Oklahoma State showed us what Mason Rudolph and company was all about in the first three games as they displayed perhaps the nation’s most explosive offense with three blowout victories. However, the strength of schedule during that span was far from notable. A Week 4 showdown with Top-15 ranked TCU at home put a potential playoff bid on the line early. Unfortunately, the Cowboys struggled to be consistent offensively and effective defensively, resulting in a 44-31 loss to the Horned Frogs. Here’s what we have learned from the first four games.
8/31 Tulsa 59-24 W
9/8 @ South Alabama 44-7 W
9/16 @ Pittsburgh 59-21 W
9/23 TCU 44-31 L
First and foremost, the offense is scoring 48.3 points on 580 yards per game. Their total yardage per game is third nationally, behing Big 12 rivals Oklahoma and West Virginia, respectively. Senior quarterback and Heisman trophy contender Mason Rudolph is mostly responsible for that. He is 90-of-135 (66.7 percent) for 1,533 yards with 13 TDs and three INTs. He is second in the nation in total passing yards, only behind UCLA’s Josh Rosen.
In the backfield, sophomore Justice Hill serves as the lead back in somewhat of a committee. He has 62 carries for 352 yards and four scores. A duo of freshmen, J.D. King and LaDarren Brown, also split carries.
Senior James Washington is a top wide receiver nationally and has been rumored to go in the first round of the next NFL draft. He has 19 receptions for a team-leading 520 yards. He has four touchdowns in the first four games. His 86-yard touchdown in the first half against TCU highlights the leader’s stat line. Fellow senior Marcell Ateman with his long 6’4’’ frame, also has 19 receptions and four TDs. Together, they form one of the top receiving core duos in college football. Jalen McCleskey and Dillon Stoner provide the depth behind the two seniors.
The offensive line lost senior Larry Williams for the season due to injury, while Zach Crabtree missed the TCU game with turf toe, but is expected to be back soon.
What We Know: Rudolph’s passing is very efficient and the offense can score a lot in 60 game minutes.
What We Need To See: Consistency. It’s hard to judge based upon one game, but let’s be honest...the TCU game reveals the most. There’s no doubt the offense can score and move the ball, but lack of consistency led to blown momentum and opportunities in the loss.
Who To Look Out For: Justice Hill. The key to opening up the passing game is establishing an efficient and effective run game. Hill averages a touchdown per game and 5.7 yards per carry. Look for his efficiency to continue throughout the season, ultimately helping Rudolph and company.
Fans can spin this in which ever they want, but according to ESPN, Oklahoma State is 72nd nationally when it comes to Total Defense. They are giving up 366.0 and 24.0 points per game. They rank 5th in conference behind Kansas State, Iowa State, TCU, and Oklahoma (in order).
In the first three games, the defense kept all three opponents to under 24 points which is expected. However, the Horned Frogs exposed the Cowboys’ defensive struggles and weaknesses. TCU scored 44 points on 466 total yards. Now I know Big 12 games are known to be shootouts, but come on man. What is the problem?
The secondary holds a mix of under and upperclassmen. Converted cornerback Ramon Richards is still adapting to his role at safety, while fellow senior Tre Flowers has two INTs with 20 total tackles. You now have me on record saying that Flowers will make an All-Big 12 team this season. At cornerback, sophomore A.J. Green and freshman Rodarius Williams lead the way with over 10 tackles each. The youth at cornerback serves as a problem, but growing pains are inevitable. Replacing Jordan Sterns isn’t an easy task.
The front seven have to perform better. Through the first four games, there have only been eight total sacks. Filling the absence of Vincent Taylor has been rough, but with a program like Oklahoma State’s, the “next man up” mentality is always enforced. The Cowboys had one sack against TCU. One. QB Kenny Hill had his way most of the day, but the Horned Frogs also rushed for just under 300 yards. Senior linebacker Chad Whitener serves as the rock, with a team-leading 22 total tackles. Gyasi Akem, Justin Phillips, and Kenneth Edison-McGruder are other players who have been active.
Offensive Consistency: Without surprise, Mason Rudolph passing efficiency and the outstanding players he has around him will make Cowboy games very fun and exciting to watch, but the intensity and decision-making needs to be on point at all times during the games.
Defensive Performances: OSU will go as far as their defense will take them, If the Cowboys want to run the table for the rest of the regular season and have a chance to make it in the playoffs, the front seven have to get to the quarterback and stop the run. I’m confident that Flowers and Richards will help the young cornerbacks progress and mature, but it’s up to Whitener and the experience up front to get the job done.