STILLWATER — Joe Wickline insists he's “just a guy,” not a magician or mad scientist locked in his office while furiously scribbling various Oklahoma State offensive line combinations.
But the Cowboys' unit underwent its most dramatic makeover so far this season against TCU on Saturday. Parker Graham moved from left tackle to right guard, Daniel Koening from right tackle to left tackle and Chris Grisbhy from right guard to right tackle. That combo stuck for a grand total of one series, when Grisbhy left the game due to illness and Brandon Garrett stepped in that spot.
It was the latest Wickline experiment in a season where the offensive line — a position group that has so often been one of OSU's greatest strengths — has struggled to find consistency as part of a scuffling Cowboy offense that ranks 95th in the nation in rushing (136.5 yards per game) and has often sent J.W. Walsh and Clint Chelf scrambling out of the pocket.
“It's been an adventure,” left guard Brandon Webb said. “Everybody's been moving around all season. Normally by this time, unless somebody gets hurt, everybody's pretty much settled in their spot. We're halfway through the season and everybody's still shuffled around.”
Wickline, who is regarded as one of the best offensive line coaches in football, won't bite when asked if this has been his most challenging season at OSU. Actually, he says, this is just like every year. Players graduate. They get hurt. They get sick.
“I sure wouldn't want to try to suggest that I'm any different than any coach in the business,” Wickline said, “because we all have issues and we all have personnel problems. That's part of the business. It's our job to get it worked out.”
And in recent years, Wickline certainly had.
In 2010, he replaced four starters from the previous season and directed a line that helped the Cowboys rank in the top 5 in the nation in passing offense, total offense and scoring offense. Last season, OSU lost projected starting left tackle Michael Bowie, who's now starting in the NFL for the Seattle Seahawks, just before fall camp and covered nicely.
But this season has been different.
OSU lost two starters from last season's squad in mainstay right guard Lane Taylor and center Evan Epstein. Cowboy coach Mike Gundy hinted in the spring that his squad could be thin on the line, when he suggested part of the reason for a vanilla offense in the spring finale was because the Cowboys didn't have enough game-ready players to field two complete lines.