MORGANTOWN, W.V. — Jeremy Smith danced regularly behind the line of scrimmage Saturday, then danced around one glaring question from Oklahoma State's 30-21 loss at West Virginia.
What happened to the Cowboys run game?
“We were just taking what they were giving us,” Smith said.
To that extent, Smith took very little, 2.4 inches per carry – inches – on 15 runs to be exact. Doing that math, that's one yard.
Again, on 15 carries.
Another take: what the Mountaineers gave the OSU run game was a hard time.
The Cowboys managed but 111 yards on 40 carries, for a 2.8 average per attempt. Quarterback J.W. Walsh did the heavy lifting, gaining a team-high 52 yards on a variety of designed runs and scrambles. Desmond Roland, Smith's backup, ran for 46 yards on seven tries. And receiver Josh Stewart chipped in with 12 yards on two inside handoffs.
For a team that has preached and produced great balance in recent years, and against a team that has hardly halted any decent offenses of late, it was a startling development.
“We have to run the football. That's certainly not enough for us,” said Cowboys coach Mike Gundy of Saturday's production. “We've traditionally averaged 4 or 5 yards a carry running the ball. And we have to be able to run the football – in our opinion – to be able to function offensively.”
So, what happened to the Cowboys run game Saturday?
“I really don't know what happened,” said Cowboys left tackle Parker Graham. “I'm only looking at one guy to block.”
Most times, it looked like the Mountaineers had too many men to block, as they regularly penetrated into the backfield. Willing to take their chances with Cowboys quarterback J.W. Walsh's passing, they crowded the line of scrimmage and brought frequent blitzes, clogging running lanes.
“I'm sure it was a combination of things,” said OSU offensive coordinator Mike Yurcich. “I'm sure that they did a good job at times. And I'm sure we didn't do such a good job at times.
“It's a combination of everything. It's shared responsibility.”
And while it's just one game, it is – for now – a warning flare on this Cowboys offense.
Gundy said his team has to run. And when Walsh struggles throwing, as he did against West Virginia, there needs to be a ground attack to lean on.
That was always a plus with Joseph Randle, not to mention Kendall Hunter and Dantrell Savage.
Yet ever since Randle moved on to the NFL, there have been concerns that the Cowboys might not have that style of runner. Smith had been solid in the three games heading into Morgantown, averaging 4.8 yards per carry and leading the Big 12 with six touchdown runs.
Now the concerns have returned, after Smith ran tentatively and also lost a fumble at his own 29 that led to a West Virginia field goal and a 17-7 lead.
“Jeremy's always done a great job,” Walsh said. “He does a great job running hard. It's not something we're too worried about.”
Said Smith, a senior who has waited his turn to be the starter: “We just had a few little difficulties we'll get corrected. It's a long season. West Virginia played a great game. We've just got to respond next week.”
The Cowboys now have to hope it doesn't become the worst kind of long season.
Teams are sure to copy West Virginia's tactics, meaning Smith and the Cowboys better be right when they say it'll get corrected.
“It's all about us,” Smith said. “We're still a great team. Still a Top 25 team. We've just got to play like it now.”