The Oklahoma State football team’s wide receivers are going to make life easy for the running backs.
Sure, the Cowboys might have the best group of wide receivers that college football has ever seen. Heck, they’re so deep, Jalen McCleskey, who led the team in receptions last season, had one catch last Thursday night. But their running backs will benefit the most from the talented group outside.
It breaks down simply. Make the opposing linebackers and safeties cover your receivers, open up the middle and you’ll get big runs like J.D. King’s 71-yard run in the second quarter against Tulsa.
With receivers like James Washington, an Associated Press’ preseason All-American, Marcell Ateman, Chris Lacy, Tyron Johnson, Dillon Stoner and McCleskey to throw to, secondaries and linebackers have to cover the pass. If not, quarterback Mason Rudolph will throw for more than 500 yards in a half and break every NCAA passing record.
But how is this opening up the running game? I’ll start with the front seven.
A defensive coordinator knows to cover five receivers, he will need at least five defenders to cover the routes. Against the Cowboys, teams can’t afford to go man coverage across the board because OSU has too many receivers who can get open in one-on-one coverage. At least four defensive backs and a linebacker or nickel back will be on the field to cover those five.
Because teams can’t cover with five defenders, teams may double Washington or run a coverage with man-to-man coverage across the board and two safeties deep, covering one half of the field.
When teams do that, it requires five defenders for five receivers and two more in zone, so only four can rush the quarterback. With five linemen blocking for running backs Justice Hill, King and LD Brown, it’s easy to get 10- and 15-yard gains on every run play.
Even if a linebacker stays in to watch for a quarterback scramble, there are still enough lineman to account for the defenders in the box.
When safeties are making pre-snap reads, the further they move toward the sidelines to cover the receivers, the more it opens up holes for the backs to run through once they get into the second level.
This was the case on King’s run, a scenario OSU backs will likely see plenty more this season. The safeties bumped out past the hashes to cover the pass, the linemen opened up a hole and the speed of the OSU running backs carried them into the end zone because no one can keep up them in the open field.
The best running play OSU has in its arsenal is the draw. A simple, yet powerful run, for it can work in almost any situation.
When Rudolph drops back and shows pass, linebackers will bump out into pass coverage, safeties will drop back into their zones and the defensive lineman will rush up field and try to get to Rudolph.
After about a second of faking pass, Rudolph hands the ball to whoever is at his side and they glide past the lineman and into the hole in the middle of the field.
Because of how strong its receivers are, when OSU runs the draw, if the defensive linemen don’t get to the running backs behind the line of scrimmage, it’s going to be a big gain every time. The middle of the field will be open.
If the safeties are reading receivers and corners and linebackers have their backs turned in coverage, by the time the running back is in the second level, he will have a head of steam and will be hard to stop.
The Cowboys’ rushed for 332 yards against Tulsa in their season opener. Although they might not reach a total like that again, expect the Cowboys to continue putting up big numbers on the ground.