By John Helsley
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In Thursday’s paper, I wrote about OSU’s heavy lean to the left in the run game as part of my film study analysis, which will be a regular feature throughout the football season (typically on Monday’s, but later this week and next due to non-televised games).
Here’s what I wrote on that — and more — and as I’ve added a few more items that didn’t fit in the paper, but always have a place in cyberspace…
Film Study: Cowboys Run Game Leans Left
Kendall Hunter’s path to the No. 2 spot in the national rushing rankings veers left – predominantly left.
Through two games, Hunter has run for 414 yards and six touchdowns. And the overwhelming bulk of his 49 carries have gone behind the left side of the Oklahoma State line, where tackle Nick Martinez, guard Jonathan Rush and center Grant Garner have created regular running lanes.
Even when the Cowboys send Justin Blackmon or Josh Cooper slashing inside for tosses, some runs some technically passes, it’s almost strictly to the left.
In our weekly film study review, that jumped off the screen from the Troy game.
The Cowboys ran 37 times against the Trojans. Rarely did the call go right.
Maybe it’s only an early trend, built around some comfort zone on that side of the ball, although OSU’s one returning line starter from 2009, Lane Taylor, is situated at right guard.
Maybe it’s what scouting reports of Washington State and Troy dictated.
But you can bet if a sports writer has noticed, future foes will notice.
Junior wide receiver Josh Cooper produced his best game as a Cowboy against Troy, both statistically and in impact.
Cooper posted career-bests in receptions (8) and receiving yards (114) and also added 16 rushing yards on end around.
But he changed the game for OSU with a third-quarter punt return for a touchdown, breaking a 27-27 tie and sending the Cowboys ahead for good in the 41-38 win.
The return, covering 66 yards, started with Cooper fielding a rugby-style punt from Troy’s Will Goggans on the fly. After the catch, Cooper shook free from the first defender downfield, headed left for 30 yards, then cut back right at the 25, cruising into the end zone.
Among Cooper’s receptions were a 40-yard grab to the Troy 24, setting up a Hunter scoring run; and a 41-yard catch on a third-down play to extend another touchdown drive.
With Blackmon and Cooper piling up impressive receiving statistics, Tracy Moore’s three catches were somewhat overshadowed.
Except two of Moore’s grabs converted third downs and kept alive scoring drives.
With OSU down 27-20 and facing third-and-4 at the Troy 8, Moore caught a pass near the right sideline and turned it upfield for several tough yards and a first down at the 2. Weeden hit Blackmon on a fade route on the next play as the Cowboys pulled even.
Play of the Game
Angst had filled the Boone Pickens Stadium air as Weeden fumbled the snap while trying to take knee in the final minute.
Troy recovered at the Cowboys 34, needing just a field goal to tie it.
But as Trojans quarterback Corey Robinson dropped back to pass on first down, Justin Gent circled wide around the right side, and tomahawked the ball free while jumping on Robinson’s back.
OSU linebacker Orie Lemon recovered, preventing shame and defeat.
After the opener against Washington State, OSU’s three-back formation was all the rage.
Dubbed the “Diamond” by some, while “Black Diamond” gained steam in an online vote of fans, the set was used frequently by the Cowboys, with good results.
Against Troy, OSU used the formation only once, in a goal-line situation.
Of all the highlights Hunter has produced, and there’s been many already, his 10-yard touchdown run in the second quarter against Troy may top them all.
Hunter took a handoff up the middle, cut one step to his left and charged for the end zone. Nearing the goal line, he plowed through linebacker Daniel Sheffield, who flew back into the end zone. Strong safety Willard Ross hit Hunter low, seemingly bringing him down. Except Hunter maintained his balance, putting his hand to the turf, then rose up and walked in for the score.
These Cowboys are making a name for themselves as willing big hitters.
Even the kids are getting involved, with true freshman Devin Hedgepeth providing a major blow late in the third quarter.
With OSU leading 34-30, the Trojans had a first-and-goal at the Cowboys 7.
Troy’s versatile wideout Jerrel Jernigan, working from the ‘Wildcat,’ took the direct snap and raced around right end. Hedgepeth met him at 3, dislodging the ball for Victor Johnson to recover.
Troy runs a variety of sets and looks on offense.
And the Trojans let a variety of guys handle the snap.
Two quarterbacks, Robinson and backup Jamie Hampton, along with Jernigan and running back DuJuan Harris all took snaps from the shotgun.
We’d heard about the explosive abilities of Jernigan, who does everything from returning punts and kicks to catching passes to running the ball to working from the “Wildcat.”
Here’s the deal: the dude was better than advertised.
Jernigan had a couple costly fumbles against OSU, but he was one of the Trojan’s true playmakers on offense, so maybe he was trying to do too much, if that’s possible.
Put him in any offense anywhere – especially Holgorsen’s – and Jernigan would thrive.
OSU’s offense regularly features a receiver or two running parallel to the line of scrimmage. They can be a few yards downfield or directly in front of – or behind – Weeden in the shotgun.
And that subtle difference, in front/behind, is the difference in a run or a pass.
Several times against Troy, receivers ran right in front of Weeden for what looked like end around runs. But a close watch of the replay showed that on the plays in front, Weeden actually two-hand flipped the ball up into the air for Blackmon or Cooper to snatch on their way to decent gains.
Officially, Blackmon and Cooper were each credited with one rush each, when they passed behind Weeden.
Cowboys punter and kickoff specialist Quinn Sharp is a major weapon with his ability to consistently put kickoffs into the end zone.
Of Sharp’s 18 kickoffs in two games, 14 have resulted in touchbacks.
Of course, a dangerous return man like Jernigan can offset that asset.
After taking a knee on Sharp’s first four kicks into the end zone Saturday night, Jernigan decided to take the fifth out, and scooted 53 yards to the OSU 47, perhaps catching the Cowboys coverage by surprise.
They should have been ready on the next kickoff, which Jernigan took the distance, 100 yards.
Fumbles really only occur for two reasons: dislodging hits or careless ball security.
OSU’s five fumbles (three lost) against Troy were all the result of sloppy play.
Cooper held the ball away from his body when he fumbled at the end of a reception.
Weeden twice fumbled while trying to pass, the first time when a Troy defender swiped the ball loose as Weeden dealt with pressure behind him; the second time when he was stripped from behind on a pump fake.