STILLWATER — For moments on Saturday, like on freshman Jaden Bray’s 26-yard touchdown catch or when fellow first-year receiver Bryson Green sprawled out for his 19-yard scoring grab, it was easy to forget that Oklahoma State was missing veterans Braydon Johnson and Tay Martin.
In the running game, the void left by their absences was harder to ignore. The Cowboys rushed for 99 yards on 43 carries (2.3 yards per attempt), and on Monday coach Mike Gundy pointed to the Cowboys’ lack of experience on the perimeter as a root cause for OSU’s ailing rushing attack.
“Teams are ganging up a little bit on us because of the youth we have at wideout, and have extra guys fitting in the run game,” Gundy said. “That’s really what it comes down to.”
Without Johnson and Martin, the Cowboys’ receiving corps gets young fast.
OSU leaned heavily on Bray and Green Saturday, each playing only in their second college games. John Paul Richardson, another freshman, was called on for two catches. And for all of Brennan Presley’s speed and talent, Gundy said Monday that the sophomore is “not anywhere near being a veteran player.”
The youth extends to the Cowboy back position, too, where redshirt junior Braden Cassity and transfer Austin Jarrard are filling in for the experienced Logan Carter.
“We’re very young right now and inexperienced at wideout,” Gundy said. “The same issue at Cowboy back. That’s what we’re dealing with at this time.”
Save for a drop here, and a moment of miscommunication there, the lack of experience hasn’t hurt the Cowboys yet in the passing game, and freshmen like Bray and Green have made the most of their chances.
But on the ground, as Gundy outlined Monday, opposing defenses are taking advantage of the newcomers, still in their infancy as run blockers at the college level.
“It’s a numbers game,” Gundy said. “We lost a group of wide receivers. They played different coverages, put an extra guy in the box. It’s very simple. If that guy’s not in the box and back there playing the pass, one less guy to block, one less guy to make the tackle in the running game. That’s as big a factor as any scheme that you draw up. It’s a simple process.”
Through two weeks, OSU’s 194 rushing yards rank last among Big 12 offenses, as does the Cowboys’ mark of 2.7 yards per carry. The struggles of the young run block on the outside aren’t helping.
Offensive coordinator Kasey Dunn said Saturday that improvement will come with reps in practice and time on the field, viewing fundamentals and not schematics as the source of an overall sluggish rushing attack thus far. Asked if he has to do “any hand-holding” with his young receivers, Gundy said he recognizes the growing pains that come with inexperienced players.
“If they come up short, I get it,” Gundy said. “I understand it. I know going in what they’re gonna do. I’ve been doing this a long time.”
OSU is hopeful Martin, who suffered an ankle injury in Week 1 and exited after two snaps against Tulsa, can return in Week 3. Johnson’s status is unclear.
In the meantime, the Cowboys have to roll with the dual realities of their young, talented and not-quite-yet-ripe receivers; in one moment defying gravity for an acrobatic touchdown catch like Green did Saturday, in another getting overpowered by an undersized opposing defensive back...like Green did Saturday.
“He got smacked up pretty good twice trying to block,” Gundy said. “And he shouldn’t because he’s 215 pounds. But the reason he is because he’s thinking. He’s not being aggressive. So that’s what you get.”
It’s the double-edged sword of youth OSU and its run game has to live with, for the time being at least.