During his weekly press conference, Mike Gundy was asked about his team’s upcoming road trip to Pittsburgh and how Pat Narduzzi’s squad compares to the one that visited Stillwater a year ago. It replaces a mainstay starting QB in Nathan Peterman and its leading rusher James Conner. Pitt will also be without the services of Matt Canada, last year’s offensive coordinator who took the same job at LSU.
But Gundy sees more similarities in the Panther offense than he sees drastic changes, and even a resemblance to a system he has experience in.
“From a distance, it’s a lot like what Les (Miles) and I did here while we were together,” said Gundy. “They have a reason for trying to gain a gap advantage, and then if you’re not careful they can get you out of a gap. If you don’t adjust, they can find a weakness, so there are similarities there to what we did here.”
The biggest contrast on OSU’s side of the matchup is a complete overhaul of its secondary. Jordan Sterns is gone, Ramon took his spot at safety and the cornerback rotation is full of players that either didn’t see the field for OSU or were relegated to special teams last season.
The early returns for USC graduate transfer Max Browne have been disappointing for Pitt fans. He’s thrown for just 278 yards on 56 attempts and just one score to two interceptions. For a juxtaposition of extremes, Mason Rudolph has tallied 638 yards on just six more attempts (62) and has six scores with no picks.
But Mike Gundy thinks Pitt will try to test his corners all the same. He would if it were him.
“They’re coming along,” Gundy said of his corners. “We’re obviously young, and the teams we play know that. I’m sure Pittsburgh is going to run their play stuff and run (wide receiver Quadree Henderson) down the field, throw it over our head and challenge us. Limiting big plays is important.
“Last year, that was one of the issues we had in giving up big plays in the secondary. It’s give and take. Unless you’re just ultimately talented where you can press and challenge every throw, sometimes you give up (short gains) to be sound in the deep stuff. There’s give and take there.”
Through the small sample size of two weeks, Oklahoma State’s young corner rotation has shown some potential and a couple growing pains. But OSU has only allowed two passing plays of 10 yards or more. That’s against a Tulsa offense — though retooling — that ranked 30th in passing and a South Alabama team that ranked 56th a year ago. Pittsburgh ranked 76th.
Pitt does have Jester Weah, who led all returning FBS receivers from last year with a 2016 average of 24.2 yards per catch and Quadree Henderson who racked up 164 all-purpose yards and two scores in Stillwater last year. Those two will be a good test for the likes of Rodarius Williams and A.J. Green. And though he’s struggled with accuracy issues on the deep ball, Browne is capable of putting it out there for his receivers to go get.
Each week appears to be a step up in competition and that trend should continue for the next couple to come. Fortunately for OSU’s young cover men, it provides an escalating on-the-job curriculum. With any luck, the group headlined by Green and Williams will look more like seasoned vets than rookies when the big boys come to town.