In the first 22 games of Joseph Randle’s college career, he did not lose one fumble.
In his last last six games, Randle has lost five fumbles. Six, really, but his fumble inside the red zone against Savannah State was negated because of a defensive penalty.
Randle’s latest fumble came in the first quarter against Arizona. Just after the Wildcats had scored a touchdown to cut OSU’s lead to 14-7, Randle had the ball poked loose by the helmet of safety Marquis Flowers at the Cowboys’ 30-yard line. That put Arizona in great position to tack on a field goal from John Bonano.
How big of a concern are these fumbles from arguably one of the most versatile offensive weapons in the country?
OSU coach Mike Gundy said during his Monday press conference that despite Randle being a great player–he’s a preseason All-Big 12 selection–if he keeps putting the ball on the turf, the Cowboys will have to play somebody else.
“It’s not anything personal,” Gundy said. “Joe needs to be in our offense. Joe’s versatile–he can block, he can catch, he can run. He makes plays. He’s experienced, he’s tough, he’s been a good leader. But if he puts the ball on the ground, he can’t play. It’s that simple.”
Offensive coordinator Todd Monken would not go as far as to say Randle now has a reputation as a “fumbler,” but echoed that it is an issue.
“It’s hard to say he’s a fumbler,” Monken said. “Joe’s cost us at times, though, with fumbles, as (quarterbacks have with) interceptions or I have with poor calls. To put that on him probably is a little strong, but it is something that all of our backs (need to work on). The bottom line is if you turn the ball over, you’re not going to win.”
OSU, of course, has a another reliable back in Jeremy Smith. But he’s more of a downhill, tough runner and isn’t as dangerous in the passing game as Randle. And what helps make them both successful is that they complement each other so well.
I fully expect Randle to start Saturday’s game and touch the ball more than 20 times. But the fumbles are obviously something coaches are watching. Keep in mind, though, how benching Randle during the Iowa State game hurt the Cowboys–because one of their best playmakers was not on the field and because Smith dropped two balls on a critical fourth-quarter drive.
Maybe it’s a uniform thing. Three of Randle’s five fumbles came with the Cowboys wearing the white helmet, white jersey, gray pants combination. He fumbled twice against Texas Tech last November.