2009: 9-4 overall, 6-2 in Big 12.
Starters returning: Offense (4), defense (4)
After putting together two of the most productive seasons in Oklahoma State history, coach Mike Gundy goes into his sixth season as the Cowboys coach facing a major rebuilding job.
Oklahoma State went into spring practice without its veteran quarterback, its outstanding receiver, its All-American offensive tackle and seven defensive starters. It was also a transition time for Gundy and his offense. He hired Dana Holgorsen, a former offensive coordinator at Houston and Texas Tech, to rework the playbook.
Holgorsen’s philosophy is to spread the field, play four wide receivers (the tight end position is gone) and speed up the tempo with a no-huddle approach. In late March, the Cowboys displayed the faster pace when they had a 115-play scrimmage that took one hour. After scoring a total of seven points in ending last season with two losses, Oklahoma State’s offense needs something new.
"It's a fast offense," senior running back Kendall Hunter said. “I feel pretty good about it.”
Quarterback Zac Robinson, a three-year starter, is gone. So is offensive tackle Russell Okung, the sixth player selected in the NFL Draft. Wide receiver Dez Bryant, who was suspended for the second half of 2009, declared himself eligible for the draft and was also a first-round pick. Linebackers Donald Booker and Patrick Lavine plus safetys Andre Sexton and Antoine Lucien must be replaced on defense.
During spring practice, the Cowboys had just four scholarship corners available. Freshman Devin Hedgepeth, an early enrollee, got off to a good start and should provide depth. Incoming freshmen Justin Gilbert and Larry Stephens, who won't arrive in Stillwater until June, also will compete for playing time at corner. Freshman Caleb Lavey is backing up starting middle linebacker Orie Lemon.
You’ll hear about
Orie Lemon. He suffered a knee injury just before last season started and sat out. The senior is back at middle linebacker and will be a building block for a unit that is missing five players in its back seven. In 2008, Lemon made 90 tackles. “We think Orie is going to be very, very good - maybe as good as there is in the country," defensive coordinator Bill Young said.
As a sophomore in 2008, Kendall Hunter led the Big 12 in rushing with 1,555 yards and scored 16 touchdowns. His junior season, though, was limited by an ankle injury he suffered in Oklahoma State’s second game. Hunter missed five games and hobbled when he did play, gaining just 382 yards. He’s healthy now and could flourish in offensive coordinator Dana Holgorsen’s spread-the-field attack. "Kendall Hunter is such a threat in this offense,” defensive coordinator Bill Young said. "They spread you all over the field and then he hits a seam - look out.”
Brandon Weeden, a 26-year-old junior who spent time in the New York Yankees farm system as a pitcher, solidified his place as the starting quarterback. Weeden came off the bench last year when starter Zac Robinson was injured and helped Oklahoma State rally for a victory. He managed to grasp most of the new offensive system. Coordinator Dana Holgorsen, who worked with some talented quarterbacks while at Texas Tech and Houston, says that Weeden, “is better from an arm-strength and accuracy standpoint” than other QBs he has coached.
For the new offense to work and for Hunter and Weeden to be successful, the offensive line needs to come together. Oklahoma State must replace four starters, including All-American left tackle Russell Okung. Sophomore Lane Taylor is the only returning starter. Juniors Grant Garner, Casey LaBrue and Nick Martinez are among the candidates who’ll need to fill in the holes.
Coach speak from Mike Gundy
“I feel really good about Kendall right now. He had a really difficult time not competing last year and he couldn’t practice full speed and he lost a little bit of his edge. He’s regained it in the offseason and we’re really looking forward to him having a good year. … I would say there's a good chance that Kendall could touch the ball 250 times.”
- On senior running back Kendall Hunter.
“When Dana came in here, we were obligated to let him run his system and he’s done a great job with it. Our players are comfortable with it and I’ve enjoyed watching it because it’s very new to me. … I’m learning it and looking forward to continuing to learn it and see how it works out. I’m staying out of the way. And as long as we score points and move the ball, that’s OK.”
- On the new offensive system installed by coordinator Dana Holgorsen.
"I think we got a lot better. Overall, we stayed fairly healthy. I thought our offense gained an understanding of the system quicker than I would have expected and I think, defensively, players stepped up. The first 15 practices in the fall will be really big for us. We have to become a more physical team. We need more players in all three phases to continue to step up.”
- On his overall assessment of his team after spring practice.
|Sept. 4||Washington State|
|Sept. 30||Texas A&M*|
|Oct. 8||at Louisiana-Lafayette|
|Oct. 16||at Texas Tech*|
|Oct. 30||at Kansas State*|
|Nov. 13||at Texas*|
|Nov. 20||at Kansas*|