First up … Thanks to our new 10 Thoughts sponsor — Thrive Landscape and Irrigation in Stillwater — you can check out their work by clicking on the photo below. They (and I) will be with you all season.
Oklahoma State throttled Missouri State in a game that may have engendered more questions than it answered. The Pokes were brilliant at times and head-scratching at others, but in the end they rolled past a FCS team like good FBS teams are supposed to do. In the process, though, they gave us a lot to talk about. Like, a lot.
On to maybe my favorite version of the 10 Thoughts all season — the first one.
1. Cornball’s Debut
Taylor Cornelius was fine on Thursday. Oklahoma State doesn’t really need him to be Jameis Winston given the talent around him, but I think we can all walk back those “yo, he might be kinda close to as good as Rudolph!” comments. His first half performance certainly did not quell any potential near-future uprisings, but he bounced back adequately in the second half, which was a good sign.
What I liked: He’s good in space. He’s pretty good on the run. He probably throws a better short ball than Mason Rudolph did (although I might as well). He clearly knows what he’s doing and how plays are supposed to unfold and who’s supposed to get the ball. He knows where his weapons are. His easy throws look easy (might be more a product of an elite group of receivers getting fairly wide open for him). Still, he displayed some terrific touch in various scenarios that Rudolph didn’t always have. He seemed to find a little bit of rhythm after a bumpy takeoff.
What I didn’t like: The two things he needs to excel in — taking care of the ball and being a calming presence for the offense — didn’t really pop to me, especially in the first half. He threw what should have been a pair of picks in the first half on just poorly-thrown balls. I’m sure there were also first game jitters, but he seemed antsy in the pocket. I don’t think it’s panic time or anything like that — I think he gets a decent amount of runway here, and it feels wildly unfair to critique a fifth-year senior on one night of football against a bad team — but I do think the Boise State game is slightly more intriguing now than it was 24 hours ago.
Also intriguing: Gundy didn’t play his cards — Dru Brown and Spencer Sanders — against lowly Missouri State! I didn’t know that he would have that in him, but he knows if he saves them and has to use one or both later that he can squeeze four games out of them and still get that extra redshirt year. It’s a wise move given the potential upside and one I’m glad he picked.
2. New-look defense
Is the defense good? I have no idea. Is it better than last year? Zero clues. What I do know is that Jim Knowles isn’t afraid to use his toys. OSU had more pre-snap movement in the first two quarters than it had in the last five years, and guys like Calvin Bundage (ok, mostly just Calvin Bundage) seemed freed up to disrupt Missouri State’s backfield.
Will this 👇 always work against good QBs?
No, but I like that OSU is mixing it up and seemingly playing with more aggression than they did before. If anything, this defense will be more exciting than it has been in the past few years when it felt like it went into games playing not to lose rather than going for broke. Like bowling with the bumpers on even when you’re rolling 200 on average without touching them.
I don’t really think the pre-snap movement or even 4 sacks and 11 tackles for loss are a sign of a defense being good or bad, but it’s clear that OSU is going to try a wider variety of things than we’re used to. Again, that’s going to lead to some dagger plays given up, but I think the net gain is going to more than make up for it.
3. Justice is a horse
Mike Gundy earlier this year: “We’ve got four running backs right now, and we’re going to use them. We would like to limit Justice Hill’s carries in a game to 15 or so. I think we’ll be able to do that. I feel good about where we’re at from a depth standpoint.”
Gundy on Thursday in the first quarter ⤵️
Incredibly, after 10 carries and 11 overall touches in the first quarter, those were the numbers he ended with as well. No. 5 is clearly the most trusted piece of OSU’s offense, and it will be interesting to see how Cornelius evolves as more defenses just straight up take away OSU’s run game (like the opposite of the Texas game last year).
We’ll see how that plays out the rest of the year, but I have a difficult time seeing Gundy limiting No. 5 to 20 carries a game, much less 15. He’s clearly the “he’s our automatic 30 points a night” guy (if this was a basketball team), and you can’t limit those guys without changing the entire complexion of the team. He’s certainly going to try and artificially deflate the overall average in these first two games, though!
4. Embarrassment of riches
This was probably true last year, too, but when J.D. King comes in he does not look like a second-string running back. He looks like a second first stringer. So that’s awesome. And uh, LD kinda does too. OSU had five fellas go for 40+, and LD nearly matched Justice’s yards per carry with 11.5 a pop.
WATCH: #OKState has rushed for 375 yards tonight, and LD Brown had 77 of them on this TD run!
— Cowboy Football (@CowboyFB) August 31, 2018
Additionally, OSU mixed and matched their backs really well. Chuba going in motion with the ball going to Justice. LD, Justice and a Cowboy Back in the diamond at the same time. I thought OSU would lean heavily on its backs before the season started, and now, after a good showing from the offensive line and that LOL-worthy stable of runners, I’m wondering if they might not be Wisconsin disguised as a Big 12 offense.
The technique of the #Okstate Oline has improved so much. I doubt they bully anybody this year but the difference from two years ago and now is night and day.
