PFB+ Film Study: Breaking Down Oklahoma State's Running Game vs. TU

By @dustinragusa24

In Part 1, we took a look at the overall scheme and play calling from Oklahoma State's 28-23 win over Tulsa. For today's post, I'm going to go into further detail on the Cowboy running game, covering what worked and what didn't work against the Golden Hurricane. I wanted to start things off by taking a look at several different groupings of statistics.

First, I have the breakdown of rushing attempts and yards by everyone who carried the ball on Saturday. Just to note, I am excluding the three kneels as the end of the game. Also, I am counting Spencer Sanders sack on the Draw play, but excluding the sack on the passing play.

  • Jaylen Warren: 14 attempts / 37 yards / 2.6 average / 1 TD / 0 Fumbles Lost
  • Spencer Sanders: 9 attempts / 72 yards / 8.0 average / 0 TDs / 0 Fumbles Lost
  • LD Brown: 9 attempts / 26 yards / 2.9 average / 0 TDs / 0 Fumbles Lost
  • Dominic Richardson: 4 attempts / 18 yards / 4.5 average / 0 TDs / 0 Fumbles Lost
  • Dezmon Jackson: 3 attempts / 6 yards / 2.0 average / 0 TDs / 0 Fumbles Lost

Now, here is the breakdown by play type:

  • Zone (Inside, Outside, Split, Insert Iso, Zone Read): 28 attempts / 91 yards / 3.3 average / 1 TDs / 0 Fumbles Lost
  • QB Runs besides Zone Read (Draw and Boot): 4 attempts / 53 yards / 13.3 average / 0 TDs / 0 Fumbles Lost
  • Counter (GT): 4 attempts / 7 yards / 1.8 average / 0 TDs / 0 Fumbles Lost
  • Power: 3 attempts / 8 yards / 2.7 average / 0 TDs / 0 Fumbles Lost

And for the final stat breakdown, let's take a look by personnel grouping:

  • 11 personnel: 19 attempts / 97 yards / 5.1 average / 1 TD / 0 Fumbles Lost
  • 10 personnel: 1 attempts / -4 yards / -4.0 average / 0 TDs / 0 Fumbles Lost
  • 13 personnel: 4 attempts / 17 yards / 4.3 average / 0 TDs / 0 Fumbles Lost
  • 12 personnel: 15 attempts / 49 yards / 3.3 average / 0 TDs / 0 Fumbles Lost

For the second game in a row, the Cowboys went heavy on their Zone running scheme. We saw one less Gap Scheme (Counter/Power) run than last week against MSU, and with Sanders back, the Zone Read and designed QB running game was added into the game plan.

Now, let's dive into the film review.

Zone Read B-Gap Defender

In the second half, with the way Tulsa's defensive linemen were aligned, the Cowboys started letting the B-gap defender through unblocked and making him the "read" defender. See the diagram and video below for further explanation.

Doing this allows the OSU right tackle to release right away to the second level. In the first half, Sanders didn't keep it on the Zone Read and one of the reasons was probably because the second level defenders were able to key on him. The Pokes were able to find success on this play a few times in the second half, and it was definitely a nice adjustment made by offensive coordinator Kasey Dunn.

However, if I'm grading Sanders overall on the read plays, I think he should've kept the ball on more occasions than he did. TU wasn't respecting him on the keep from the start of this one, and they were able to stop the Cowboy running backs in the backfield by completely disregarding Sanders on the pull. As I mentioned in Part 1, this could be something Dunn is relaying in to Sanders, but if that's the case, I think at this point in Sanders' career you have to give him full responsibility on the read plays. If Sanders does own this responsibility completely, then he did a below average job on Saturday against Tulsa and needs to continue improving in that department.

Running to Strong Side

Outside of the play above, OSU only had six running plays go for over nine yards against the Golden Hurricane. Here are those plays:

  • Brown on Split Zone - 11 yards
  • Sanders on QB Draw. However, this looked like Zone/Bubble RPO, so may not have been designed - 11 yards
  • Richardson on Outside Zone - 13 yards
  • Warren on Insert Iso Zone - 11 yards and TD
  • Warren on Insert Iso Zone - 11 yards
  • Sanders on QB Draw, similar to play above - 37 yards

The first Split Zone run by Brown probably should've been stopped for a two-three yard gain, but Brown gave great effort. The two QB Draws looked like OSU's Zone/Bubble RPO, and Sanders kept it after realizing the Screen may not be open. This is most likely due to the Cowboys running this play into the boundary, when it probably should be run to the field. However, the Draw may be part of the RPO, as this was an OU staple with Kyler Murray at QB. Additionally, Warren's TD run should've also been stopped for a short gain.

My point is, even on these six successful running plays, a few of them the Cowboys got lucky.

This goes back to the point Adam Lunt made that I pointed out in Part 1. The Pokes were just too predictable in this one. They consistently ran the ball to the strong side of the formation, with very little misdirection, and Tulsa was keying on this. The Golden Hurricane defense was moving second- and third-level defenders into the box and were shutting down the Cowboy rushing attack. If you take away the 37-yard run from Sanders, the Pokes rushed for only 3.2 yards per carry.

In the image below, you'll see Tulsa has nine defenders in the box, and the Cowboys run right into it.

In this video example, you see the Pokes run into the strength of the formation and into the boundary, and Tulsa shuts it down.

And, here’s another example.


To touch on the offensive line, they need to continue to improve, I thought they were average for the most part in the running game. They needed to do a better job of getting to the second level, but Tulsa's defensive line clogging up the middle made this extremely difficult. Also, with the way OSU was running its Outside Zone scheme against TU's defense, some of the reach blocks the Cowboy O-line was being asked to make are very difficult. I think they are still part of the blame, but I don't think it was an absolutely poor performance from the big guys up front.

In addition, the running backs need to continue improving on their vision and ability to find the holes if OSU is going to continue heavily utilizing their Zone scheme. In the play below, you'll see the back miss the hole opened up by the offensive line, and cut back right into the defense.

I would also like to see Sanders get more aggressive in the Zone Read game, and it would be nice to see a few more designed QB runs in the mix. Establishing Sanders as a running threat early will force the defense to commit an extra defender to him, opening up things for the rest of the Cowboy rushing attack.

I'm hoping we see some different things scheme-wise from Dunn in Boise. If the Cowboys continue with this game plan, I think they're in for another poor performance on the ground.