A Changing Offense
Change is one of the biggest aspects of coaching a Big 12 team not named Texas or Oklahoma. Teams like Texas Tech and Oklahoma State have constantly thrived on changing offenses and adapting to the circumstances around them. Tech adopted the Air Raid, OkState has an RPO-based spread system. The Pokes also recently hired Duke DC Jim Knowles to change their defense to a 4-2-5.
With the departure of OSU legend Mason Rudolph, the biggest question in Stillwater is, “who will be taking the QB1 snaps?” Rudolph stood 6-4 and matched the prototypical image of a pro-style offense. He happened to lead a spread offense to enormous numbers with the use of vertical threats, dicing up defenses down the seams. You can see that this was no accident; Rudolph shed his redshirt in 2014, closely following the departure of Brandon Weeden. The Cowboys tend to like pro-style quarterbacks. Like big Mason.
Looking at the roster, you can see that the Cowboys tend to stick with quarterbacks above 6′ and bigger than 200 lb. There are 6 returning quarterbacks, including redshirt senior Taylor Cornelius. The 6-6 Senior, like most of their returning quarterback room, is a holdover from prior Cowboy recruiting. Another prime example of the value that the Pokes put on size is Sophomore Jelani Woods, who stands 6-7 235.
14 days ago it was clear in the minds of OSU fans that the QB battle came down to this: freshman Spencer Sanders vs. Cornelius. The freshman has speed, and ever since Rudolph ditched his redshirt and beat OU in ’14 the Pokes have a soft spot for freshmen. Cornelius’ size and arm strength vs. Sanders’ speed and intangibles is a fun and exciting QB battle. For those of you who have seen Sanders, check out what “Corndog” can do.
Cornelius is really a Rudolph clone. One look at him and you can tell that there as a certain type of player being recruited from 2013-2016. Big guys with big arms and good decision making ability–mobility optional. But when you look at the players coming to OSU now, it’s evident that OC Mike Yurcich has chosen to go a different route with the Cowboy quarterbacks of the future. Let’s take a look at them one by one.
Spencer Sanders: 6-2 190lb. FR; Ryan HS, Denton TX
You could do an entire film breakdown of Sanders; he’s one of the best dual threat QBs coming out of Texas this year, and he led Denton Ryan to a successful year. I dedicated a section of my post on the 2018 recruiting class to Sanders, because he’s that type of player. The former running back turned field general has some moves. Sanders is 6-2 190 lb. and can really move. He’s a 4-star guy with pro speed, a competitive streak and ridiculous athleticism, which are all obvious from his recruiting tape.
But Sanders isn’t all that big, and in fact, he looks more like someone we’d see at Oregon or UCF than at a Big 12 school. With the exception of TCU, Big 12 teams tend to use prototypical quarterbacks to run spread offenses. Sure, there’s RGIII and Mayfield, but I wouldn’t exactly put Sam Ehlinger or Patrick Mahomes on the same level of mobility as Marcus Mariota. In the Big 12, teams will still duke it out with a Tyrone Swoopes or a Blake Bell. We tend to see larger guys get the nod for their ability to push the ball and see over the line, although Kenny Hill and Boykin have tried to demolish that stereotype.
Regardless, Sanders is a rushing and a throwing threat, which is odd because the Cowboy offense tends to use QB rushes very sparingly. Watching Rudolph run was almost painful–the man lumbered. Cornelius can and will take off, but his speed and body type are not the same as Sanders. I’ve previously said that I believe Sanders to be the turning point in an offense that will begin to feature new plays based around QB run, and our next two guys seem to prove that idea.
Dru Brown: 5-11 200lb. Grad Transfer; U. of Hawaii
This guy is really interesting. A graduate transfer from Hawaii, with a scholarship no less, Brown will be serious competition for the QB1 spot come Fall. He’s listed at 5-11, but even that might be generous. The San Mateo, California, native spent some time at a JUCO before moving on to Hawaii; he failed to garner national recognition mainly due to his size. He’s got some serious competitive drive and is a one-two punch like Sanders in that he can beat you with the deep ball, but he’s a serious running threat like Sanders hopes to be.
