December 15, 2010

What Now for O-State?

It appears all but certain that Dana Holgorsen will ride off into the sunrise and head to West Virginia, where he will apparently become the Mountaineers' offensive coordinator next season and head coach in 2012.

So sound the tornado sirens in Stillwater. After all, Holgorsen's impact has been huge at Oklahoma State in 2010, so this is terrible news for Orange Country, right?

While it's absolutely true that Holgorsen made a huge impact during his one-season stay at OSU, it's not like the Cowboys haven't had prolific offenses before. You see, when framed against the output of the past few years, what Holgorsen really did was breathe new life in a system that had grown stagnant and put a new spin on something that had been building before he ever arrived on campus.

But before looking at what came before, let's examine just what Holgorsen and OSU did together on offense in 2010. Coming in, the offense - and team overall - was predicted to have a down year, what with some big losses in the framework of the team, including offensive cornerstones Zac Robinson and Dez Bryant. And after a 9-4 Cotton Bowl run, it seemed the Pokes had nowhere to go but down.

Not only did the Cowboys not fall, they enjoyed their first 10-win regular season in school history. A lot of that had to do with the offense, as replacements Brandon Weeden at quarterback and Justin Blackmon at wide receiver joined a fully-healthy Kendall Hunter at tailback to create another set of OSU triplets. Another set? More on that later.

This past season, OSU's offense finished tops in the land, averaging 537.5 yards per game, just edging out the quack attack from Oregon. Also, the Pokes averaged 44.9 points per game, ranking third for this past season. It was a clear contrast from 2009, when OSU was 70th nationally in total offense, only putting up 367 ypg and 28.4 ppg. While injuries to key players and the loss of Bryant to NCAA issues was a culprit to the system, many believed that Mike Gundy was struggling to pull off a dual role as head coach and play-caller. Larry Fedora was offensive coordinator from 2005-2007 and his offense brought OSU up from 92nd nationally in 2005 (342.1 ypg) to 15th in 2006 (419 ypg) and 8th (491.7) the following season. That impressive showing got the attention of Southern Miss, which hired him away to lead the Golden Eagles. After Fedora's departure, Gundy took over play-calling in 2008 and the offense kept humming along, finishing 6th (487.7 ypg).

But, as mentioned above, the following season saw a drastic drop, even while the Cowboys put together a second-straight nine-win campaign. Because of that, Gundy looked to shake things up by finding an external candidate for the play-calling role. Enter Holgorsen and his well-respected offensive pedigree. His influence in Stillwater made an immediate impact in how the offense was ran. And unlike mentor Mike Leach, he wasn't averse to running the ball if the situation warranted it. Hunter, an All-American from 2008, rushed for 1,516 yards and 16 touchdowns under the high-octane passing game. The passing game spoke for itself, as Weeden passed for 4,037 yards and 32 touchdowns. Most of that went to Blackmon, who compiled 1,665 yards and 18 scores in 11 games en route to the Biletnikoff.

That set of triplets and Holgorsen tore through Big 12 defenses and had OSU competing for a conference championship and a BCS bid. And while that quest fell short, the offense had a big say in the program getting so close to such a lofty level.

Which is exactly why Holgorsen is headed to Morgantown. While OSU isn't a national, brand-name program, the secret about just how far the Cowboy program has come since Gundy's first year as head coach in 2005 is out. After all, the OC position has now basically spawned two head coaches. That suggests OSU has been doing something right for awhile now, as hiring a school's coordinators is the sincerest form of flattery.

Is Holgorsen a big loss for OSU? No doubt. But this isn't like running into a brick wall for the Cowboys' offense. Some points to consider:

OSU was already gangbusters on offense in previous seasons. See above.

OSU has already survived the loss of an offensive coordinator who put together big numbers. See above.

The term "Triplets" has been around OSU for over 20 years now. While the original trio of Gundy, Hart Lee Dykes and Barry Sanders has little to do with the recent run, that's where the history lies. But OSU had Triplets 2.0 in the early 2000s, with the likes of Josh Fields, Rashaun Woods and Tatum Bell (under an OC named Mike Gundy, ironically enough). And the trio of Robinson, Dantrell Savage and Adarius Bowman is another. And then you look at Robinson, Hunter and Bryant. And this year OSU had Hunter, Weeden and Blackmon. The Cowboys have been blessed with big-time talents in those three positions most of the past decade.

The recruiting game won't fall apart. Need proof? Then check out comments from J.W. Walsh, which is the centerpiece of the current recruiting class: "I'm 100 percent solid on OSU still," Walsh told the Denton Record-Chronicle. "I talked to Coach Gundy today and they're still going to be the same Oklahoma State. I understand when opportunities present themselves to coaches, it's a business for them and they're going to go for what's best for them. I can only wish him the best and hope things go well for him."

The offense has had three core pieces for years Current assistants Gunter Brewer, Doug Meacham and Joe Wickline have been on Gundy's staff for years and carry plenty of offensive "institutional knowledge" with them. They have been a stabilizing force on that side of the ball for years and they most assuredly picked up new tricks under Holgorsen's management.

So where does OSU go from here? They're in a nice situation, aside from losing Holgorsen. The fact is, this position is one of the tops in the country for any coach looking to make a name for himself and get a head coaching gig someday. The fact that Fedora and now Holgorsen (albeit with a year in a holding pattern) were and are seen as head-coaching material signals to candidates that they might be one stop away from their own program. Also, as mentioned above, OSU has internal options as well that could more than fill the post.

After examining the situation at hand, there is little reason to sound the sirens in Stillwater. While losing coordinators is tough for programs to endure, all it means is that other schools want a piece of the success and want to emulate what your program has done. That's exactly the case for Gundy, who will more than likely find another top offensive mind to plug into the system. All he can do now is thank Holgorsen for his year in Stillwater and for the additions he made and look ahead to the next option at Offensive State University.



 

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