STILLWATER — Since Oklahoma State adopted a no-huddle spread attack on offense, there’s been no secret to its success. Speed.
It’s a trademark that’s brought a wealth of talent to Stillwater through recruiting. It’s a big reason why the Cowboys led the Big 12 in scoring offense from 2010-2012. But at various points last season, OSU’s offense put on the brakes — despite spring and fall camp chatter that first-year offensive coordinator Mike Yurcich was going to accelerate an already high-flying offense.
In two games last year, the Cowboys ran less than 70 plays. Compare that to 2011, when coach Mike Gundy said his goal was to run 95 each time out. He credited that 2013 slow down to an injury bug hitting a number of position groups and a lack of depth at wide receiver.
So when Gundy and OSU players met with the media Saturday at Gallagher-Iba Arena, the million-dollar question loomed — will the Cowboys play faster in 2014?
Depends on who you ask. Even within the same position group.
“With all the talent and speed that we’ve got, it’s going to be much faster this year,” wide receiver Jhajuan Seales said.
“We’re going to go at the pace we need to go to win games,” wide receiver Ra’Shaad Samples countered.
Based on the expected roles of several groups on offense this season, logic points to a quicker attack in 2014. The wide receivers are touted as one of the deepest corps in recent memory and the addition of speedster Tyreek Hill could open up Yurcich’s playbook in ways he never could last season. Quarterback J.W. Walsh is no stranger to playing high tempo, either.
But Gundy said he’s not buying into that potential just yet. He simply hasn’t seen enough to imply the Cowboys will move any faster or slower in 2014.
“In my opinion, the worst thing a coach can do is to ask players to perform and execute plays that they’re not capable of at this time,” Gundy said. “We just have to cut back and reduce and start from scratch until we develop these players.”
And there are some reasons for concern when it comes to pace of play in 2014.
The offensive line will feature a first-year starter at center. It’s unclear how soon Devin Davis or Brandon Garrett will be able to return from injuries sustained last season — and in Davis’ case, if he’ll return at all. Sophomores and freshmen will be considered to fill the gaps left by departing seniors Parker Graham, Brandon Webb and Jake Jenkins.
Garrett, who broke his leg in the Cotton Bowl last season, said he understands why some might question the offensive line’s capability to keep up considering those question marks. And while he sat in on meetings while rehabbing over the spring and fall, he said there was “just a different demeanor from the coaches to play faster.”
One thing Garrett is not worried about is the effort put toward the offensive line’s conditioning.
“As a quick offense, we have to be in shape, especially the linemen,” Garrett said. “We do a lot of running that a lot of teams don’t do. There’s conditioning, then there’s being in shape and doing it in season. You just have to stay with the tempo in order to make your offense even faster.”
Youth on defense is also a factor when considering pace of play, Gundy said. The faster the offense scores points, the less rest the defense is allotted. That could become an issue, considering underclassmen with little experience are expected to play major roles at linebacker and in the secondary.
“We never really know unless we have a very experienced quarterback and a veteran group,” Gundy said. “We want to play as fast as possible, but we also don’t want to extend ourselves out there and make ourselves vulnerable if we’re not capable of playing as we really need to.”
Regardless of the separation between some players and coaches on what exactly the Cowboys’ offensive philosophy will be in 2014, there was one constant — to continue striving for high-tempo play with proven results.
“Fast is our game,” Garrett said, “and that’s how we win.”