NCAA Football

OSU football: Offensive line struggles, defensive strongpoints and special teams confusion

OSU football: Offensive line struggles, defensive strongpoints and special teams confusion

Oklahoma State running back Chuba Hubbard (30) runs through a gap in the Southern Alabama defense to score a touchdown during an NCAA college football game in Stillwater, Okla., Saturday, Sept. 8, 2018. (AP Photo/Brody Schmidt)

STILLWATER – Each time Taylor Cornelius handed to ball off to one of his running backs, it seemed there was a defender already present in the backfield.

During the Oklahoma State football team’s 55-13 victory against South Alabama on Saturday, its offensive line struggled to muster any push up front. Although the line is replacing three senior starters from last season, many, including OSU coach Mike Gundy, said the line was deeper this season and would be improved.

That wasn’t the case against the Jaguars.

“We’re not run blocking very well,” Gundy said. “Didn’t give our guys a chance.”

The Cowboys (2-0) were held to 164 yards on 44 attempts a week after rushing for 431 yards. OSU had two 100-yard rushers against Missouri State, yet Chuba Hubbard, the leading rusher against the Jaguars, could muster only 46 yards.

Justice Hill and J.D. King each carried the ball nine times for 32 yards. Hill scored twice, but there weren’t a lot of running lanes for backs all night.

Gundy recognized USA dropped safeties closer to the line of scrimmage, thus limiting the big holes for his stable of backs to sprint through.

Defense shines again, though bigger test awaits

It didn’t take long for defensive coordinator Jim Knowles’ defense to show its continued strong play.

Shortly after OSU’s first scoring drive, the defense tallied two sacks in three plays, one coming from Brock Martin and the other from Jordan Brailford.

The Cowboy defense held USA to 214 yards of total offense. When Devin Harper had a pick-6 in the third quarter, it continued a streak for consecutive games with a forced turnover, which now sits at 29.

Through OSU’s first two games, the defense has tallied 22 tackles for loss and eight sacks. Last season, it had five sacks and 18 tackles for loss through the first two contests.

Knowles also praised three true freshman who have made an impact: Jarrick Bernard, Kolby Peel and Tanner McCalister. Bernard and Peel are the only true freshman who have played in OSU’s first two games. McCalister was listed on the initial depth chart, but a thumb injury made him miss the opener.

Peel was moved to the first team when Kenneth Edison-McGruder was ejected for targeting in the second quarter. He finished with five tackles.

Although OSU leads the country in total offense through two weeks, Boise State comes to Stillwater at 2:30 pm. Saturday boasting the country’s fourth-best offense, so the first true test of the season awaits Knowles’ scheme.

Not so special teams

About the only bright spot on OSU’s special team’s unit has been redshirt freshman Jake McClure.

He has kicked off 20 times through the first two games, with 14 of those going for touchbacks. A swirling breeze against the Jaguars held him to a 50 percent touchback rate, though he only had one in 10 attempts against Missouri State that was returnable.

McClure also had a 54-yard punt that was downed inside the 20, but the positives stopped there.

Starting punter Matt Hockett muffed a snap deep in OSU territory, and USA recovered en route to scoring its first touchdown.

Dillon Stoner let two punts bounce that USA downed inside the 10, pinning OSU deep. Because of those testy winds, OSU returners struggled fielding kicks all night, often having to adjust at the last second to have a clean catch.

The Jaguars had a 36-yard kick return, something that Gundy said was irritating, but he isn’t overly concerned with the lackluster special teams performance. He said it comes down to guys being responsible for their assignments and not having breakdowns in coverage.

NCAA Football

Cameron Jourdan has covered Oklahoma State athletics since January 2017. He has written for The Oklahoman, The Tuscaloosa News and the Stillwater News Press, among others. Follow Cameron on Twitter: @Cam_Jourdan

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