Oklahoma State righted the ship today, improving to 4-1 overall and 1-1 in Big XII play in a game that was much like Coach Mike Gundy’s mullet: serious in the first half, sloppy in the back. Fortunately, a consistent performance from the conference’s best running back kept the Jayhawks from making it close.
After looking cold against Texas Tech, quarterback Taylor Cornelius rolled into Lawrence, Kansas hotter than a state fair corndog. Not only did he lead the Cowboys to scores on the team’s first four drives, Cornelius didn’t even through an incompletion until the second quarter, finding Tylan Wallace, Landon Wolf, and Tyron Johnson on 11, 42, and 64 yard first half touchdowns, respectively. This was a strong bounceback performance by Cornelius, finishing 15 of 20 for 312 yards, four touchdowns and one interception. He displayed a strong rapport with his receivers and appeared to be a vocal leader on the sidelines.
It wasn’t just the ‘Pokes offense that was hungry for redemption, however. After registering just three sacks against Texas Tech on quarterback Alan Bowman’s 46 dropbacks, the defense brought down Kansas’ signal-caller Carter Stanley three times in the first half alone. The Cowboys tacked on a field goal for good measure and would have had a 24-0 shutout entering the half were it not for an Oklahoma State roughing the kicker penalty, allowing the Jayhawks to extend an otherwise stalling drive before Stanley found receiver Kwamie Lassiter II on a 20 yard touchdown pass two plays later. The Cowboys entered halftime up 24-7 looking like an entirely different team than the one that got clobbered by Kliff Kingsbury and the Red Raiders the week before.
The offense kept its foot on the pedal in the second half, but a few more defensive errors almost let Kansas back in the game. The Jayhawks got the ball to begin the second half and once again appeared to be squandering another drive. Then, on a third and five, Carter Stanley hit Steven Sims on a seven yard pass. Safety Thabo Mwaniki was called for defensive holding at the end of the play, a 10 yard penalty bringing the ball to the Jayhawk 40 yard line. Although the Cowboy defense had kept KU tailback Pooka Williams, Jr. in check the entire first half, the silly-named speedster broke off a serious run. Williams took a simple dive play up the middle, appeared to stumble as he entered the secondary, but regained his feet, and took off for a 60 yard score.
The score galvanized the Jayhawk offense, who were much more dangerous in the second half, putting up 21 points. Quarterback Carter Stanley appeared to grow into his first start, finishing 24 of 32 attempts for 247 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions. On a different night, Kansas might have found themselves back in the game, but Oklahoma State’s metronomic running back Justice Hill simply wouldn’t allow it. Although the defense had some second-half hiccups, Hill was rock solid all game.
Unlike the mercurial Pooka Williams, Jr. who finished with 13 carries for 97 yards and a 60 yard score, Hill did not have a scintillating ESPN highlight. Instead, he delivered solid carry after solid carry, consistently making the first defender miss and turning what looked like inevitable tackles for losses into 5 and 6 yard gains. Hill finished with 31 carries for 189 yards and a touchdown despite not registering a run over 21 yards. It was the kind of steady performance that should warrant him Heisman consideration. When he finally scored from ten yards out to cap off a 4 play, 75 yard drive near the end of the third quarter, it felt like a well-deserved victory lap.
Aside from Hill’s run, the Cowboys received second half scores from Tyron Johnson (12 yard catch), Hill’s understudy Chuba Hubbard (a powerful 13 yard run), and Matt Ammendola (29 yard field goal) to equal their 24 point first half output and finish with a comfortable 48-28 win.
The victory brings Oklahoma State to 4-1 and 1-1 in Big XII play. If Hill can keep up his impressive production, the winning run should continue against two beatable opponents in Iowa State (10/6) and Kansas State (10/13). More performances like today could vault Oklahoma State into the conference title race and spring Hill into Heisman contention.