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South Alabama is a Big Game for Taylor Cornelius, and That Might be a Good Thing

The keys to OSU’s offense are in Cornelius’ hands, but he can take a firm grasp in Week 2.



A FCS-Sun Belt combo platter to start any season should be little more than a pair of orange-white scrimmages in different colors for a team as talented as OSU.

In many ways it is. Justice Hill might not have even a dollar’s worth of quarters under his belt going into Boise, and so many players are set to see the field over the first two outings that we might discover there is a third Wallace brother.

But for starting QB Taylor Cornelius — i.e. the Oil Baron, Corndog, TC, Eli Lite, Corn Baron — this Saturday feels a little bigger than it should. A little bigger than it did last week. I don’t know that he’s playing for his job — that seems hyperbolic — but in the season after one of the all-time greats leaves with no obvious successor, isn’t everyone kind of playing for their job every week?

Gundy said this about the backups following last week’s thrashing, but it seemingly applies to everyone.

All of this, I think, will be a good thing for Cornelius. Never has a 5-TD game been more picked apart, and never has it been more fair. Corndog looked like, well, about how you’d expect a career backup to look in his first game against a FCS team. Thankfully for him, OSU’s opener was against the State from Missouri and not the one from Florida like the last time they opened the year with QB questions.

Give him the benefit of the doubt, one side says. Except that there is no bank from which to withdraw. Doubt remains. He’ll never be a great starter here, the other side exclaims. Except that you apparently don’t remember Mason Rudolph’s first start following that three-game whirlwind at the end of his freshman year.

I’ve heard interesting behind-the-scenes rumors that Saturday’s game could go a number of ways. Dru Brown might get some pre-determined snaps. Maybe he spells TC after it gets out of hand. Who knows. I’m not even sure the coaches do. It certainly feels like more is on the table this week than last.

And if anything is going to root 14 as QB1 in Stillwater, this will be it. It can get a little ethereal against Mizzou St. There’s a lot going on. First start. Great expectations. Five years without playing. But at some point you settle into who you are, and that should happen in Week 2 with a raised-eyebrows fan base and a big boy Week 3 game on deck. Cornelius had a lot to unload last week. He has a lot at stake in this one. That should be telling.

And just who is Taylor Cornelius, the quarterback? If Thursday is any indication, he’s a good short thrower who can run a little and knows who his weapons are. So basically the opposite of Mason Rudolph.

I think that we tend to get a little worked up about ends of the spectrum. We take first starts or last plays and disproportionally apply value to them in an unsustainable way. Do we need to let him find his feet? Yes we do. Is there a lot of runway in CFP to do that? No there’s not. And therein lies one of the things that makes this sport so thrilling. You have to not only figure it out but you must do so quickly while maintaining the psyche of 80 other players. That balance is a game within the game.

And lest we forget, not all recent first starts by good to great QBs in Stillwater have been immense. Oklahoma State beat Central Michigan 24-13 in Rudolph’s first start post-freshman year, and it didn’t look all that great. OSU then went 10-3 that year. Didn’t lose until the week before Thanksgiving. You could argue this team has more weapons than that one did.

Here’s a look at OSU’s last three successful QBs next to TC. I chose Central Michigan for Rudy because that seems like the more appropriate comp to what TC did against Missouri State. They had both been in the program a while, getting their first start as the real starter etc. I know Rudolph did some things at the end of his freshman year, but that didn’t seem commensurate to what TC went through last Thursday.

Rudolph Chelf Walsh TC
Opp. C. Michigan WVU Texas Missouri St.
Comp. 22 22 18 24
Att. 32 31 27 34
Percentage 68 71 67 71
Yards 266 292 301 295
TD 1 4 2 5
INT 0 1 1 1
Rating 148.9 186.2 177.3 186.1


Yes, TC faced the worst opponent, and we all watched the same thing. But I’m buying stock low this week. Is there a scenario in which TC just isn’t really that great and actually played well against Missouri State compared to what he’ll do the rest of the season? Sure. But Gundy — who again doesn’t have the most sterling record of picking starting QBs of all time — seems quite confident going into Week 2. Maybe that’s all a front, but I’m not sure how else to take it other than at face value.

“Like most games there’s things that happened that I didn’t see on the field that made me feel better after the game,” said Gundy. “I originally said he missed seven throws. I think he missed four. I have a strong tendency to always blame the quarterback.

“What I would like for him to do is to go play and go play fearless. That’s what our quarterbacks have done here in the past and don’t worry about making mistakes. There’s going to be times when we throw interceptions. I don’t know what to tell you … it is what it is. I think once he gets out of that phase he’ll get back to where he was and what we’ve seen in practice. I’m confident that he’ll improve each week.”

There will be a lot going on this weekend at the QB position, and all of it will be interesting. One of the things I keep coming back to is how big Gundy is on flipping the lights on and seeing what you’ve got on the big stage. Isn’t that his entire deal when it comes to QBs? The evidence for Cornelius isn’t all that compelling thus far, but Gundy rode for Cornelius in Week 1. How long does that last if he continues to miss guys deep and throw ground balls to Tyron?

“I did say this in July. Everyone is going to have to be a little patient with him, including myself,” said Gundy. “I’m the first one to say to be patient, and then I’m the first one that’s not patient.

“We’ve been spoiled here for a long time with fantastic offense and terrific quarterback play over the last 6-8 years. It’s new to him. It’s a little different for him. I’m going to guess he’ll feel a lot better. We’re going to let him go. He’s going to go and he’s going to play. He’s going to make some mistakes, and we’re going to keep him in there and let him play. We think he gives us the best chance to be successful.”

Still, there has to be at least a little seed of doubt planted in the minds of Gundy, Mike Yurcich and Co. Has to be. Cornelius has to know this, too. Which means he presumably understands what’s at stake on Saturday. If he plays great early under a little bit of pressure from everything that’s going on then the runway is extended. If he doesn’t, then there will be questions going into Boise. From us. For Gundy. About who gets the nod. OSU might be a 30-point favorite on Saturday, but that’s going to be the biggest four-TD spread game in a long time in Stillwater.

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