Oklahoma State squeaked out a narrow 16-7 victory over the Tulsa Golden Hurricane on Saturday after an admittedly rough first three quarters. The Cowboys scored 13 of their 16 points in the fourth quarter after a late spark from true freshman quarterback Shane Illingworth, and while the season opener may have presented us with even more questions than answers, here is what we learned from OSU’s close call in week one:
1. Defense is legit
Last season, the Cowboys gave up 21 points to the Golden Hurricane. This time around, just one score in the second quarter. The OSU defense was flying all over the field. Aside from a couple of big pass plays that are bound to happen against a team that is primarily air raid, Oklahoma State dominated Tulsa when Chuba Hubbard and Tylan Wallace weren’t on the field. Senior linebacker Malcolm Rodriguez led the way with 10 total tackles, two TFL’s, and one sack.
The “year of the D,” as safety Tre Sterling put it, forced Tulsa to punt seven times and go 0-12 on third downs. None more important than a Tanner McCalister pass breakup on third and goal in the fourth quarter that would have put the Golden Hurricane up 14-10. The whole defense looked like a cohesive unit with ‘best in the conference’ implications, and I’m excited to watch them shock some folks.
2. O-line is an issue
Right guard Cole Birmingham went down in Saturday’s game with an apparent foot injury, adding to an already thin list of available offensive lineman coming into the season. O-line coach Charlie Dickey was forced to play musical chairs. From inserting new guys to moving around starters to different spots, the offensive line play was doomed to fail, and fail it did. OSU averaged just 2.8 yards per carry with last year’s NCAA rushing leader in the backfield.
Other than getting no push and allowing six sacks, the Pokes’ offensive line unit just looked lost at times. Whether it was running into each other or wandering into their running back’s run lanes, it was obvious that this was a makeshift assembly of big boys. Hopefully a week of practice and film watching will help nail down a definitive depth chart in an otherwise worrisome position group going into Saturday.
3. Backup QB spot is secure
Norco, California, product Shane Illingworth provided a much-needed shot of energy the Cowboys were missing for nearly three quarters. Illingworth did in 17 game minutes what JUCO transfer Ethan Bullock couldn’t do in two quarters: put the ball in the endzone. Well, Chuba Hubbard technically put it in the endzone, but Illingworth handed it to him and led the offense down the field for the opportunity to score, so I’m counting it. He was poised and collected from the second he stepped onto the field, and rather than panic and try to make the homerun play, he took what the Tulsa defense gave him and ran the offense like a seasoned vet rather than a true freshman.
If Spencer Sanders is good to go come Saturday versus West Virginia, there should be no question in anyone’s mind who his backup is. Illingworth proved himself to be a reliable second option that can lead an offense should Sanders go down again.
4. LD looking like an RB1
No, I’m not saying LD Brown should get the start over Chuba. What I am saying is that this looks like a completely different LD Brown than we saw last season. He’s much more quick when hitting the holes, and runs like his hair is on fire. In an otherwise forgettable rushing performance from OSU, Brown averaged 7 yards per carry on nine rushes for 63 yards. He had a 51-yard touchdown run snatched away from him via an offensive holding penalty, otherwise, his average would have gone way up.
What I’m trying to say is Brown looked like he could easily be a first option on a team not including Chuba Hubbard on the roster. If he continues the play we saw Saturday, he’ll be an excellent complement to Hubbard, perhaps trimming down No. 30’s carries in the process.
5. Gotta get the receiving core involved
Only four wide receivers and two Cowboy backs caught a pass Saturday, and while I love getting the Cowboy backs involved in the pass game, OSU must further utilize their weapons in the receiving core. Washington State grad-transfer Tay Martin was not targeted, LSU transfer Dee Anderson was not targeted, incoming freshman Brennan Presley was not targeted, second-year stud Langston Anderson was not targeted, you get the idea.
Mike Gundy said that all of these guys would play significant roles in the offense this season, and not a single one of them was targeted even once. What good is a loaded receiving core if you don’t take advantage of it? Definitely something that needs to be improved moving forward if the Cowboys want to be dangerous on offense.
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