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No Need For Panic With OSU Offense

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STILLWATER, Oklahoma -

The Oklahoma State defense has garnered the majority of the non-quarterback related headlines after Saturday's victory against Mississippi State and it is well-deserved attention on the heels of a dominating performance.

But, for the first time in a long time, there are grumblings about the state of State's offense.

Scoring 21 points—even against an SEC defense in an 18-point victory—is not what Cowboy fans have grown accustomed to. Neither was 146 passing yards, a first-quarter quarterback switch or 39 yards leading the team in receiving. Those sound more like Bob Simmons-esque numbers than the output of a Mike Gundy-led unit.

But one bit of good news on offense is this: OSU has quite a while to figure it out—if there is actually anything to figure out—starting with Saturday's game at UT-San Antonio. After UTSA, OSU plays host to FCS foe Lamar before having a bye week to prepare for a trip to an underwhelming West Virginia squad on Sept. 28.

But first things first with UTSA, Savannah State it most certainly is not. That said, it's also a significant drop in competition from Mississippi State. This fact alone should allow offensive coordinator Mike Yurcich the ability to open up the offense and take a few more risks, seeing examples of how this offense can blend an explosive, vertical passing attack with zone-read and three-back sets.

And while UTSA does not pose nearly the threat that MSU did, the Roadrunners should still be able to put up enough of a fight to benefit real growth for the Cowboys' offense. It's an ideal scenario.

UTSA is well coached under former OSU assistant and Miami head coach Larry Coker and went 8-4 last season against a mixed bag of D-II, FCS and FBS competition. The Roadrunners are off to a 1-0 start to 2013 with a hard-fought 21-13 victory against New Mexico. That makes for a good team for OSU to grow against.

And on an even better note, how much growth does the Cowboys' offense actually need?

This is an offense that returned nearly every important offensive weapon at the skill positions and has two quarterbacks who started multiple games for an offense that ranked No. 3 nationally in scoring.

And, honestly, the thing that held OSU's passing offense back the most on Saturday was OSU, not Mississippi State.

The Cowboy coaching staff seemed to pull in the reins a bit and stick with a run-first attack and a lateral passing game once the defense showed it could be relied on. And, even though it might not have resulted in the numbers people have grown to expect from OSU, the game plan succeeded after a rocky first quarter.

The first quarter was questionable from an execution standpoint, and that can be expected in a season opener, but OSU moved the ball fine for the final three periods. The Cowboys' offensive staff didn't abandon the passing game; it simply chose to attack a weakness in Mississippi State's game plan.

The Bulldogs chose to play deep and try to eliminate deep passes, so OSU ran the ball right at them.

And even better, the Cowboys dominated with their ground game.

J.W. Walsh became the first quarterback at OSU since Zac Robinson in 2007 to run for more than 100 yards and he did it with style, averaging 9.6 yards per carry for 125 yards and scampered in for a touchdown. In fact, Walsh currently leads the Big 12 in rushing.

And Jeremy Smith ranks fifth in the conference in rushing after an underappreciated 102-yard outing on 6.2 yards per carry with two touchdowns.

It wasn't that the Pokes couldn't pass; it's that there was limited need to try.

"Any time you have something that's working, you never want to go away from that. Use what's working and attack what you see with the defense, and that's what we did Saturday," Walsh said. "I feel like we'll be able to build on that and move on and expand on our offense going forward. It's whatever coach wants to call, and we're going to go execute those plays. It was good to see that we were able to run the ball, and we'll look to expand on that."

Again, the first-quarter inconsistencies will need to be addressed but there is no question this team is able to pass. Both Walsh and Clint Chelf proved that last season with a receiving corps that is even deeper now than it was then.

The good news is that this offense can run—and in a dominant fashion—even against an SEC defense, which shapes up well for the rest of the season. That was a concern after Joseph Randle decided to turn pro.

And the increased attention on running is something Yurcich said he has been planning since he arrived in Stillwater. He discussed the effectiveness of the zone-read and the three-back diamond formation on Monday.

"We installed that last spring. It was effective back then, so we continued to work at it," Yurcich said. "We studied tape of the San Francisco 49ers, who ran it well with Colin Kaepernick. We tried to grab some film from that. They ran some of those exact plays out of that formation, so we just looked at a lot of their tape."

In other words, Walsh should be an even more effective runner than he was in 2012. And the passing will come; Walsh completed 67 percent of his passes for 1,564 yards with 13 touchdowns and just three picks as a freshman.

The air raid will get worked back into the offensive rhythm in time, and time is something the Pokes have plenty of with a soft upcoming schedule. There's plenty to feel good about in Stillwater.

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