STILLWATER — Oklahoma State's worst offensive performance last season came against Iowa State, with five turnovers and just 24 points scored in regulation of a shocking double-overtime loss in Ames.
That was with Brandon Weeden and Justin Blackmon.
Now Iowa State is set to come to Stillwater with the Cowboys coming off their weakest showing on offense since the 2009 Cotton Bowl.
Not exactly impeccable timing for OSU.
The Cowboys hung on to beat Kansas 20-14 in Lawrence on Saturday in a game that was expected to be a blowout. Offensive coordinator Todd Monken took the blame for calling a poor game. Fans consistently clamored on Twitter before each OSU offensive series to trade quarterback J.W. Walsh for a less-than-fully-healthy Wes Lunt. The running game was stuffed, and the passing game was inefficient.
Cowboy coach Mike Gundy called it all a “serious struggle” that was “painful” for him to watch. Everyone's gotten so used to the Cowboys dominating offensively in recent years — and, technically, OSU still has statistically one of the best offenses in the nation — but Gundy admitted they are “in a little different situation right now,” based on injuries, two freshman quarterbacks and other factors.
“As coaches, we have to understand what our strengths are, what our weaknesses are,” he said, “and try to do the best we can to be smart with the football, move the football and score points, but also play within the context of our team.”
Maybe the lackluster outing in Lawrence was just a blip. Maybe the Cowboys didn't take the Jayhawks seriously after last season's drubbing and that program's lowly status. Maybe hitting the road for the first time in more than a month — and the one-hour, 19-minute weather delay — affected the mood and the game plan.
Or maybe it's a sign of more serious problems — problems that could be thrust to the forefront again against ISU.
Gundy said KU, a team that allowed more than 217 rushing yards per game entering Saturday, was more physical than the Cowboys while holding Joseph Randle to just 2.8 yards per carry. Wait until it is ISU's frightening linebacker duo of A.J. Klein and Jake Knott attacking. Last season, Randle fumbled twice against the Cyclones, resulting in him getting benched in the second half.
The Jayhawks could focus on stacking the box to stop the run because they clearly didn't respect Walsh's ability to throw it accurately down the field. That was more apparent than ever Saturday, as Walsh consistently overthrew and underthrew open receivers and forced them to try to adjust to the ball rather than hitting them in stride. Of his 255 passing yards, 72 of them came on a short toss to Charlie Moore that he turned into a long score with his speed.
With those linebackers, ISU will almost surely use the same approach as KU, no matter who plays quarterback for the Cowboys. That means OSU will need to throw it successfully.
Monken insisted after the game Saturday that he needed to trust Walsh with more of the playbook. But he obviously knows Walsh's strengths — and limitations — better than anybody. And those limitations throwing the football are, and always have been, what have hindered Walsh in OSU's spread system.
“We just couldn't take advantage of plays down the field that we thought we could get,” Monken said. “We have to be able to do that. Moving forward, it doesn't really matter who plays (quarterback) — we have to have a better plan.”
Perhaps the offensive struggles will all be solved when Lunt returns from his knee injury, which could happen as soon as this week. But even if Lunt does start against the Cyclones, he could be lacking a go-to receiver, following injuries to seniors Tracy Moore (ankle) and Isaiah Anderson (finger) that forced them to leave Saturday's game.
Coaches have tried to bring OSU's four true freshmen receivers along slowly, but now they will likely need to play significant time. For example, Austin Hays got his first-career start Saturday and was in the game on the fourth quarter's crucial drives.
Additionally, receiver John Goodlett did not play Saturday, apparently because of injury, and Torrance Carr (foot) has yet to make his OSU debut. Running back Jeremy Smith (ankle) was limited to just one carry Saturday, and Desmond Roland did not play, also likely because of an injury.
Here's a crazy thought: Kansas could be the best defense OSU has faced so far. Texas' hyped unit entering the season has tackled horrifically and been gashed by the run. Savannah State, Arizona and Louisiana-Lafayette certainly don't feature stout defenses.
And neither does KU. Which means unless Saturday's clunker was an aberration, the Cowboy offense could be in serious trouble again when the Cyclones come to town.