With Brandon Weeden and Justin Blackmon committed to returning in 2011, the plan was to keep much of Dana Holgorsen's spread offense intact.
Kept, too, was an often overlooked page – well, cocktail napkin – from Holgorsen's private play-calling collection: the not-so-spread power diamond formation.
And we've seen it more and more in recent weeks, with the Cowboys packing some pop into their run game – while also creating one-on-one opportunities for Blackmon – utilizing the three-back, heavy-set look drawn up by Holgorsen during a Grand Lake retreat before last season.
“It gives us another phase or another part of our game,” said Cowboys coach Mike Gundy, “and it's a simple way for a quarterback to tell whether he should attack the defense with the run or the pass.”
Saturday against Baylor, the Pokes punished the Bears on the ground, going for a two-year rushing high of 327 yards, averaging 12.1 yards per carry.
Not all that production sprung from the diamond, but a chunk did, along with two fade throws from Weeden to Blackmon for touchdowns.
“It's just something we thought we could do against them,” said Cowboys offensive coordinator Todd Monken, who inherited the formation from Holgorsen. “We have probably a few more things we could have done out of it.”
The diamond, which this season typically uses fullbacks Kye Staley and David Paulsen along with either Joseph Randle or Jeremy Smith, never seemed to jibe with Holgorsen's wide-open approach. Yet with a still-developing wide receiver corps, Holgorsen was sharp to find ways to best employ Kendall Hunter.
For these Cowboys, and their opponents, it's an added look.
And added versatility.
“We have Blackmon as a threat, and they might double team him,” Staley said, “so that opens up a lot of options. I just feel like we take advantage of it whenever we get a chance to run it.”
OSU remains strongly committed to the spread and to filling the air with Weeden darts. The Cowboys rank fourth nationally in passing offense. Still, despite a league-low 271 run attempts, they rank sixth in the Big 12 in rushing per game (181.9). No one averages more per carry (5.4) than the Cowboys and their 25 rushing touchdowns are the league's most, by far.
Randle averages 105.2 rushing yards per game and his 16 rushing TDs are seven more any other running back in the league.
The fit would seem more comfortable for Monken, who maintains roots in the power run game from his time at LSU and in the NFL. Offensive line coach Joe Wickline, credited by Holgorsen for placing his major stamp on the diamond, remains a strong influence on the Cowboys attack.
Still, with so many weapons at his disposal, Monken hesitates to overdo it with the diamond, “because you end up taking some of your skill guys off the field,” he said.
And yet, a major benefit of the formation is the freedom it allows Weeden and Blackmon near the goal line. While teams regularly commit two and even three defenders to bracketing Blackmon, OSU's jumbo package typically forces more men into the box, leaving Blackmon in single coverage outside.
That's what happened on Saturday, with Weeden twice switching from a called run play to the fade to Blackmon.
“Every one I've ever thrown to him is a called run play,” Weeden said, “and I just kind of flash it out there to him and then throw it up. We're on the same page.”
The page, er, cocktail napkin, is the same, too.