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The Unload: Six Thoughts from Oklahoma State’s Season Opener

From Cornelius, to the running backs, and bright spots from the special teams

Missouri State v Oklahoma State Photo by Brett Deering/Getty Images

The most important thing to take away from Thursday night’s 58-17 victory over Missouri State, is that Oklahoma State is 1-0 to start the 2018 season.

Football is back and it’s starting off on the right foot.

That being said, just like coaches will sit down over the next week to break the game down, we must go back and view the game through a critical but unbiased lens. Both to view what did and didn’t work, and to determine how we should feel as a fan base moving forward.

So, while I immensely enjoyed getting to sit back on my couch, crack a cold one (or two), and watch Oklahoma State take the field in a fantastic uniform combo (W-O-O!!!), I did have a few thoughts about the game afterward.

Special teams look.. better?

Last season, Oklahoma State’s special teams were abysmal. What was once a strength of the Cowboys had begun a liability. Thus, changes were made. Mike Gundy brought in former Alabama Long Snapper M.K. Taylor was brought in as special teams analyst and teamed up with graduate assistant Patrick Cushman.

The result after one game?

Things looked ugly early.

A nice 32-yard return by Dillon Stoner in the first quarter was negated by two penalties; a hold and a block in the back. There was another block in the back penalty in the second quarter that backed the Cowboys up.

There was also a dropped punt by Wolf in the second half that he was able to recover.

Otherwise? No lost fumbles. No punt or kick returns given up. Missouri State didn’t return a single kick-off and had a whopping three yards on two punt return attempts.

Most importantly, OSU may finally have found a return duo to get excited about. While it was negated due to penalty, the return by Stoner was nice. Even better was the 42-yard kick-off return by Chuba Hubbard in the 3rd quarter.

The special teams still aren’t what they were in years past, but so far, they’re better than last year.

Give Taylor some time

Taylor Cornelius is not Mason Rudolph. If that’s what you were expecting, you have no one to blame for your disappointment but yourself. On the other hand, let’s stop acting like he’s Alex Cate.

First and foremost, this was the first time Taylor Cornelius was the starting quarterback for a team since he led Bushland High School to the Regionals of the UIL State Football Championships. So, in other words, it’s been a minute since the guy saw significant playing time.

In his first start for the Cowboys, Corn Dog came out hot completing five of his first six passes. Some looked good, especially the short to intermediate throws. Then came the second and early third quarters when he really struggled, including throwing one interception and another ball that should have been picked off.

Smartly, Gundy kept him in the game into the fourth game. Cornelius reward him by rebounding back to his first quarter form. He looked more comfortable and ended up throwing five touchdowns, the most by a quarterback in his first start during the Mike Gundy era.

He wasn’t perfect, he was fine. And that’s all the Cowboys needed him to be. He had some issues. He seemed too uncomfortable in the pocket at times, despite the offensive line doing a good job. He doesn’t have an accurate deep ball. But give him time. Everything he did wrong, is fixable.

I think Nathan Ruiz said it best.

As long as he shows real improvement next week, and then again leading into the Boise State game, then everything will be fine. No one expected the Cowboys to go 12-0 this season. Yet, here they are still able to do so.

So take a breath, and trust Mike & Mike to get him right.

The running backs are so damn good.

Justice Hill, J.D. King, LD Brown, and Chuba Hubbard are the deepest backfield in the Big 12. That’s not hyperbole. Justice Hill is an NFL back. Chuba Hubbard could start for most Big 12 teams. He’s fourth on the OSU depth chart.

Last night, there were multiple spectacular moments. Whether it was Justice Hill proving why he’s Numero Uno.

LD Brown proving why he won’t be forgotten

Or Chuba Hubbard showing why he’s the future.

And it wasn’t just their running. The four backs had a combined five receptions for 112 yards and a touchdown.

It’s a wild thing to say, considering how deep and talented the wide receiving roster is, but the running back room might be even more so this year.

We know coming into the year that the offense was going to have to rely on the running backs for a successful season. We knew they had a stable of backs. But now we know that stable looks like the top four finishers at the Kentucky Derby.

Offensive line is as advertised

All summer Coach Gundy has talked up his offensive line, saying it’s the best they’ve had in years. He wasn’t wrong.

Other than a blown play that lead to the one sack in the first half, Taylor Cornelius had plenty of time in the pocket.

More importantly, is the impact on the running game. Yes, the Cowboys have a great stable of running backs, but they also have an offensive line helping them.

Want to know how much better the offensive line is this year than at it’s worst in 2014 and 2015?

Year Opponent Carries Yards YPC
2018 Missouri State 55 436 7.9
2015 Central Arkansas 35 164 4.7
2014 Missouri State 35 206 5.9

You could argue that, it’s just an FCS team, but so were the other two examples.

This may not be an offensive line on par with Alabama or Wisconsin, but for the first time in a long time, I’m not worried about them.

...except in the red zone.

One issue OSU has had the past few seasons, reared it’s ugly head again; redzone issues.

Yes, the Cowboys went 5-6 from the redzone in the game, but twice it required some creativity. OSU was unable to pound the ball into the endzone with Justice Hill or J.D. King over and over again.

Don’t get me wrong, Yurcich’s creativity was fun to watch. Especially with this Bob Stitt special.

But you shouldn’t have to pull that out of your bag of tricks against an FCS team like Missouri State. Here’s hoping they have plenty of more where those came from.

Defense is fun, but still a work in progress

I’ll give the defense some props. The speed and aggressiveness was fantastic. Guys were all over the field early and making plays.Yes it was against Missouri State, but the Beats had 13 total yards with 11:40 left in the second quarter.

But, the later the game got, the more and more it started to look like last year. Giving up long, multi-play scoring drives. Missouri State scored on three straight drives; one to end the first half, and two more to start the second.

We all knew it would take some time to fully replace the old with the new. There are going to be growing pains, but here’s the thing. The good was really good, and the bad wasn’t terrible.

If Jim Knowles can get the Cowboys to look for at least three full quarters a game the rest of the way, the way the looked the first quarter on Thursday, OSU is going to have a good year.

On that note I really like the aggressiveness of the line. Jordan Brailford and Calvin Bundage had some GREAT moments. I thought Justin Phillips was the player of the game, and is a guy to watch as best defensive player on the team.

The secondary was improved. Rodarius Williams, A.J. Green, and KEG all looked improved, and they were all pretty good last year. If the talented young players behind them can do better than the back-ups last year — which isn’t asking a lot — this secondary could be really fun to watch.

BONUS:

For all the talk about recruiting, as many redshirt and true freshman there are in the two deep, I wonder if a couple years from now we might look back at the 2017 and 2018 classes as incredibly underrated. Six freshmen