MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — In Saturday’s season opener against Tulsa, Oklahoma State won a football game while scoring less than twenty points for the first time since 2017. Their 16-7 triumph over the Golden Hurricane was far from a rousing exhibition of football but head coach Mike Gundy says he was relatively calm despite needing a fourth quarter rally to defeat a team that won just four games in 2019.
“I felt very comfortable in the game because we were stopping them,” Gundy said. “Everybody on this Zoom call knows that in Big 12 play what has happened over the last ten years. Everybody has held their breath to see who gets the ball last. So whoever gets the ball last scores and the game is over.
“I felt like we were stoning them on defense and I thought at some point, somebody has to score. Hopefully it is just us. There’s not many years and many games that I have had the feeling that we can just hold on and sputter around on offense like we did.”
“We can put the game in our hands and put it on our back,” said Oklahoma State linebacker Malcolm Rodriguez. “We have veterans on the defensive side and we can step up like that.”
“West Virginia is really going to throw the ball a lot more,” said Oklahoma State defensive lineman Cameron Murray. “We have been working on the same stuff we have been doing and finishing and getting to the quarterback.”
Oklahoma State has relied heavily on an uptempo, high-scoring offense over the last decade. Gundy says the pendulum may be swinging back in the other direction.
“We have been on the flip side of this,” Gundy said. There’s times the offense just kept scoring and we wondered if we were ever going to stop anyone on defense. That’s the way it is sometimes.”
“Musical chairs” up front
OSU starting right guard Cole Birmingham and starting right tackle Hunter Anthony were both injured in the season opener. Tulsa took advantage, collecting six sacks in the game and getting a lot of pressure while rushing just three defenders.
“We were below average based on musical chairs,” Gundy said. “It is extremely difficult. You can call it like you want but when you move people around that much, the continuity is difficult. Hopefully we can get set in what we need and get quality reps this week.”
Getting up to speed
While West Virginia was able to substitute liberally in their season-opening win over Eastern Kentucky, the Cowboys were stressed for a full sixty minutes against Tulsa. Gundy says the stops and starts of an abnormal preseason had an effect on his team.
“We were not in very good shape Saturday. We have had a lot of practices but they have not been consistent practices with our team like they had been last year. When we went to Oregon State last year, we were running on all cylinders and we were a machine when it came to our cardio. We were pretty average in the last game because of a variety of reasons.
“We had concerns about pushing the guys in practice because of concerns about the virus.”
Evaluating backup quarterbacks a tricky proposition
Gundy ran through his top three quarterbacks last Saturday. Starter Spencer Sanders was injured in the first half and did not return. Backup Ethan Bullock was pulled after throwing an interception. True freshman and early enrollee Shane Illingworth saved the game for the Cowboys by engineering three fourth quarter scoring drives.
“I thought he was composed and executed very well. I don’t think that we could have asked him to do more than what he did. So we are pleased with his play.
“There can be good quarterbacks that really don’t show up because they don’t get good practice, or work with the (first team). For example, there’s Joe Burrow. That can happen at times based on the way things fall, who the starter should be, who the backup should be. The toughest part for a quarterback is being the number two guy in spring practice. It is difficult to work with the (second team) when the offense is generally ahead of the defense.”
Backing up Chuba
While Chuba Hubbard is firmly established as one of the elite skill players in the nation, backup running back L.D. Brown was impressive in the opener. He rushed for 63 yards on just 9 carries against Tulsa.
“He was awesome. L.D. played his best game in all areas. In pass protection, he stepped up and hit people in the face. When he had the chance to rush the football, he did so extremely hard and he did a really good job with ball security.”