Following a “vanilla” 42-6 blowout of the Kansas Jayhawks, the Oklahoma State Cowboys have positioned themselves in the thick of the Big 12 title race heading into the home stretch of the season. In the final four weeks of the regular season, the Cowboys will face off with the top of the conference, starting next week in Austin against the No. 24 Texas Longhorns before back-to-back home games against the No. 5 Baylor Bears and No. 18 Oklahoma Sooners. For Oklahoma State to come out on top of the conference, they will need Desmond Roland and the running game to lead the way to victory.
For much of the season, the Oklahoma State offense looked jumbled and out of sorts, lacking any discernible identity or rhythm. Then three weeks ago in Ames, the offense started to click against the Iowa State Cyclones as they put up 58 points in a blowout win. The very next week, the offense once again showed up and the Cowboys once again topped 50-points on the day in a 52-34 win over the Texas Tech Red Raiders. The difference-maker in those offensive showcases was the play of running back Desmond Roland.
In those back-to-back 50-point offensive explosions, Roland was a dynamic force out of the backfield. In the two games, the junior running back ran for 315 yards on 61 carries and scored seven touchdowns. That effort has made Roland the team’s leading rusher, surpassing senior Jeremy Smith, as he’s totaled 506 yards and 10 touchdowns this season on 109 carries. Continuing to feed Roland the ball in the offense and get productive carries from him is going to be even more important down the stretch for the Cowboys.
Texas has seemingly fixed their porous run defense after giving up over 200 yards (including 550 to the BYU Cougars) in three of their first five games this season. Their defensive line suffered a major blow, however, when defensive tackle Chris Whaley went down in the Horns’ overtime win against the West Virginia Mountaineers with a knee injury that will end the senior’s breakout season. In his place, Desmond Jackson stepped in and had a big game (eight tackles, 2.5 tackles for loss, two sacks, one fumble recovery) but the depth and talent of the Texas front will take a hit heading into next week’s contest.
That presents an opportunity for Oklahoma State to press their advantage with their running game. That advantage will be even more important the following week against Baylor as the Cowboys will have to limit possessions for the Bears’ offense and grind down the clock if they hope to trip up Art Briles‘ high-powered attack. Then in the rivalry game against Oklahoma, the Sooners’ two losses this season have come against teams who pounded the rock and ran the ball down their throats. Roland is the perfect back to follow that formula in the regular season finale.
The opportunity is still there for Oklahoma State to win the Big 12 title despite looking out of sorts offensively for much of the season. They need to trust in the running game and commit to Desmond Roland, however, if they hope to get it done. Will Roland run the Pokes all the way to a BCS bowl?