Brown is an interesting case in my opinion. He’s a direct departure from what you normally see at OSU, standing a good 4-6 inches smaller than Rudolph or Cornelius. Let’s be honest, he even looks like Mayfield on the field. It’s becoming clearer and clearer, OSU is moving toward a certain type of player at the quarterback position.
Brown has said to the media that each time he plays, he’s driven by the fact that they didn’t give him chance. If that doesn’t echo Baker I don’t know what does. Additionally, as you can plainly see, Brown already runs an offense similar to Yurcich’s. Granted, the Cowboys don’t tend to use this pistol read option with GT Counter or trap like Hawaii does, but it’s the same general system. You can take Brown seriously primarily because he’s got a scholarship.
It’s been mentioned that Brown could be a “stop-gap” between Rudolph and the next guy, but I think it’s more than that. Brown is such a drastic departure from the type of player typically taking snaps at BPS (Boone Pickens Stadium, you nerd) that it’s worth thinking about. Why is this guy getting the time of day from Yurcich? If Yurcich or Gundy didn’t intend to give him a chance, he’d be a walk-on or somewhere else.
Shaun Taylor: 6-0 200lb. FR; All Saints, Fort Worth TX
If this guy doesn’t fascinate you, I don’t know what to say. To start, he’s not listed on 247 as a commit, let alone as a player because he’s unranked. From what I can tell, he’s received a preferred walk-on or a quiet scholarship; he really hasn’t kicked up a lot of dust, even from guys who claim to only cover OSU sports. The only reason anybody knows this kid will be in Stillwater is because of twitter. (Please don’t tweet at him).
Taylor is 6-0 200 lb and runs a spread system similar to a multitude of high level Texas high schools, such as Lake Travis. It’s based on a read option and having guys at the QB position who are mobile enough to take off. This past year he threw for over 4000 yards and 60 TDs at All Saints in Fort Worth, which competes in TAAPS D1, the most competitive division of private schools in the state. Taylor quietly killed it. While OK State recruiting twitter was fawning over Spencer Sanders, he was balling out 30 minutes away.
Taylor has an arm, and he’s definitely a pass-first guy. But, his athleticism and body type, similar to Brown, are enough for anyone to see a pattern. The Cowboys are leaning toward a certain type of player, and it’s somebody who has the ability to stretch the field. Cornelius has this ability, as does Sanders, Brown and Taylor. But not everybody on the roster can stretch the field vertically with their arm and horizontally with their feet.
The plan is probably to let Sanders and Taylor compete, and redshirt the one they plan to use less. Public opinion would tell you that Sanders will see the field first, and I would tend to lean that way as well. But you never know what weights and college coaching will do for a kid. I would keep my eye on Taylor.
I’m not an oracle. I don’t know who will be taking the snaps come September vs. Missouri State. The OSU staff has not been made available to the media yet. A logical guess is that it’s a 3-way battle between Cornelius, Brown, and Sanders, with room to squeak in if you play your ass off in camp. One thing is obvious: Yurcich and Gundy have determined that the Cowboys will be using an altered offense with more mobile quarterbacks.
Come October people will be surprised. Don’t be one of them. I’m telling you right now, OSU is going to run a dynamic offense featuring more quarterback runs. The Pokes struggled at Texas this past year because they couldn’t run with the quarterback. The ‘Horns put 5 in the box and dared OSU to run on them. But Rudolph’s lack of mobility made that incredibly difficult, and the Pokes struggled because Rudolph wasn’t a serious option for the run. In 2018, they’ve made an effort to get 3 guys who can actually run the ball and stretch the field multiple ways.
When the Cowboys are leading the nation in offense again, in part to some slightly undersized running quarterback, don’t be surprised. Turn to your friend and explain to them that this was obvious since February.