MuskogeePhoenix.com, Muskogee, OK

October 29, 2013

One issue left at OSU: Junior’s performance might be answer for running game woes

By Nick Snow
CNHI News Service

— STILLWATER – Take a look at the Oklahoma State depth chart. Didn’t see it? Look again. This time let your eyes wander to the running back position.

That’s right, there’s a new word – or. As in Desmond Roland or Jeremy Smith or Rennie Childs.

A week ago, there was no “or.” It was Jeremy Smith’s job, with Roland and Childs used occasionally to spell the senior.

After Smith’s recent injuries and sub-par performances over the last few weeks – along with Roland’s 219 yards rushing against Iowa State that helped him garner Big 12 Offensive Player of the Week honors – Roland and Smith have flip-flopped in the Cowboys’ depth chart and that “or” became essential.

“(Roland) gave us some toughness with running the ball,” Oklahoma State offensive coordinator Mike Yurcich said. “He secures the ball very well, he was able to make some people miss and he did a great job in blitz pickup. He did everything well, not just carrying the football. He brought the total package.”

The depth chart turnover may have been a long time coming for an Oklahoma State offense that hasn’t really clicked since routing Lamar 59-3 a month ago.

But rest assured, Yurcich and the Cowboys feel like they might have finally found an answer to the team’s running problems.

“You’re just trying to find the right combination,” Yurcich said. “It’s going to unfold itself and production will be rewarded. He was very productive for us Saturday, so you’ll probably see more of him.”

Finding the right combination doesn’t start just with the running backs. It’s also been a problem for the guys blocking for those backs, as that depth chart continues to be shuffled like a deck of cards due to illness and injury.

But after gaining 342 rushing yards against the Cyclones, Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy and crew feel as if  they have the combination to be successful.

“The majority of it falls on our offensive line and their ability to block so that the running backs don’t have to make a cut in the backfield,” Gundy said. “This was the first game that we were able to play that we had the same starting five, for the most part, as the game before. There was some consistency in practice over a two-week period. I would like to think that has an effect and hopefully they will continue to improve as we move forward.”

That’s what it’s all about for Oklahoma State’s offense these days – consistency. Consistency at quarterback and consistency at running back.

“It was a chance I’ve been waiting on for a long time,” Roland said. “I’ve been playing a lot this year, but I feel like if I wanted to start, I had prove something and show the coach I was worth starting and I feel like I did that.”

“We knew what he could do,” Oklahoma State offensive lineman Parker Graham said. “He just needed that platform to kind of help himself propel off of it, and he did that against Iowa State. It makes us feel great knowing that we have running backs of that caliber behind us. You know our blocks aren’t made for no reason.”

While the Cowboys still have some work to do in figuring out which signal-caller will lead them the rest of the way, Roland – who was averaging 4.1 yards per carry before the Iowa State game – has given Oklahoma State a consistent running game that could open up the passing game a little more.

“You always want a good balance,” Oklahoma State receiver Charlie Moore said. “When you can run the ball, it always opens holes in the defense to throw the ball. We’re going to see what we can do with that and continue to run the ball. Like I said, it will help us in the throwing game.”

Chances are Roland will get his second career start Saturday against Texas Tech in Lubbock, Texas – an even bigger stage to showcase his talent and make a case for becoming No. 1 back.

Even as the running back carousel continues to spin and the Oklahoma State offense looks for something to finally get them out of its recent funk, Roland said the added “or” has created a positive competition between the three backs.

“There’s no hard feelings between me, Jeremy or Rennie,” Roland said. “We all look to improve. We work hard and give each other advice. Whoever is playing each snap in the game has to make something happen. That’s the way we look at it.”

If Roland keeps playing the way he did against Iowa State, there’s a good chance that tiny, two-letter word that leaves so much doubt might be removed from the first line of the depth chart.

“I’m trying to forget about the game and move on to Texas Tech,” Roland said. “I’m just going to stay focused and stay humble, keep working hard in practice and make sure our offense is putting up the same kind of numbers this week. We have another big game, so it’s time to move on.”