STILLWATER — Oklahoma State fans waited eight months for this, but it was no contest.
And Orange Nation couldn’t be happier.
The No. 10-ranked Cowboys lived up to their preseason hype, at least for one night, by overwhelming Tulsa 59-24 on Thursday night in the 2017 season-opener at Boone Pickens Stadium.
Mason Rudolph was magnificent, completing 20-of-24 throws for 303 yards and three long touchdowns. James Washington was spectacular with six catches for 145 yards and two long touchdowns. And Justice Hill was both, rushing 15 times for 132 yards and a touchdown.
The Golden Hurricane, rebuilding its offense after losing two 1,000-yard receivers, a 1,600-yard rusher and all-time passing leader Dane Evans, was limited on offense (the OSU defense looked very fast and strong) and heavy-footed on defense (OSU averaged 12.3 yards per play in the first half).
Third-year sophomore Chad President started the game at quarterback for TU but was quickly relieved by redshirt freshman Luke Skipper. Skipper also was ineffective, and President returned.
But the night belonged to the Cowboys, who have their most talented roster since the 2011 squad that won the program’s only Big 12 Conference championship. OSU was ranked as high as fourth nationally by one preseason publication, and behind coach Mike Gundy and the unlikely popularity on his haircut, the program has been riding a powerful wave of momentum all offseason that finally landed on Thursday — and cratered the Golden Hurricane.
LSU transfer Tyron Johnson’s first touch as a Cowboy was a 44-yard touchdown catch from Rudolph. OSU added to that just 6 ½ minutes later when Rudolph found Washington on a deep post for a 40-yard TD. Hill made it 21-0 on the Cowboys’ next drive with a 3-yard run.
Freshman running back J.D. King went 71 yards for a touchdown early in the second quarter to put O-State ahead 28-7. Washington then brought down a 77-yard touchdown pass from Rudolph for a 38-17 halftime lead.
It looked much like Oklahoma State’s last game: a lot of one-on-one coverage against Washington, a big night by Rudolph and a 38-8 Alamo Bowl domination.
OSU was good, but far from perfect. Two catastrophic turnovers produced 10 Tulsa points in the first half.
Jalen McCleskey retreated to the OSU 4-yard line to retrieve a punt, then stepped into the end zone and fumbled. TU long snapper Adam Higuera recovered the fumble for the Golden Hurricane’s first touchdown.
Just before halftime, Oklahoma State had 477 yards total offense and was driving for more when Rudolph got careless with the football. Kolton Shindelar stripped a fumble and Petera Wilson scooped it up, apparently on his way to an easy touchdown. But OSU receiver Dillon Stoner chased Wilson down from behind and forced a fumble out of bounds, saving a TD and leaving Redford Jones just enough time to knock through a 23-yard field goal.
Tulsa’s other score of the first half was an impressive 13-play, 75-yard touchdown drive directed by President, who went 3-of-6 for 45 yards on the drive, plus an 11-yard run on third-and-10. It was capped by Corey Taylor’s 3-yard TD push.
Even the OSU defense — maligned as the weakness of a team loaded with offensive talent — got into the scoring act. Late in the third quarter, linebacker Kenneth Edison-McGruder picked up a President fumble and returned it 82 yards for a touchdown, giving the Cowboys a 52-17 lead.
For Tulsa and coach Philip Montgomery, it was a significant setback. TU was 10-3 last season but graduated a lot of experienced seniors. This team had to hit the reset button in the offseason, and Thursday shows they may need to do so again throughout 2017 as new players continue to find their roles.
Columnist John E. Hoover is co-host of “Further Review with Hoover & Rew” and can be heard every weekday on The Franchise in Tulsa from noon to 3 p.m. with co-host Lauren Rew. In Oklahoma City, catch him Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday mornings at 10:25 and every Friday afternoon at 4:05. Listen at fm107.7 in OKC, fm107.9/am1270 in Tulsa, on The Franchise app, or click the “Listen” tab on The Franchise home page. Visit his personal page at johnehoover.com.