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By the numbers: Why the Cowboys are struggling to score second-half points
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By the numbers: Why the Cowboys are struggling to score second-half points

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OSU v Baylor (copy)

Oklahoma State running back Dominic Richardson runs the ball through the Baylor defense during their game Oct. 2 at Boone Pickens Stadium.

Oct. 11, 2021 video. Cowboys head coach talks about facing Texas on the road after having a bye week. Video courtesy/OSU Athletics

STILLWATER — According to the head coach, the halftime adjustment process Oklahoma State uses today hasn’t changed much since the mid-1990s, when Mike Gundy was coaching quarterbacks under Bob Simmons with Les Miles as the offensive coordinator.

Scribbled onto a locker room whiteboard are play calls from the first half, alongside defensive coverages, fronts and schemes. In front of it, offensive coaches go over what worked in the opening 30 minutes and scrap what didn’t.

By the time the Cowboys emerge from the locker room, offensive coordinator Kasey Dunn has a dozen-or-so plays scripted out to open the second half. In previous seasons, it’s been a highly effective system for OSU.

“Most years we’ve been better in the second half offensively than the first half,” Gundy said last week. “We’ve made really good adjustments and been much better.”

“That hasn’t happened this year.”

The No. 12 Cowboys travel to No. 25 Texas on Saturday at 5-0 in spite of an offense that’s laid dormant after halftime in their past three games.

In wins over Boise State, Kansas State and Baylor, OSU scored 10 total second-half points — all of them against the Bears — with a lone Jaylen Warren score representing the only touchdown in those six, second-half quarters. Entering Week 7, the Cowboys rank No. 118 in the nation in second-half production, averaging 7.8 points after the break through five games, and Gundy stands perplexed.

“We’ve been poor in the second half,” he said. “I don’t know why.”

OSU’s second-half struggles have come with the ball in its hands more than any other offense in the Big 12 in 2021. While the Cowboys are scoring less in the second half than all but 12 teams across the country, their 59.1% share of time of possession after halftime is the ninth-highest among FBS teams, compared to a more middling 50.3% in the first half.

But second-half possession has been a rare statistical improvement for OSU in the midst of their third-and fourth-quarter scoring woes against Boise State, Kansas State and Baylor.

On average across the three wins, the Cowboys gained 129.6 second-half yards, nearly half the 242 they racked up before halftime. They recorded 26 total second-half first downs, 12 fewer than the 38 picked up in the six, first-half quarters. And on third down, OSU’s conversion rate dropped from 53.8% to 34.4% after the Cowboys exited the locker room.

The source of the drop off in OSU’s second-half production is a curious one for this run-reliant team.

After a 7-yard first half at Boise State, Spencer Sanders’ passing numbers have held mostly steady in both first and second halves, dropping only an average of 13.8 yards in the second half of the two games that followed, while the Cowboys’ running game fell steeply.

OSU eclipsed the 100-yard mark on the ground in the first half of all three contests, gaining 168 and 160 yards against Boise State and Baylor. But the Cowboys’ best rushing total after halftime in those games is the 78 second-half yards they rushed for in Boise, and OSU is averaging 2.0 yards per carry in the second half over the three-game span.

The statistics bear out a rushing attack that’s losing its edge after halftime, coinciding with the Cowboys’ offensive struggles. Gundy spoke Monday of the dangers of his offense turning one-note, particularly when leaning on the passing game.

“It’s almost like it is in the NFL,” he said. “If you become one-dimensional, then you’re at a disadvantage because now your offensive line has to protect when the other team knows you’re throwing passes.”

The same running game that’s fueled OSU’s success over its first five games may also be at the heart of its most crucial offensive issue, one the Cowboys will take another stab at solving this weekend in Texas.

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OSU Sports Writer

I cover Oklahoma State athletics for the Tulsa World. I have previously worked for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, Emporia Gazette in Kansas and the Columbia Missourian. I graduated from the University of Missouri in 2020 and am a native of Mamaroneck, NY.

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