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Cowboys looking for answers with a faltering offensive line: ‘We’re playing musical chairs’

From the West Virginia 24, Oklahoma St. 19: Cowboys stall in loss to Mountaineers series
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Bedlam: Oklahoma vs Oklahoma State (copy)

Oklahoma State’s Jake Springfield (61) helps quarterback Spencer Sanders (3) off the ground while Oklahoma players celebrate with defensive lineman Jordan Kelley (88), center, after recording a sack during the first quarter of their game Nov. 19 in Norman.

OSU struggles in Bedlam, but Kelly expects the Cowboys to rebound this week versus West Virginia. Plus, Mike Boynton's basketball team figuring out how to win games.

STILLWATER — Isaiah Coe wrapped his arms around Spencer Sanders and drove him into the ground.

Early in the fourth quarter, Oklahoma’s 6-foot, 292-pound interior defensive lineman had sacked Sanders. It was the third sack of Oklahoma State’s quarterback to that point.

By the end of the game, the Sooners’ defense would finish with five sacks of Sanders. They would record another on a pass attempt by OSU receiver John Paul Richardson.

But Coe’s was different. OSU’s center, Preston Wilson, had let him into the backfield.

It was the first time Wilson had allowed a sack since Nov. 7, 2020.

“That one really hurt,” Wilson said after the game, tears building in his eyes. “That sucks. But at the end of the day, God is good, the sun’s going to rise tomorrow.”

In OSU’s 28-13 loss to OU, the six sacks and 12 quarterback hurries the Cowboys’ offensive line allowed were the most this season. With injuries again accumulating for the unit, OSU (7-4 overall, 4-4 Big 12) will look to tame the turmoil against West Virginia at 11 a.m. Saturday at Boone Pickens Stadium.

“They’re just inconsistent in areas,” OSU coach Mike Gundy said. “(Jason) Brooks graded out the highest the last two or three weeks, I think. And then a couple of the guys that didn’t, they graded out better in this game.

“So we need them to all come together.”

The unit has also stumbled in the run game, leading to a dismal 3.4 yards per carry — the lowest average in Gundy’s tenure.

Both tackle spots have remained unmoved through 11 games, with Caleb Etienne anchoring the left side and Jake Springfield on the right. Taylor Miterko has started the whole season at left guard, but the center and right guard position have dealt with numerous injuries.

Wilson has missed three games this season, leading to Joe Michalski and Eli Russ filling in for him at center. Hunter Woodard started the first seven games at right guard, but an undisclosed injury resulted in Jason Brooks, a Vanderbilt transfer, playing the following three games.

After Brooks was ruled out for the OU game, Michalski shifted over to right guard.

“It was easy to do just stepping in and not being absurdly nervous because last year when Danny (Godlevske) went down I played the last four games of the season, so I already had a taste of what the pressure was,” Michalski said last week.

But the Cowboys don’t have Godlevske, their center, anymore. Nor Josh Sills. Both exhausted their eligibility and signed with NFL teams after the NFL Draft but have since been cut.

“We’re playing musical chairs,” Gundy said after the Bedlam loss.

Wilson said of the constant personnel changes: “It’s difficult at times. It’s a next-man-up mentality, no matter who it is. I believe in every single one of the guys out there. Everyone’s played a great game; everybody’s had to move around in their career.”

It’s a unit that has been under heavy scrutiny this year. With the run game failing to materialize, Sanders’ pass ability has become the offensive focus, with the senior quarterback attempting 69 passes against the Sooners.

All while dealing with a shoulder injury.

“Hey man, it’s not over. We’re not going to cash in,” said Wilson of his message to the team. “There’s no point. We’ve never been that team. Every week we’re going to give it what we have.”

Down the road, OSU has three offensive linemen committed in the 2023 class. Jack Endean, a 6-foot-5 tackle from Tucson, Arizona, JaKobe Sanders, a 6-foot-3 center from Stillwater and Gage Stanaland from Tuscola, Texas.

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