Injuries, Turnovers and Special Teams

Joseph Randle fumbles the ball away.

It was a rough road trip to Kansas State for the Oklahoma State Cowboys. First, because the Wildcats are a good football team. They very much remind me of the Cowboys a year ago in their confidence and leadership with older players on the field. Offensively, it is a different style, but they are very good at what they do.

Defensively, they are very similar to the Cowboys from the 2011 season in that they allow yards but the Wildcats are getting great play from their pass rush in putting pressure on the quarterback. Their defensive backs give up some big plays but also bite back with baiting throwers and then when they take the bait hooking interceptions. The fumble by Joseph Randle was also a heads up play by the Wildcats to get the strip.

Until Saturday night, the Wildcats had dealt with some injuries, but no major adversity and they were humming along. Now, we'll see on Collin Klein, who my sources said was not standing on the sidelines because of a wrist injury (as reported by some).

But it was because he was a little cookoo after his head slammed the turf hard on the one-yard quarterback sneak for a score. Klein could be seen jabbering to his brother and others that would listen, and seemed a little nonchalant to what was going on out on the field.

I can tell you that Meshak Williams's hit had on Wes Lunt was of the devastating variety. I'm guessing that Lunt has had few hits, if any, during his career match that one.

His evaluation will take place during the week, but Lunt was very uncomfortable and not feeling good at all the rest of the night. His availability will be based on testing done throughout the week, comparing his baseline responses and reactions in concussion testing.

Oklahoma State has not endured such quarterback injuries and uncertainty since Mike Gundy's first year as head coach. It started that season with Donovan Woods and progressed into Bobby Reid before falling to third-teamer Al Pena when Reid was injured against Missouri.

That said, for all wondering, including this reporter, as to how Clint Chelf would do if he ever had to play in meaningful time, consider the issue decided.

Chelf came in and did a wonderful job. Can Oklahoma State win with Chelf as the quarterback? The answer is yes. But how much the Cowboys can win in this next tough three-game stretch will be dictated not by the number or name of the quarterback, but if they can improve in several key areas.

Turnovers: This applies some to the quarterbacks but also coaching, protection and blocking, ball security, and defense. The Cowboys have really gone from one extreme to the other; finishing last season +21 in turnovers and now -9 in turnovers with four games to play this season. The offense had five turnovers at K-State and the defense had no takeaways. That needs to change, or at least, equalize and be balanced.

Red Zone: A terrible habit has developed for the offense with the ability to move within the 20-yard lines and then stall in the red zone. The loss of a receiver like Justin Blackmon to go up and take the ball on fades and other short routes is dramatic. It is an old problem that haunts spread offenses that can toughen up and run the ball in tight quarters or has a go to ball hawker. Something needs to be developed soon.

Special Teams: Quinn Sharp is great, but for those few times he doesn't kick off touchbacks, the coverage unit must be better. K-State's Tyler Lockett and Tramaine Thompson are good, but that looked too easy. Two of Sharp's kickoffs were poor efforts on either hang time or placement, but the cover unit needs to bail him and the team out. Those special team snafus were costly, very costly.

Defense: It's hard to blame the defense with the kick return for a score and the pick six. There were three other scores where the defense was put in a bad spot. Sometimes a defense has to deal with a bad transition and make it good. The tackling was not great and they allowed a few third-down coversions (5-of-13). You'd like to have seen stops on even more though the overall conversions on the night weren't bad. The bottom line is the defense did not match big plays being made by K-State's stoppers.

It's a simple game, and that is the way Kansas State treats it. The Wildcats have simply put together a dream type of season like the Cowboys did a year ago.

Now this season can still be a tremendous stepping stone and momentum builder, but it needs at least three more regular season wins to satisfy that description.

The effort is there, and being close to it I know these players are fighting and battling with great effort. You have to hope the next two weeks at home with West Virginia and Texas Tech, the OSU fans will be there and will battle with them. This team needs its fans right now, more than ever.

Think about that the next two weeks. Think about Wes Lunt, knocked silly and trying to vomit to attempt to feel better on the sidelines. Think about J.W. Walsh on crutches after playing almost an entire game, very effectively, on a painful leg injury, or Tracy Moore, a senior who would desperately love to be out there but is on crutches.

Think about those players that are battling with nicks and bruises and keep going. The difference between an average season and one that can be a source of pride and used to build momentum in recruiting and for the future is over the next month. I hope Oklahoma State's players and fans will make it a major group effort.

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