By Wendell Barnhouse | firstname.lastname@example.org
HOUSTON – Here’s the thing about change … it makes a difference.
Here’s the thing about season openers in college football … before toe meets leather, you don’t know what you don’t know.
Combine those two things and you have Oklahoma State in the Advocare Texas Kickoff at Houston’s Reliant Stadium Saturday.
The Cowboys in the off-season changed both their offensive (Mike Yurcich) and defensive (Glenn Spencer) coordinators. The discussion since they were hired was that the Oklahoma State offense would play at a faster version of warp speed and the defense would be more aggressive. The one game snapshot: no and yes.
The 13th-ranked Cowboys, the preseason media favorite to win the Big 12 Conference title, proved they could play Big Boy Football with their 21-3 victory over Mississippi State.
“As a player, when you hear stuff like that, and they put another conference as better than your conference, it just pumps you up,” Oklahoma State Josh Stewart said about the Big 12’s reputation for playing finesse football. “It's like, ‘We're good over here, too.'
“And when you show up and play physical on both sides – we played physical with them – that's exciting to show the world that we can ball, too. We did pretty well, I think.”
With a ranked team facing an unranked team on a neutral field, the outcome didn’t raise eyebrows or make national headlines. The method by which Oklahoma State won its season opener against a Southeastern Conference foe was unexpected.
“We looked like we were the SEC team today,” said Oklahoma State running back Desmond Roland, who gained 46 yards in 10 plays.
That statement rings true when your defense is nasty and stingy and your offense pounds the ball on the ground for 286 yards and 7.2 yards per carry.
"We started really slow," Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy said. "The defense kept us in the game. We were bad on offense the first 20 minutes of the game, the offense couldn't get any rhythm. We had dropped passes and penalties. Our success on offense is based on running the ball, play pass, throwing it, mixing it up, changing direction. When you have penalties and dropping the football, it is tough for us to have success."
Mississippi State started strong throwing the ball, gaining 55 yards through the air on its first possession that resulted in field goal for a 3-0 lead. After that 13-play drive, the Bulldogs lost their bite. Mississippi State’s next eight drives totaled 32 plays. The Cowboys stopped the Bulldogs on 14 of 16 third down attempts.
“It was a big challenge,” said Spencer, who was promoted from linebackers coach to run the defense. “We talked about it the last couple weeks, about the SEC and their big offensive line.”
Only twice last season did Oklahoma State, which finished fourth nationally in total offense, have more yards rushing than passing. The ground attack was the preferred method of moving the ball against the Bulldogs.
Senior quarterback Clint Chelf earned the start but completed just three of six passes for 12 yards. Sophomore J.W. Walsh came in on the Cowboys’ third possession and a sputtering attack game to life.
"We wanted to be more physical than they were in the running game," Gundy said. "Early, we were very poor at that, but as the game wore on, we felt like we became more physical than they were on both sides of the ball running it and defending the run, so we stayed with that and allowed J.W to stay with that when he came in. He gave us a little bit of a spark."
Walsh, who gained 125 yards on 13 carries and completed 18 of 27 passes for 135 yards, gave Oklahoma State its first lead with a 3-yard run 2:16 before halftime. Senior running back Jeremy Smith, who had 102 yards on 15 attempts, had second-half scoring runs to complete the scoring.
Gundy said that Walsh has earned the start when Oklahoma State plays at Texas-San Antonio next Saturday.
The opening victory left the Cowboys, particularly in the defensive side, feeling good.
“We definitely gained a lot of respect today,” senior linebacker Shaun Lewis said. “And this is going to give us a ton of confidence going forward. This is big for us. We know what we can do as a team and a conference. We're satisfied in our style of play and what we bring to the table. It's up-tempo and it's physical, too.”