STILLWATER – Oklahoma State opened up its 2018 campaign with a 58-17 thrashing of Missouri State on Thursday in Boone Pickens Stadium. Although the quality of opponent was lower than what remains on the Cowboys’ schedule, there remained some question marks as to what this new-look OSU squad will present for the remainder of the season.
Here are five thoughts on the season opener.
1: Be patient with Taylor Cornelius
It took three plays for Taylor Cornelius to throw his first pass as the OSU starter, and even that was a check down to Justice Hill, who scampered for a first down. It wasn’t until the next possession where he even attempted a pass to a wide receiver.
All-in-all, Cornelius debut was about how what you would have expected from a redshirt senior making his first start since his high school days, but you can read more about his performance here.
Cornelius first test remains 15 days away, a Sept. 15 matchup against No. 22 Boise State. It will likely take until then to find out how Cornelius will handle the adversity of playing tougher opponents and how well the offense flows on a bigger stage. Having two “tune-up” games will definitely benefit Cornelius, but it’s not fair to judge him until after nonconference play concludes.
2: The running back problem
Three Cowboy running backs touched the ball on the first drive, which lasted less than three minutes. Two possessions later, highly-touted redshirt freshman Chuba Hubbard made his debut with a 10-yard scamper.
Hill didn’t play past the first quarter and was limited to 10 carries for 125 yards and a score. He also had a 92-yard blast, which is the fourth-longest rush in OSU history.
The final touchdown came on LD Brown’s 77-yard blast up the left sideline in the fourth quarter.
Brown also carried the ball 10 times for 115 yards and the touchdown. J.D. King had eight carries for 55 yards while Hubbard garnered 42 yards on seven carries in his debut, but his 54-yard touchdown reception showcased his speed in the open field.
Hubbard caught the ball in the left flat and made a defender miss right away with his shifty lateral movement. He then accelerated toward the end zone, quickly meandering his way through the few Bears’ defenders who tried to slow him down. Hubbard led OSU in all-purpose yards with 149.
All four Cowboy running backs have the talent to be a first-string guy. The problem for OSU’s coaches is finding a way to get them on the field and get the ball in their hands because they all have the ability to make game-changing plays.
We’ll know more about the running back rotation after the nonconference slate, but it’s safe to say those four are going to get a bulk of the offensive workload.
3: Plenty of freshman impress
Outside of Hubbard, many true and redshirt freshmen made their appearances in an OSU uniform against the Bears.
Jelani Woods, the former quarterback who switched to Cowboy back this offseason, was instrumental in blocking on receiver Jalen McCleskey’s rushing touchdown in the first quarter. Although he didn’t catch a pass, he made an impact blocking with his 6-foot-7, 251-pound frame. Sean Michael Flanagan, Kanion Williams and Jayveon Cardwell, all true freshmen, made appearances on special teams throughout the night
Brock Martin and Kolby Peel each played early defensively. Martin, a redshirt freshman defensive end, and Peel, a true freshman safety, are names many veteran players have praised throughout camp, so it’s not surprising to see them get early field time.
Hubbard had one kick return for 42 yards, and he has the breakaway speed to make an impact on special teams. Even redshirt freshman kicker Jake McClure was impressive on kickoffs and his lone punt. He kicked for touchbacks in nine of his 10 kickoffs, and his lone punt sailed 52 yards. His strong leg could help prevent opposing teams from having chances to return kickoffs, which could benefit OSU down the stretch.
4: Wudtee as backup quarterback?
Many fans were awaiting Dru Brown or Spencer Sanders to enter the game and spell Cornelius when he was finished for the night, but it was Keondre Wudtee who played backup quarterback on Thursday.
Wudtee wasn’t asked to do much, as he completed only one of the three passes. He did rush for 53 yards on five carries, including a 30-yard burst. Most of his duties came to milking clock as the game was nearing its conclusion.
Dru Brown was listed as the backup quarterback on the initial depth chart, and Sanders was behind him. Brown is a senior, though he does have a redshirt year available. Sanders is a true freshman who some say has an upside similar to what former Cowboy quarterback Mason Rudolph had. Yet neither came into the game, which could mean coaches will try and redshirt both while having them battle it out for the starting job next season. It also could mean with the new redshirt rule that allows players to play in up to four games while maintaining the redshirt status, coaches didn’t want to use one of those four games early in the season, instead saving it for later in case of injuries or other factors.
OSU coach Mike Gundy said the backup quarterback race was going to be different every week. Either way, it could be a while until Dru Brown or Sanders make their debuts for OSU.
Or it could be next week.
5: Still a lot to be answered
For a team that had a lot of questions coming into Thursday night’s game, not many were answered. It’s going to take a while to find out how good Cornelius really is. It will take some trial and error to figure out how to disperse touches to four talented running backs. Similar to most Division I programs, coaches will have to figure out how to utilize the redshirt rule, getting the most out of younger players while gaining them valuable experience without playing them in too many games.
Next week’s opponent, South Alabama, will offer more of a challenge than Missouri State, but fans should get a grasp on how good the Cowboys can be or are when Boise State comes to Stillwater in two weeks.
There were a lot of encouraging signs during Thursday’s win, from the new-look defense to players filling big voids, but the jury remains out on what this OSU team can accomplish.