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OSU’s Big 12 Titles Hopes Tied to Newcomers Who Shined Against Tulsa



With returning starters at quarterback, receiver and running back – all of which garnered plenty of national preseason buzz – the expectation for 2017 was to essentially beef up the defense in the offseason and run it back for a shot at the Big 12 title in the new Stoops-less Big 12. At least that’s a summation of what I thought might unfold. But through one week of action, it was the key backups, not the prominent returning stars, that I’m convinced could put OSU over the top.

Against Tulsa in week 1, we all saw those returning starters shine under the lights. Justice Hill rushed for 132 yards on just 15 carries. Mason Rudolph flicked the ball 300+ as Mason Rudolph does. And James Washington, quietly, picked up where he left off in the Alamo Bowl by logging 145 yards on a mere 6 receptions. Ho-hum though, no? That was to be expected.

Sure, OSU needs those stars to win the conference. But to have your backups be this good? What a luxury that is. I mean how about those newcomers?

First, there’s running back J.D. King, the true freshman who took advantage of his backup duties to Hill by scampering for 95 yards on 6 carries. He got the nod over redshirt frosh LD Brown, and after seeing his poise as a pass blocker, his lower-the-head-and-get-tough-yards mentality around the goal line, and his tendency to carry the ball high-and-tight, I couldn’t be more impressed.

Not only did King look the part, but he played it well in every phase of the game. For a true freshman playing in his first-ever college game, that’s an outstanding sign for OSU.

“A young player at any position, but particularly the running back spot, being physical is always a concern,” Gundy said of King’s play. “You are going to take a considerable number and more physical tackling than at the high school level. Up to this point, he’s taken care of the ball. That’s important for us, and his mental approach has been excellent for his age. He reminds me a lot of Joe Randle in his approach of the game. Sometimes you’ll have a talented player that gets swallowed by the level you’re at. At this point, I don’t think it has really affected him.”

King won’t need to be OSU’s all-everything freshman running back that Justice Hill was a season ago because, well, Hill’s a sophomore and still in All-American form. But in spot duty toting the rock 10ish times per game, I’m more than comfortable seeing King get crucial carries and protecting Rudolph’s pocket.

Perhaps the player I was most impressed with on Thursday though was LSU transfer and newcomer Tyron Johnson, who snagged just 1 catch that went 44 yards for a TD, as well as 1 rushing attempt on a reverse that went for 11 yards.

Each time Johnson touched the ball, he was electric. The stadium was ooh-ing and awe-ing at his talents as he sliced past defenders, showing his former five-star talents for the first time since the 2015 season.

Although Johnson’s targets were mostly limited, his impact, much like J.D. King, will only grow as the season progresses. We all saw how Johnson handled himself in space. You saw his elusiveness in the open field. And no matter your thoughts on Mike Yurcich, we can all acknowledge that he has two working eyes and saw it too. Johnson’s a playmaker, plain and simple. Give him 10 targets in a meaningless game 1 blowout? Nah. Ease him in and have him up and running by conference play? Which do you think is the smarter, more Gundy-like play here?

Johnson and King are difference makers on offense, and while they might be featured as backups at position groups that are already loaded with skill, there’s no such thing as too much talent when you’re striving for a championship. And for the first time since I can remember, OSU has more talent than it knows what to do with – and King and Johnson, the newcomers already shining in 2017, could be the talent OSU needs to climb the plateau and reach a first Big 12 title since 2011.

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