The 2022 Big 12 football season kicked off on Thursday night and the Oklahoma State Cowboys were in action at home against Central Michigan.
The Cowboys ended the 2021 season within a half-yard of winning the Big 12 Championship and possibly ending up in the College Football Playoff. The offseason saw the Pokes lose defensive coordinator Jim Knowles to Ohio State, along with their top 4 tacklers, plus some key pieces on the offensive side like Jaylen Warren.
But the Cowboys kicked off the 2022 season with a 58-44 win at home over Central Michigan. Here are four thoughts on the game.
1. The Safety That Quickly Turned Things Around
This was a 7-7 game in the first quarter. And while there was no reason for Oklahoma State fans to panic, there were likely some natural, immediate flashbacks to the 2016 game that OSU lost to CMU at home. However, after OSU punter Tom Hutton pinned CMU down at their own two-yard line, the Cowboys defensive line stuffed Lew Nichols III to record a safety. The Cowboys would rip off 30-straight points to go up 37-7, before heading into halftime with a 44-15 lead.
It was apropos for the defensive line, arguably the greatest strength of this team, to be the unit to kick this game into high gear for the Pokes and get the route going.
2. Braydon Johnson is Back
Casual Oklahoma State fans may have forgotten about Braydon Johnson. Johnson, who was the team’s third-leading receiver in 2019 and 2020 as a sophomore and junior, respectively. However, he missed all but one game (the season opener) last season with an undisclosed injury and chose to return for a super senior season.
Johnson led the Cowboys with 88 receiving yards and one touchdown in the first half alone. Then, on the first play from scrimmage in the second half, Spencer Sanders connected with him for another 45-yard bomb. For his career, Johnson entered the game with 47 catches for 748 yards and five touchdowns.
He closed out the evening with six catches for 133 yards and a touchdown. He quickly appears to be Spencer Sander’s favorite target. Speaking of Sanders…
3. Spencer Sanders: More Than a ‘Game Manager’?
Yes, yes, it’s early and it’s Central Michigan. And yes, “game manager” may be an unfair cliché. But, if I told you before the game that Spencer Sanders would do something no Big 12 player has done since Patrick Mahomes in 2016, would you believe me or ask me what I was smoking? Probably the latter.
But this is the kind of first half Sanders had.
He looked comfortable. He had poise. Confidence. Everything you want from a senior quarterback and then some. He finished the game 28/41, for 406 passing yards, four touchdowns, and possibly most important: zero interceptions.
Sanders did a great job leading the team last year, but he did what was asked of him, knowing that the Pokes had one of the best defenses in the country last season that would carry them. Now, if Oklahoma State is going to compete for a Big 12 title again, he needs to take that next step, and that may have just started on Thursday night.
4. The Secondary is a Work in Progress
This is something that we expected to be the case, as the Cowboys only returned one starter in the secondary in safety Jason Taylor II. And you can’t just replace talented veterans like Kolby Harvell-Peel and Tre Sterling overnight.
The Cowboys gave up over 400 passing yards to Central Michigan QB Daniel Richardson. With all due respect to Richardson, the Pokes are going to face far more talented quarterbacks in the Big 12 Conference moving forward.
A bright spot was Kendal Daniels, who recorded his first career interception on the night. Daniels was the seventh-highest rated signee for Oklahoma State in the internet recruiting era and top-ranked in-state prospect for the 2021 class, however he did not play last year as a true freshman.
So despite the strength of the defensive line, the secondary needs to have a sharp learning curve.