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10 Thoughts on Oklahoma State’s Spring Game

On Jaden Bray, quarterbacks and a good Stillwater weekend.

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[Photo via @CowboyFB/Twitter]

After a few years of open spring practices and a springless COVID year, Saturday was a good time.

Oklahoma State had its Spring Game on Saturday in front of a reported 17,000 fans. The black team won the game 27-19, a game that included six field goals.

Here are 10 thoughts on the festivities.

1. Have a Day, Jaden Bray

There is always that one receiver who Oklahoma State fans get excited about after a spring game. This year it is Jaden Bray.

When I saw a ginormous No. 85 warming up ahead of the game, I thought, “Did Patrick McKaufman come back?”

No, that was Bray, an early enrollee freshman. He is massive. He is listed at 6-foot-3, 195 pounds, but he looked more like he was 6-5, 220 pounds.

Then he scored the game’s first two touchdowns, catching a 25-yard fade from Shane Illingworth and a diving out route from Ethan Bullock.

He also hit Jordan Reagan with a nasty out-and-up for a 48-yard gain.

Bray is the No. 976 recruit in the 2021 class. He should be getting ready for prom at Norman High School, but instead he is turning heads in a Power Five spring game.

It’s probably important to note that it wasn’t like Bray was torching OSU’s premier corners. His touchdowns came against redshirt sophomore Anthony Jimmerson and true sophomore Jabbar Muhammed (who has garnered some praise early in his career). But regardless, it was an impressive day from a guy who is the 141st-ranked wide receiver in the 2021 class.

2. Slot Superiority

As good as Bray was, a lot of OSU’s receiving yards from the day went to guys in the slot.

Brennan Presley, Braydon Johnson and John Paul Richardson all had big days catching little drag routes and running with them.

OSU didn’t use its slot receivers a ton this past year (a good chunk of Dillon Stoner’s catches and yards came when he moved outside to cover for Tylan Wallace). So, this is probably some sort of ideological shift. OSU is finding ways to get the ball in the hands of its best playmakers (Presley).

Presley scored the game’s final touchdown on a jet sweep.

But, as I mentioned, there were a ton of delayed drag routes featuring Johnson and Richardson. This looks like a replay, but I promise it’s two different plays with two different people.

3. Johnson’s Speed Made for the Slot

That brings me to my next point in that Braydon Johnson looked as good as ever with his transition from the outside to the slot.

He was a state champion track star at Arlington-Bowie (shoutout Cade Cunningham) in high school, and his straight-line speed rivaled that of Chuba Hubbard’s for fastest on the team the past few years.

From the inside, he will be able to create a lot of mismatches against opposing defenses. If a team throws out an extra DB to cover him, OSU should have more success in the run game. If a team tries to cover him with a linebacker, said linebacker will become burnt toast.

Here is to hoping OSU uses more four-receiver sets this season with Presley and Johnson wrecking havoc from the slot.

4. Sanders Solid in Limited Work

Spencer Sanders only played a handful of series in the first half and one in the second half, but he did a good job of running the show.

He led a couple of field-goal drives in the first half and then had the touchdown drive to close things out. And perhaps the most important thing is that he didn’t turn the ball over.

He also seemed to have a good connection with Tay Martin, the Washington State transfer taking over for Tylan Wallace. The pair connected a couple of times in the orange team’s opening series, but the two didn’t get a ton of work together Saturday with how little Sanders played.

5. Illingworth Good After Slow Start

Shane Illingworth got better as Saturday’s game went on, and he finished with a solid outing that included a pair of touchdowns.

In his first three or four series, the black team couldn’t get across the 50-yard line, but he kicked things into gear running the two-minute offense at the end of the first half.

With some tempo, Illingworth led his team down the field before ending the half with the touchdown to Bray.

He didn’t get as many series in the second half, but he made a few more big plays with the 48-yard completion to Bray and a play-action bomb to Rashod Owens on the first play of a series.

6. Zach Middleton Is Probably Quite Tired

Zach Middleton had as busy a day as anybody, and he looked solid.

Dominic Richardson and Dezmon Jackson didn’t play in the Spring Game, and LD Brown got rolled up in the first half (he returned). That led to Middleton, a redshirt freshman from Bishop Kelley, getting a ton of touches.

He did well catching the ball out of the backfield and in the run game. He did have a late fumble that put a small blemish on things, but all things considered, he played well.

Middleton adds to the platoon of capable backs John Wozniak has at his disposal. It’s hard to see him cracking into the rotation in 2021 (unless it’s via injuries), but it’s a good sign for the future with Brown (redshirt senior), Jackson (redshirt senior) and Jaylen Warren (senior) all being older.

7. Warren Lives Up to Hype

Jaylen Warren was the best running back on the field on the field Saturday. Again, it’s important to take into account that Brown was limited, and Jackson and Richardson didn’t play.

Still, Warren has been the talk of spring practice. A transfer from Utah State, he averaged 5.4 yards per carry through 151 touches for the Aggies.

He is just 5-foot-8 but is built like a cannon ball at 215 pounds. There isn’t an ideal way to tackle him. If you go high, he has the strength to gain a few extra yards, and if you go low, he’ll jump over you, something he did early Saturday.

His longest run of the game was 38 yards in the second half. He just never seemed to slow down.

8. Rucker Isn’t Afraid to Bring the Wood

I had to check my roster a few times Saturday to see who No. 39 in black was after a few good thuds.

Trey Rucker, a transfer safety from Wake Forest, looked more like a linebacker at times.

It’s going to be hard for anyone to crack into OSU’s deep safety rotation, but Rucker stood out Saturday. He made nine starts as a freshman at Wake Forest in 2019 before playing in just five games as a sophomore in 2020.

If he isn’t in OSU’s rotation in 2021, he should be a go-to guy in 2022 with Kolby Harvell-Peel (senior), Tre Sterling (redshirt-senior) and Tanner McCalister (senior) all being older. Another one to watch.

9. Know Your Transfers

College athletics have been in the transfer portal era for a few years, but this feels like the most it has impacted OSU.

Tay Martin (Washington State) was matched up with Christian Holmes (Missouri) early in the game. Meanwhile, Warren (Utah State) was running with Josh Sills (West Virginia) blocking for him.

Rucker (Wake Forest) was laying lumber, and Danny Godlevske (Miami [OH]) was snapping to Spencer Sanders.

Most of those guys are expected to contribute heavily to what OSU does in 2021, and let’s not forget Isreal Antwine (Colorado) and Collin Clay (Arkansas) on the defensive front.

This is the future of college football whether you like it or not.

10. Solid Weekend for the OSU Football Program

Past, present and future, it sounds as if this has been a good weekend for OSU football.

Mike Gundy said 200+ alums were in Stillwater this weekend to play in an alumni golf tournament ahead of the spring game. On top of that, a dozen or so recruits made the trip to Stillwater to watch the festivities (one even committed).

Then to top it off, it was one of the more entertaining spring games in recent memories. It wasn’t a glorified practice — it was an actual game. It was a field-goal fest for the most part, but compared to watching 7-on-7 for two hours, it was great.

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