STILLWATER — There was much gnashing of teeth and rending of orange garments when Oklahoma State football announced it wouldn’t have a spring game this year.
A good number of gnashers and the renders said the decision was a mistake. A PR misstep. An opportunity for a TV broadcast missed. A slap in fans’ faces even.
And Orange Blitz? What a dumb name.
But after Saturday afternoon, I’ve got a different question — why doesn’t everyone do what the Cowboys did?
The reason is that many spring games have become convoluted. Split squads. Goofy rules. Alternative scoring.
A year or so ago during OU’s Red-White game, there was an alternate scoring system in place. The offense was supposed to get extra points for long plays. The defense was supposed to get points for three and outs. Or something like that. All sorts of craziness.
It was so crazy, in fact, that it was scrapped mid-way through the scrimmage.
I’m sure OSU and every other team in Division-I football has done something similar. It’s because coaches are trying to do something to motivate players and interest fans in a game that no one cares who wins.
But in the process, many teams have split the offense and the defense onto different sides. You don’t get to see what the first-team offense can do together. You don’t get a sense of what the first-team defense needs to work on. Linemen aren’t playing with the guys that they’ll normally be combo blocking alongside. Quarterbacks aren’t throwing to all of the receivers who they’ll have at their disposal. It just doesn’t give you a true sense of things.
But Saturday afternoon, people who were at Boone Pickens Stadium got a pretty good idea of the Cowboys’ strengths and weaknesses.
Offensive line and safeties are shaky.
Wide receivers and defensive line are stout.
Quarterbacks, running backs, linebackers and cornerbacks are promising.
You got a read on where the Cowboys are because Mike Gundy and Co. didn’t do anything convoluted. The team stretched, went through position drills, did some seven-on-seven, then finished with a short scrimmage.
Now, there were parts of the afternoon that weren’t great theater.
That is what every team does on the field before every game. Not exactly earth-shattering stuff. But if I had to choose between position drills and a split-squad spring game, I’d take position drills. Everyone was involved, so you watch Tyreek Hill catching passes, Mason Rudolph throwing them or Kevin Peterson batting them away.
But the highlight the afternoon was the end. Twenty 7-on-7 plays. Forty-two 11-on-11 plays. Full contact and a fair amount of tackling.
And the best of all, the first-team offense played a fair amount against the first-team defense. You got to see guys playing together like they will in real live games this fall. Of course, reserves were inserted here and there, but that’s how it is in games, too.
Some folks might’ve wanted more plays, but frankly, the sixtysomething that the Cowboys ran combined between 7-on-7 and 11-on-11 seemed like plenty.
The truth is, about the only thing that could’ve been better Saturday afternoon was attendance. The crowd was way down. Only about 2,500 fans showed up on a glorious, wonderful spring afternoon.
That might’ve hurt merchants in Stillwater as much as anyone. Still, the fraternities and sororities were holding Mom’s Weekend and the campus was hosting a big recruitment event for high school juniors, so I suspect business was booming pretty good.
I’m not sure the team minded the small turnout either, though it would’ve been better had OSU played up the fact that the afternoon would include what amounted to a mini-scrimmage. Make that the centerpiece of promotions. Say it again and again.
Fans might not have realized just how much they were going to be able to see.
Some folks likely stayed away because they were frustrated about not having a spring game, which came on the heels of Gundy not having a signing day event. Not having a spring game meant the Cowboys weren’t going to lure a regional or national TV broadcast, but those spots are rare. Down the road in Norman, the Sooners have one of the top teams heading into next season, but ESPN isn’t coming to town for the spring game Saturday.
Much like Texas A&M, TCU and Pitt — none of them are having a spring game this year either — OSU has indicated that scraping the spring game isn’t a permanent change. This was a unique year. Lots of new players. Several key injuries. The coaches decided it would be better to have a practice instead of a game.
But after Saturday, I’d be fine if the Orange-White Game gave way to the Orange Blitz.
Even the name is growing on me.
Jenni Carlson: Jenni can be reached at 475-4125. Like her at facebook.com/JenniCarlsonOK, follow her at twitter.com/jennicarlson_ok or view her personality page at newsok.com/jennicarlson.