Oklahoma State’s offense faces a number of questions heading into this fall, with a new offensive coordinator, a new starting quarterback and the task of replacing starters Tyron Johnson and Larry Williams.
So it must be nice for Mike Gundy to look at his running back depth chart and know exactly how to replace his best departed player from last year, Justice Hill.
“Well overall he had a good spring,” Gundy said of incumbent starter Chuba Hubbard following the Cowboys’ open spring practice. “I don’t know that I kept up with how many carries he had today, but Chu’s in good shape. He’s in a good position right now to have a good year.”
Maybe “choo” is half of the noise he makes as he runs down-track and out of the backfield, a la Clint Chelf. Or maybe “chew” is what he does through defenses on his way to highlight reel runs. (Maybe pronouncing only the first syllable of a player’s name is the next step in adoration, directly following Mike Gundy calling you by your jersey number.)
Regardless, you can be sure it’s a term of endearment from Hubbard’s head coach for his running back of the now and, hopefully, the future.
Chuba showed flashes of what he brought to the table early in 2018, when he was still penciled in at RB3. Flash is the operative word.
He usurped J.D. King as the Cowboys’ No. 2 option midway through the season, but it wasn’t until he spelled an injured Justice Hill that Chuba proved that he was more than just a shifty playmaker, but a legit starting back that an offense could run through.
Starting with that Bedlam game (that would be Justice’s last in orange) and through the next three, Chuba was a force toting the rock. Against OU, he recorded his first triple-digit game with 104 yards and three scores. He would hit that century mark in three of his final four games. As OSU’s No. 1 option (including Bedlam) Chuba averaged 106.3 yards per game on 5.4 yards per carry and scored five rushing TDs.
He also proved effective in the passing game, with 110 receiving yards and another score during that four-game span, nearly twice that of Hill’s receiving total in 10 games. In fact, Chuba led all 2018 Cowboys (with at least nine targets) with a catch rate of 78.6 percent (22-of-28 for 229 yards and two TDs).
Things culminated for Chuba (and for Gundy) during the Liberty Bowl win over Missouri. The redshirt frosh led all Cowboys with 182 total scrimmage yards, including 145 on the ground and a TD, to help lead OSU to the 38-33 win.
But aside from his gaudy numbers and production, Chuba took the reins as a much-needed leader heading into the offseason.
“He’s maturing now,” said Gundy. “I saw him start to mature and take things over in the bowl game. He needs to be a leader, I think he will. It’s easy to lead if you’re a good player and you got skill.
“Players will tend to follow you, and I think his attitude will be really good. He was very quiet last year, and he’s somewhat coming out of his shell.”
So while Gundy (and others) seemingly bemoaned Justice Hill’s decision to sit out his final few games after injury, that might prove invaluable as a learning tool for both Hubbard and Gundy.
That additional workload allowed for Gundy to learn what he had in the promising young rusher (something that likely wouldn’t have happened otherwise), and it allowed for Chuba to enter 2019 with the confidence of an experienced No. 1 back. Most of all, it gave OSU’s offense one less question mark heading into a crucial 2019 season.