High standard for No. 14 Cowboys' front line
STILLWATER, Okla. (AP)The way Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy describes his offensive line is almost a tradition.
Despite leading the Big 12 in rushing for three straight years, Gundy rarely strays from his assessment that the guys on the front line played "average." After making some adjustments early this season, he described the group as "adequate" and "playing OK, like always" - hardly a glowing assessment for a group that's once again proving to be among the best in the nation.
"I think there's a really high standard for us here as a group to perform," left guard Noah Franklin said. "We hear that whenever he talks about our performance. Most of the time, we just laugh and kind of think, 'What more do you want?"'
With two new starters up front, the No. 14 Cowboys (5-1, 2-0 Big 12) are tied for second in the conference with 184 yards rushing per game, even without starting tailback Kendall Hunter. Heading into Saturday's game at Baylor (3-3, 0-2), the Cowboys have a streak of 31 straight games with at least 100 yards rushing.
"We have kind of that stereotype of being a great rushing team, and that's what we want to be. We didn't ask for it, we earned it. And because we earned it, we want to keep it," tight end Cooper Bassett said. "It's a challenge every week to have over 100 yards. Having just 100 yards isn't enough for us."
When the season started, OSU had three pillars to build the line on: all-Big 12 left tackle Russell Okung, center Andrew Lewis and right tackle Brady Bond. Franklin slid in at the left guard slot, and it took until Week 3 before redshirt freshman Lane Taylor emerged as the right guard.
Since then, the front line hasn't let quarterback Zac Robinson get sacked. And for the season, the Cowboys have allowed only two sacks, fewest in the nation.
"We never want any pressure on Zac," Franklin said. "We never want anybody to touch him."
Franklin, a long-haired 310-pounder from Vinita in northeastern Oklahoma, said the line is a diverse group with the unifying trait that "we're all pretty much good ol' boys."
"We all get along, but we've all got our little quirks and differences, for sure," Franklin said. "Lane barely has a pulse through the week and then you get him into a football setting and all of a sudden he comes to life. He's just a mellow, mellow guy. Andrew doesn't say much. Kind of just an 'Uh-huh, uh-huh' guy. And then Russell makes a little more noise and little bit more of a funny guy. Brady, he's just always running his mouth.
"We're just kind of a different group of guys but for some reason we click."
Franklin considered himself a moody guy who likes to keep things light.
"They're not a real big, mean offensive line like you would think," receiver Hubert Anyiam said. "When it gets down to business, they get real serious. When the business is not being done, they're just playful and funny and just playing around. They're not a real uptight offensive line. They're real cool.
"Whenever the job needs to be done, they get the job done."
Gundy, continuing his hesitance to heap too much praise on his linemen, credited Robinson's mobility for playing a role in reducing the number of sacks. The senior ranked behind only Baylor's Robert Griffin III, who's also a sprinter on the track team, among Big 12 quarterbacks in rushing last season.
But Gundy also said he thinks Robinson's increased production the last two weeks - when he's had his two biggest games in terms of total offense - is partially a result of increased confidence in his new guards.
"Our line play's gotten better each week, but we're not the finished product," Gundy said.
After all, the Cowboys have 30 yards per game to make up if they hope to catch Iowa State and win their fourth straight league rushing crown.