The Oklahoma State Cowboys got off to a hot start on Saturday against Tulsa as sophomore sensation running back Chuba Hubbard ran for a 75-yard touchdown on the first play of the game. He followed that up with a 30-yard touchdown on the next offensive possession, and less than four minutes into the game, the Cowboys held a 14-0 lead.
The magic did not last for long, however, as Oklahoma State managed just two field goals for the remainder of the first half. The Cowboys entered halftime trailing 21-20, and thanks largely to the defense stiffening up in the second half, Oklahoma State was able to win handily 40-21.
Despite the convincing win against Tulsa, there continue to be areas where the Cowboys can improve, and on Saturday, Oklahoma State gets its first real test as they take on the Texas Longhorns in Austin. If the Cowboys want to come away with a win, there are some specific areas that they need to be successful.
Focus on the Ground
The Cowboys are obviously very talented at rushing the ball, and while the offensive line is still improving, Chuba Hubbard and freshman quarterback Spencer Sanders have the ability to rack up yardage with their feet.
As a team, the Cowboys are averaging 285.3 rushing yards per game, which is 9th in the NCAA. Despite rushing for just 44 yards in limited action in Week 2 against McNeese State, Hubbard leads the nation with 521 yards, almost 70 yards more than the next guy. Sanders has 219 yards on the ground, which ranks him 62nd in the NCAA but 3rd among quarterbacks.
On the other side of the ball, the Longhorns are 30th in the nation in rushing defense allowing just 87.3 yards on the ground per game. There’s a good chance that whoever wins this particular battle will end up winning the game.
Stop Giving It Away
After zero turnovers in the first game of the season, the Cowboys have turned it over twice in each of the last two outings. Last week, Spencer Sanders threw an interception in the possession immediately following Tulsa’s first touchdown. While the turnover did not immediately have an impact, it most certainly affected the rest of the first half.
The Golden Hurricane had to punt on the possession following the interception, but forcing the turnover gave Tulsa the momentum to push back and continue a rally after trailing by two touchdowns just a few minutes into the game. The Golden Hurricane used that momentum to take a 21-20 lead into halftime,
Simply put, when a team wins the turnover battle, they are far more likely to win the game. The Cowboys have won 58 of their last 63 games when winning the turnover battle, and when playing a tough team on the road like the Longhorns in Austin, Oklahoma State cannot afford to give away easy opportunities for points.
Spread the Ball Around
Junior receiver Tylan Wallace was a preseason All-American, and he is considered the favorite to win the Biletnikoff Award, which is given at the end of the season to the nation’s best receiver.
After racking up 272 yards and 3 touchdowns in the first two games, Tulsa made a point to keep Wallace out of the game. Every time Spencer Sanders tried to find him on a deep ball, the Golden Hurricane took no chances and simply took a pass interference penalty to keep Wallace from getting a catch that would easily end in a touchdown.
Despite being targeted 7 times in the first half—on top of being interfered on a pass 2 other times—Wallace only caught 3 passes for 20 yards. He was rendered ineffective in the offense, and as a whole, the Cowboys could not move the ball.
Sanders was finally able to connect with Wallace in the second half, bringing Wallace’s totals to 5 catches for 118 yards and a touchdown, but the passing game was not efficient at all, and perhaps that was because as a team the Cowboys relied on Wallace a little too much.
If Oklahoma State wants to get past Texas, they cannot expect Tylan Wallace to be open easily. The Longhorns have a potential Big 12 Defensive Player of the year in sophomore Caden Sterns, so you can guarantee that eyes will be on Wallace. Spencer Sanders needs to get the rest of the talented receiving corp involved and find the open man.
C.J. Moore and Braydon Johnson are the only other receivers to catch a touchdown so far this season for the Cowboys, but Dillon Stoner, Landon Wolf, and tight end Jelani Woods are all capable of hauling in receptions.