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10 Thoughts on Oklahoma State’s 16-7 Victory against Tulsa

Why this season started to look like 2014 for a second.



[Photo via Peter Casey, USA Today]

We should’ve known 2020 was incapable of producing a predictable season-opener for the Cowboys.

Oklahoma State beat Tulsa 16-7 on Saturday in Boone Pickens Stadium in a game that had 188 yards in penalties, just 48 total pass attempts and a lot of “what in the world?” moments.

A win is a win for the Cowboys, and things did start to look better toward the end, but this isn’t how the Cowboys were supposed to go 1-0.

Here’s to hoping these 10 thoughts are better than that game was.

1. Shades of 2014 with One Key Difference

The start of this game felt like the start of the 2014 season.

For those hard of memory, that’s the year OSU finished 7-6, saving the season with a Tyreek Hill punt return.

But how did it feel like that you might ask? That year had some decent expectations, especially after OSU hung with defending national champ Florida State in Dallas to start the year. But things that season quickly turned south after shoddy offensive line play and an injured starting quarterback (JW Walsh).

Lately I’ve been saying that it feels as if this season could either be like 2011 (best ever) or 2017 (good, but relatively disappointing) for OSU, but after Spencer Sanders got hurt and the offensive line looked unable to stop a sprinkle much less a Hurricane, I was getting shades of my freshman year at OSU.

But one thing might have saved that from happening. In 2014, Mike Gundy and Co. road with Daxx Garman after Walsh’s injury instead of going to the highly touted Mason Rudolph. It wasn’t until Garman got injured that OSU’s staff’s hand was forced and Rudolph’s redshirt was burned. From there Rudolph went 2-1, beating Oklahoma and Washington.

It didn’t take eight games of wallowing for OSU to make the switch this year from Ethan Bullock to Shane Illingworth, just eight drives.

Illingworth came in and made an immediate impact, hitting Tylan Wallace on his first play from scrimmage for 24 yards and leading the first (and only) touchdown drive OSU had.

Apparently Illingworth hadn’t gotten to practice much over the past few weeks, and it makes you wonder whether OSU would’ve put him in if redshirts were still a thing.

The extent of Sanders’ injury remains unknown, but if it lingers longer than this week, Gundy found Illingworth a lot quicker than he found Rudolph.

2. OSU’s Defense Lived Up to the Hype, and Boy Was It Needed

The jury is still out on whether this is the best defense a Mike Gundy-led team has had, but that group looked outstanding against Tulsa.

Despite the Cowboys’ offense looking as lost as a housecat in the ocean, OSU’s defense held Tulsa to 7 points, 275 total yards and 0-for-12 on third down.

The competition wasn’t the toughest the group will face this year, but even when put in high-pressure scenarios, the Cowboy D showed up.

When a first-quarter fumble started TU on OSU’s 38, the Golden Hurricane got no points.

When Tulsa had a first-and-10 on OSU’s 30 in the second quarter, no points.

When Tulsa had a first down on OSU’s 4-yard line in the fourth quarter, no points.

When OSU had to settle for a late field goal and was forced to defend a 6-point lead, no points.

There was a lot of beautiful open-field tackling and a lot of solid coverage. The group probably didn’t sack the quarterback as much as it would like (OSU finished with one sack). It also probably would’ve preferred to force a turnover before the final minute of the game, but make no mistake, OSU’s defense won that football game.

3. O-Line Issues

The biggest question mark of OSU’s offense was its offensive line, and in particular the right side with youngsters Cole Birmingham and Hunter Anthony.

Those questions didn’t get answered well enough Saturday.

Birmingham went out with an injury, and Hunter Woodard came in at right guard. Woodard played in seven games last season, but most of that came on special teams.

OSU quarterbacks got sacked six times, and Chuba Hubbard, who finished last season averaging 6.4 yards a carry, averaged 3.4 yards per Saturday.

When tasked with combining to block a single pass rusher, here is what a young right side managed.

Former walk-on Jake Springfield came on in the second half as OSU’s offensive line went from:

Jenkins Sills Schneider Birmingham Anthony


Springfield Sills Schneider Woodard Jenkins

That seemed to work a little better, but that is obviously a small sample size in the grand scheme of things.

