Guerin Emig: Mike Gundy isn’t going to change Oklahoma State offense, so offensive line must change performance
STILLWATER — Twenty minutes before dropping Pistol Pete’s jaw with the Jalen McCleskey news Monday, Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy dropped mine in response to a question.
Until the offensive line improves, what can you and your staff do to work around that deficiency?
“Nothing,” Gundy replied. “Not anything.”
“I mean, there’s several things in a car,” Gundy continued. “You’ve got to have a transmission. You’ve got to have a radiator. You’ve got to have a fuel pump. That’s a piece of the puzzle. You try to improve it. You can’t just change who you are.”
Who are the Cowboys after four games? A team that doesn’t block with enough strength, precision or consistency.
Gundy said as much when OSU was 3-0. He reinforced that after the 41-17 collapse against Texas Tech. He reinforced it again Monday when asked to review the performance of quarterback Taylor Cornelius.
“Taylor’s fine,” Gundy said. “We need to block better.”
OK. But what if that doesn’t happen? What if the Cowboys we saw get pushed around by Tech are the ones we’ll see Nov. 24 at TCU? Or what if improvement — and Gundy anticipates there will be improvement — isn’t noticeable until, say, November?
Isn’t there something he can do in the meantime?
Yes. He can give the ball to Justice Hill more than the 12 times Hill carried against Tech. This is a talent who could make plays behind the Wilbur Wonka School of Dentistry offensive line.
“Sure would like to have him touch it a few more times,” Gundy said Monday, or five days before the suggestion becomes an order at Kansas.
But what else? Could Gundy feature the sneaky-mobile Cornelius more in the run game moving forward? That ploy worked against Boise State two weeks ago. It worked for a 14-yard run in the first quarter against Tech.
“We want to run him some, but we don’t want to make a living doing it,” Gundy said. “I just worry about those guys getting hit. ... If I knew he wasn’t going to get hurt, I’d be all for it.”
What about Cornelius in the passing game? OSU’s offensive line isn’t protecting him any better than the 2014 line, the flimsiest of the Gundy era, protected Daxx Garman, J.W. Walsh and Mason Rudolph.
Cornelius can move. The pocket can move. Maybe try rolling Cornelius to buy some time and space?
“It’s not really what we do,” Gundy said. “There’s a little more to that than just looks. One thing you have to be careful of is you try to put new schemes in. I’ve done that before in my career and then come in at halftime in a game and said, ‘This stinks. We’re going back to what we do.’ Really doesn’t work that way.”
Speaking of schemes, Gundy and offensive coordinator Mike Yurcich devised the Walsh short-yardage package to assist a 2015 offensive line that was better than the ’14 unit but still had holes. Maybe the two could draw from that bit of inspiration again and design something helpful for this year’s line.
“You have to take what you do and try to get better at it. And improve each day,” Gundy insisted. “I’d like to make it sound not so simple, but, really, this is what we do. These are the assignments we have on these plays. And we need to execute it. That’s really what it comes down to.”
The burden, then, falls on the offensive line. Right now, it is heavy enough to weigh down the Cowboys’ attack.
That must be frustrating for a coach who has made his mark with offense, a coach who has weapons in Hill, J.D. King, Tylan Wallace and Tyron Johnson, but who apparently can’t build on that mark or take advantage of those weapons until something changes up front.
“It’s not frustrating,” Gundy countered. “We know what has to happen. We just continue to work to try to get a little bit better each day. They will. They’ll get better.”
They had better get better. Because it sounds like the blocking must change before the scheming does.