— Sam Mayes (@AllmericanMayes) August 31, 2018
5. Red Zone offense
This has pretty consistently been one of the few disappointing components of an otherwise elite Oklahoma State offensive system, but OSU went 5-6 inside the score zone after starting shakier than me over a six-foot putt with some cash on the hook. Mike Yurcich got creative with a killer play to a wide open Sione Finefeuaki and this filthy reverse to Jalen McCleskey, and it worked.
STREEETTCHHHHH and SCOREEEE. pic.twitter.com/nfEoa3RS8y
— Pistols Firing (@pistolsguys) August 31, 2018
It was mildly disconcerting that they couldn’t slam it home with J.D. Tonka Truck or Justice for all, but Yurcich got the job done. I just hope the bag of tricks is deep and unending this year.
5. Bundage is bonkers
I tried to not make one of my thoughts about him, but I cannot help myself. He led OSU with 7 tackles, 6 solo, a sack, a TFL, a QB hurry and officially grabbed the mantle (from whom, I do not know) as the “most likely college football player to dislocate a limb celebrating a big defensive play.”
Exactly how I thought Calvin Bundage would react to playing his first football game in eight months. pic.twitter.com/a4fy52ZpU9
— Pistols Firing (@pistolsguys) August 31, 2018
Of course, this is exactly how I expected Calvin Bundage to celebrate his first sack in a real football game in eight months. OKC Dave noted this in his survey earlier this week, but Bundage is a star. When I read that he wrote that, my eyebrows stood at attention for a second. He’s right, though, and if OSU is going to be great on defense, it’s going to be because No. 1 goes from star to superstar in the next 12 games.
6. Jalen 👀
Hey guys, we all might have had the wrong WR1 before the season started. Tyron is a freak, of course. Stoner is the sarge. Tylan might actually be the dude, and bonus points for the fact that all TDs from Taylor C. to Tylan W. from this point forward shall be referred to as Cornwallace. He looks the part. But it was Jalen McCleskey who led OSU in every statistical category on Thursday night (6 catches | 66 yards | 2 TDs).
Additionally, he got 10 targets to Tylan’s 7 and Stoner’s 6. Nobody else had more than three. I do think McCleskey and Stoner will both excel with a QB who probably (?) throws a more accurate short ball over the middle and on those littler outs than they saw last year. I also like OSU’s willingness to put McCleskey in motion and stack him on the outside. He’s basically the greatest flag football player of all time showing what that looks like at the D1 level.
7. That Video Board
Boone will have more on this in the coming days, but two quick thoughts here. First, it is ludicrous. As good as advertised. One person I talked to noted that, given the context, it’s as overwhelming as the monstrosity in Jerryworld. I was at a bizarre angle in the press box and it was still incredible.
Great Mrs. Pistols moment before the game when I FaceTimed her and the kids: “It’s insane, but it’s still not big enough to contain Gundy’s hair.” Very true. I flew home toward the end of the game, and you could see it from our plane. I could have literally watched the game from the plane if the pilot would have circled the stadium dozens of times (which I lobbied for him to do).
Second, the pregame video was fabulous. It ended with “you mess with a Cowboy and you get the whole posse” or something like that followed by everybody running out of the tunnel. But my real favorite part is that the included that filthy shot of fireworks going off the top of the stadium during Bedlam last year. The one from a drone above the stadium. It’s the coolest shot, and I was glad they included it.
8. In on the secondary
I have a confession: I might like this secondary more than the 2017 one. We have a long way to go, but there’s at least a scenario in which a fivesome of, say, A.J. Green, Rodarius Williams, Thabo Mwaniki, Malcolm Rodriguez and whichever LB you want to throw back there — ninth president, Calvin McGregor, whoever — is better off than what OSU was rolling out in 2017.
Again, it’s easy to let a good game against a bad opponent disproportionately color your view of the rest of the season, but my trust level of this group is — at least for now — I think as high or maybe higher than it was this time last year.
9. Chuba Chuba
I TAKE IT ALL BACK. ALL OF IT! Mike Yurcich got Chuba in space, and … gone. Have more gears, Chuba! I thought we might need the defibrillator for Boone when Chuba went in motion in the first half so I don’t really know how he survived Chuba going middle class man’s Reggie Bush in the second and finding the house for however you say six in Canadian. Bring me all the maple syrup.
10. Successful Game 1?
Mike Gundy called most of OSU’s performance average, and he’s probably right. The good news for OSU is that everyone stayed healthy, their skill players looked like we properly assessed their Madden ratings in the offseason and Cornelius was serviceable (and at times, quite good).
OSU is not fully formed — nobody is this time of year — but they seem to have reloaded at the spots that needed reloading and will try and let that beloved infrastructure win the day. Little is learned from games like these, although that won’t keep us from irrationally breaking down all 157 plays over the next week plus. There are more questions, some answers, few resolutions. That’s the thrill of the thing.
As I flew over BPS with the first tilt of 2018 shutting down below me, the thought I had was one I’m sure most of you had at some point on Thursday night whether you were watching from home or inside the stadium: Dang … I’m so glad football is back.