STILLWATER, Okla. (AP) — Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy feels his coaching staff got as much as they could out of this year's team.
The Cowboys were unranked in the preseason and picked to finish fourth in the Big 12. Things turned out much better than that — Oklahoma State won its first 10 games, finished second in the league and reached the Sugar Bowl. Even Gundy was a bit surprised to tally the program's fourth 10-win season in six years.
"I told you guys all year, I said, 'We're a good football team. We're not a great football team. We're not a great football team this year,'" he said. "'We're a good football team that had good chemistry that won 10 games.'"
The Cowboys combined one of the nation's most explosive offenses with an opportunistic, playmaking defense to create a winning formula that masked some major weaknesses.
A key reason the Cowboys exceeded expectations was the sophomore combination of quarterback Mason Rudolph and receiver James Washington. Rudolph finished third in school history in yards passing in a season with 3,770, despite a hairline fracture in his right foot that cost him most of the Oklahoma game and left him hobbled for the Sugar Bowl loss to Ole Miss.
"He avoided the sophomore jinx," Gundy said. "There was a lot of talk about it (before the season). He avoided it. For the most part, he had a good year. He was considerably different in games five through 10, before he hurt his foot, than he was in the first three or four games. And that's the growth you're looking for."
Gundy said there's more ahead for the 6-foot-4, 220-pound pocket passer with deceptive mobility.
"He'll get bigger and stronger and develop his body more," Gundy said.
Washington emerged as one of the nation's best deep threats with 53 catches for 1,087 yards and 10 touchdowns. Gundy said Washington built on the experience he gained as a freshman.
"He played early, so he gained that game experience, just recognition and the tempo of the game," Gundy said.
Most of the offensive stars will return aside from David Glidden, who led the team in receptions, and red zone specialist J.W. Walsh.
Even with all the big numbers on offense, the Cowboys lacked balance. Oklahoma State's leading rusher, Chris Carson, finished with just 557 yards and averaged just 3.9 yards per carry. The team's No. 2 rusher, Walsh, was a backup quarterback who played primarily in red zone and short-yardage situations.
"When you look at this year's team, it's pretty amazing what we were able to accomplish without being able to rush the football at all," Gundy said. "When we improve in that area, the rest of our offense is going to be better."
Gundy said he expected more from Carson, the preseason Big 12 Newcomer of the Year, but he hasn't given up on the junior college transfer.
"He's got something there," Gundy said of Carson. "We've got to get it. He's got to get a really good frame of mind, and be in attack mode. He's got to develop."
On defense, Emmanuel Ogbah was named the AP Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year, but he has declared early for the NFL draft. The Cowboys also lose defensive end Jimmy Bean, who missed the late part of the season with a torn ACL. Gundy said he believes Bean could be a late-round draft pick. The Cowboys also lose linebacker Ryan Simmons, who missed much of the season with a knee injury.
With the ailments, the defense was the primary reason the Cowboys didn't accomplish even more. Even in their best win, they gave up 663 total yards in a win over TCU. Oklahoma State surrendered 700 total yards on more than 100 plays in a loss to Baylor.
In the losses to Baylor, Oklahoma and Ole Miss, the Cowboys allowed 285 yards rushing per game. Gundy said the Cowboys will need to improve in that area to take another step forward.
"Defensively, we need to be a better run fit team," Gundy said. "When we played these really explosive offenses at the end of the year, we didn't fit the run very good. We were spread out all over the place. And those are relatively easy fixes, we just need to rep it and clear it all up."
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