Oklahoma State quarterback Mason Rudolph threw for 3,770 yards last season. But when head coach Mike Gundy took the podium during Big 12 Media Days July 17, he didn’t talk about the passing game; his focus was on getting the running game going.
“You’re being nice by saying we struggled with the running game,” he said to chuckles. “We weren’t very good at all.”
The Cowboys netted 2,430 yards on the ground as a team and 26 touchdowns.
Rudolph said the running game is equally important for the success of the offense.
“Every offense has to be balanced,” he said. “We didn’t do as good a job. That’s the challenge.”
Part of the focus is improved offensive line play, which Gundy believes the Cowboys will get this year. He said seven linemen are expected to play a lot of minutes. If the offensive linemen can run block as well as they pass protect, there’s no limit to what the offense can do, the coach said.
“It was one of the most unusual times for me as an offensive coach or head coach to be around a group that were really good pass protectors, and we weren’t very good at run blocking,” he said. “Hopefully, we’ll improve in both areas and if we can protect Mason, I’m fairly comfortable with our wide receiver play that we should be able to move the ball throwing it through the air.”
As for the running backs, the key for them is continuity and experience.
“They are bigger and stronger than what they were last year,” he said, “and I think when we put all that together, we’re going to improve in the running game.”
One running back most fans want to see is Barry Sanders, Jr., son of Heisman Trophy winner Barry Sanders, who attended OSU from 1986-1988. The younger Sanders graduated from Stanford but had one year of eligibility remaining. Gundy said he hasn’t been around the youngster much because he was finishing up in California and didn’t arrive on campus until mid June. The medical staff needed a week to examine him before he could work out with the team.
“I know that he’s mature,” the coach said. “That he’s dependable, seems to be durable. We’re excited about him being a part of our team. We hope that he will make a contribution that will help us be a better running football team. I’m excited about getting out there with him in August and seeing just what he can do for our football team.”
The departure of quarterback J.W. Walsh, who is a graduate assistant at TCU this year, also means the quarterback package he ran effectively is gone. Gundy said Rudolph won’t be handled any differently. And coaches are open to allowing another player to contribute in short-yardage situations much like Walsh.
“If not, then we’ll develop a scheme for Mason that fits those categories,” he said. “Our goal will to establish a backup quarterback as quickly as possible. … and that’s not something that happens overnight. But we’ll do the best we can to get a young man prepared in case we need him.”
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