It wasn't the clean, exciting start many were expecting from No. 11 Oklahoma State, but the Cowboys survived a tough opening game against Tulsa in a 16-7 rock fight early Saturday afternoon in Stillwater, Oklahoma. Just about everything that could have gone wrong in this game did -- for both sides.
It started when the Cowboys lost starting quarterback Spencer Sanders to what was officially called a "lower extremity injury" that sidelined him for the rest of the game. Sanders, who was coming off an injury-shortened season in 2019, didn't even make it out of the first quarter when he appeared to injure his ankle on a botched handoff with star running back Chuba Hubbard.
What followed were nearly two quarters of unwatchable offense from Oklahoma State. Backup Ethan Bullock didn't get the job done, throwing for just 41 yards and an interception. To be fair, the offensive line play was poor. The Pokes allowed six sacks against a Tulsa defense that mostly rushed three and had only 14 sacks all of last year. Hubbard, the nation's leading rusher in 2019, had 93 yards rushing -- but many of those came in the fourth quarter and overall he averaged just 3.4 per rush. That is going to be a concern to monitor moving forward.
Oklahoma State found its spark by switching to to freshman quarterback Shane Illingworth late in the third quarter. A couple of big-time connections to star wide receiver Tylan Wallace helped give the Cowboys some confidence and chemistry before scoring their lone touchdown of the day -- a 3-yard Hubbard run.
The exact prognosis of Sanders' injury isn't known, so it's not clear how long he could be out. If he's sidelined for any lengthy period of time, it's hard to see coach Mike Gundy not going with Illingworth as QB1. The freshman's stat line wasn't jump-off-the-page good, but no one will complain about 4 of 5 passing for 74 yards from a guy who led three scoring drives. It's certainly better than what Bullock offered.
The rap on Illingworth is that he didn't really practice much over the past week. The inexperience of being a frosh in a pandemic-shortened offseason showed up from time to time, most notably with Illingworth's apprehension to throw some passes. Still, he fits more of Gundy's traditional quarterback mold and led three scoring drives. Can't be disappointed by that.
Tulsa, for all its hard work, wasn't much better. The Golden Hurricane were a painful 0 for 12 on third down and 1 for 3 on fourth. The one would-be third-down conversion, a touchdown that would have given Tulsa a 13-10 lead, was called back due to an illegal shift penalty. On the next play, it missed a chip-shot field goal that would have tied the game. On its next to last possession of the game, the Golden Hurricane offense committed three penalties, and a second-and-7 quickly turned into a fourth-and-24.
On that note, the Hurricane committed a whopping 15 penalties for 120 yards. They also had numerous problems with clock management both before and after timeouts. The COVID-19 pandemic has caused all kinds of disruptions that affect practice flow, but the number of miscommunications was unacceptable for a team trying to pull off an upset.
This Oklahoma State-Tulsa game has been a study in self-destruction. Philip Montgomery has shedded time outs and opportunity with poor game management. OK State just had a long touchdown called back. Battle of attrition.— Pete Thamel (@PeteThamel) September 19, 2020
Tulsa has to be sick at a wasted chance for an upset. It last won in Stillwater in 1951, and Oklahoma State has now won 22 straight games against the Golden Hurricane on their home field. Oklahoma State has also won its last eight games against Tulsa dating back to 1999.