Oklahoma State legends Mason Rudolph and James Washington are playing in the NFL now, and for the first time in a little over three seasons, the Cowboys have a new face leading the offense.
Senior Taylor Cornelius is the starting quarterback for the time being, and there are a lot of questions surrounding this team headed into Thursday’s season opener at Boone-Pickens Stadium against the Missouri State Bears.
Missouri State is arguably the worst opponent that Oklahoma State will face all season, but this game is still important for a number of reasons. If the Cowboys want to start the season off strong, the offense needs to run smoothly, and there are a few keys to making that happen Thursday night.
Establish the Ground Game
Justice Hill, the Big 12’s leading rusher a season ago, returns to Stillwater for his junior year, and it could turn out to be a special one. Hill finished as one of 10 semifinalists for the Doak Walker Award, which is presented to the nation’s top running back, and he has a decent shot at winning the award this season. He could even be labeled as a dark horse to win the Heisman.
Behind Hill on the depth chart are sophomores J.D. King and L.D. Brown. Both King and Brown had solid freshman campaigns playing backup to Hill, and they will be ready to go if called upon.
The offensive line is going to be a major key to the success of the offense, and the group has both experience and depth. Still, the fellas up front rank in the middle of the pack in the Big 12, and before they can begin to protect the quarterback in the passing game, they have to be able to push some guys around and help the offense find success on the ground.
Allow Taylor Cornelius to Find a Rhythm
Perhaps one of the most important aspects of the game of football for a quarterback, especially a new one, is finding rhythm and flow. Mason Rudolph’s best games a season ago were when he was able to find James Washington deep early or perhaps another one of the talented receivers for a few quick dumps for easy yardage. Rudolph struggled, however, when he took hits early in a game or if he threw an interception before finding any success.
Taylor Cornelius needs to take advantage of the lesser competition and do whatever it takes for him to develop some rhythm. He has a host of solid receivers to choose from, and while he may not be the star that Rudolph was, Cornelius should be able to put up decent numbers with the level of talent that he has on both sides of the field.
Convert in Crucial Situations
A season ago the Cowboys were among the top in the Big 12 in converting both 3rd and 4th down attempts, as well as getting points once in the red zone. Specifically, Oklahoma State was in the red zone more than any other team in the conference, and they were able to score on 89.3% of their trips, which was third in the Big 12.
Doing the work to get to the end zone but then coming up short is not something that Oklahoma State can afford this season. Games will likely be as close as they have been in years for the Cowboys, and every opportunity must be seized. Finishing solid drives by putting up points and not letting chances slip away will be necessary for success this season, and Oklahoma State has a great opportunity to do just that and convert every chance they get against what should be an easy opponent in Missouri State.