A complementary running back to Joseph Randle in 2012, Oklahoma State senior Jeremy Smith seemed primed for a breakout year in 2013. Smith averaged over five yards per carry last year and was second on the team behind Randle with eight touchdowns.
Through six games, Smith is one touchdown away from tying his total from last year. But that's the only thing that's gone right for him.
His YPC is down a whole two yards to 3.3. Though he leads Oklahoma State with 75 carries, he's been mostly contained. Other than his 102-yard performance against Mississippi State in the season opener, Smith has yet to have more than 56 yards in a game.
Against West Virginia and TCU, he had a combined 27 carries for 15 yards. Those were the lowest of low points for Smith.
So what's the issue?
It starts with a shaky offensive line. That's a problem that's afflicted more than just Smith. The Pokes haven't had efficient quarterback play either, due in part because of the pressure that's been getting to J.W. Walsh and Clint Chelf.
"We've been average up front blocking," Cowboys coach Mike Gundy said Monday on the Big 12 coaches teleconference. "And we haven't had running backs make players miss."
The lack of a running game, compounded with the quarterback quandary, has made for an offense that looks nothing like the potent scoring attacks to which the Cowboys have become accustomed.
Perhaps not coincidentally, confidence has been an issue for Smith.
"The biggest thing to focus on is to run forward," OSU running backs coach Jemal Singleton said of Smith via ESPN.com. "I think he understands it; it's just him getting a visual and saying, 'I don't have to try and make everybody miss, sometimes I can run through an odd tackle.' That's been the big thing, get north more often, make one cut and go."
Smith is also banged up. He left the TCU game in Week 8 with an undisclosed injury and his availability against Iowa State on Saturday is questionable. Freshman Rennie Childs and junior Desmond Roland could get more carries as a result.
Smith has had injury problems before. A shoulder injury ended his freshman season in 2009. Though he's shown flashes of big-play potential before, Smith has had a hard time sustaining that success as a feature back.
Whoever takes snaps at running back, there's no doubt the ground game has to improve for Oklahoma State—especially with two regressed quarterbacks. Four of the final six opponents for OSU have one combined conference loss.
Though the Cowboys have been known to spread the ball around through the air in years past, a good running game has been part of that offensive success. It's notably absent this year and OSU's record could suffer down the stretch because of it. Save for TCU, it's not like the Cowboys have been struggling against elite rush defenses.
It could continue to be a frustrating year for Smith, who finally had a chance to have a brighter spotlight on him.
Ben Kercheval is the lead writer for Big 12 football. All quotes obtained firsthand unless noted otherwise. You can follow Ben on Twitter @BenKercheval.