounts for 84 tackles including six TFLs and two sacks, 11 PBU, five QB hurries, and three interceptions, it’s pretty hard to complain.

One last point on the defense. I know on Twitter I pointed out that if Peel could nab an interceptable pass, he’d have 4-5 interceptions this season. It’s not just him, it’s the problem with the entire defense. Bryan Metcalf made a point I think is valid.

Rugby style defense, which has become very popular as a way to reduce targeting penalties and defenders leading with their helmets, is all about getting the stop. My guess is, OSU is coaching the team to force turnovers — especially forced fumbles — but more focused on getting the stop. Its a change in defensive philosophy and teaching something a lot of these players aren’t used to. I’d be curious to know if that’s the case or not. If so, it should pay off big for OSU in the future.

Fourth Quarter: Let’s talk about kicking

Joel and I discussed this on the podcast, but it bares repeating.

No one ever talks about kickers or offensive lines unless they’re doing poorly. Well today we’re going to change that.

Oklahoma State might have their best kicking unit since 2010 when Dan Bailey and Quinn Sharp were handling things.

Matt Ammendola is currently a perfect 12-12 on field goals so far this season and in the midst of a 15-make streak that reaches back into last season. Other than the one blocked extra point against Baylor, he’s been an absolute stud. Not to mention the fact that he’s 3-3 from 40-yards or more.

But wait, there’s more!

Other than one shanked punt that I can recall, Tom Hutton has been a weapon in the punt game. He’s got a 39-yard average on the season, with four punts of 50 or more yards and 17 of his 37 punts have landed inside the opponents 20. Let me remind you that he may be 29, but he’s a true freshman.

Kick-offs have been great too. Half of Jake McClure’s 50 kick-offs have been touchbacks.

After a few years of really bad special teams play, it looks like OSU has turned it around. No, we’re not likely to see a punt or kick-off returned for a touchdown. While that’s unfortunate, I’ll take quietly successful kickers and punters any day.

Overtime: Wallace is a GROWN ASS MAN.

Sure there was some poor tackling early in the play, but his ability stiff arm not one but two defenders, and fancy-footwork his way along the sideline for a 71-yard score was HUGE.

They need to put Wallace into this kind of situation more often instead of just running down the sideline and forcing him to try and beat his man.

Second Overtime: It’s hard to know how to feel about this

On the one hand, Sanders has been the biggest issue for the offense this season. On the other hand, it’s impressive. Especially considering he still has at least four games more to go this season.

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