Regardless, if OSU wants to return to the hype it had before Saturday, Charlie Dickey and that group have some work to do.

4. A Weird Start to the Kasey Dunn Era

Here are the total offense numbers in recent OSU OC’s first games calling plays:

OC Total Yards Opponent
Kasey Dunn 287 Tulsa
Sean Gleeson 555 Oregon State
Mike Yurcich 432 Mississippi
Todd Monken 666 Louisiana
Dana Holgorsen 544 Washington State

Lots of factors play into that, but it’s safe to say this probably wasn’t the start Dunn envisioned, but the circumstances of this season should buy him some extra time in the eyes of the fan base.

He didn’t get a full spring, he didn’t a normal fall and then he only got his starting quarterback for two series.

5. Run Throw the Dang Ball

Although I do believe Dunn gets a bit of a pass with all of those factors, that first half was weird.

Some how, some way, OSU went into halftime having only thrown the ball six (!!) times.

I get the starting QB was only out there for two series. I also get OSU has arguably the best running back in the nation, but there at least needs to be a facade that Hubbard isn’t getting the ball every play.

OSU threw the ball six times in the first half and had 94 total yards. The Pokes threw 14 passes (still not a lot) in the second half and had 183 total yards. Balance is important. Throwing should open up the run, and running should open up the passing game. But, 20 passes to 50 runs is a weird thing to see, especially at Oklahoma State.

6. Tylan Wallace, Still Good

Tylan Wallace’s battle against Tulsa corner Allie Green was a fun one to watch, but Wallace proved he is still one of the most dominant pass catchers in the country, one who should get a ridiculous amount or targets a game (see last thought).

In his first game back from ACL surgery, Wallace caught four balls for 94 yards, none prettier than the first pass he caught from Illingworth.

When he wasn’t catching passes, he was wreaking havoc and forcing pass interference calls. All good stuff.

7. Just How Good Is Illingworth?

Based on how woeful OSU’s offense was before Illingworth came in, it’s probably easy to overhype his abilities, but it just all looked so much different when he came in.

The No. 164 player in the 2020 recruiting class, Illingworth missed time ahead of the season opener, but came in and led things as if he had that time back and a full spring.

“Once they told him he was in, he had the utmost confidence,” Tylan Wallace said after the game. “He didn’t look like a normal freshman coming in, telling him ‘OK look, now you’re playing,’ and they kind of have that scared look in their eyes. He came in and he had the most confidence in himself. He believed in everybody. He believed in all of us.”

To answer the question I posed with this seventh thought, I don’t know, but I’m definitely intrigued to see more.

8. Sanders Needs to Take Care of Himself

If Spencer Sanders is able to return next week or some time this year, he has got to realize how important he is to this team.

On that first drive he took two awkward hits leading to him exiting early. He is so dynamic and a play never feels over with him, but there are some bullets he just needs to bite for the betterment of the team’s long-term success.

9. Rough Day TU Coach Philip Montgomery

Tulsa took a lot of penalties and burned a lot of timeouts.

The apex of questionable coaching decisions, to me, came in the first half when Tulsa couldn’t decide if it wanted to got for it on a fourth down. The Golden Hurricane finally decided to kick a field goal, but the decision was made so late Montgomery had to call a timeout and ice his own kicker.

To avoid the ice, TU decided to go for it on said fourth down and got stuffed.

Some (a lot?) of the playclock issues were probably caused by the shortened preparation time TU had this fall, but man that sure added a lot to the game’s ugliness.

10. That Shouldn’t Have Been That Close

With all that out of the way and with most of that looking through orange-tinted glasses, in no world should Tulsa be that competitive with OSU, no matter the circumstances.

With Tulsa needing an extra week just to get some practice in, OSU’s second and third group should have been able to handle TU, but that didn’t happen.

Is it recruiting? Is it coaching? Is it player attitudes? Some combination of things? I’m not sure, but that was not a good look for OSU.

Maybe this was just a bad day, but if that is how good OSU is, that isn’t a team that will compete for a Big 12 title.

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