Can Arkansas State or Louisiana Happen to Oklahoma State on Saturday?
STILLWATER -- Oklahoma State had to wait a week, no, they chose to wait a week and give Tulsa, who was light on practice time because of COVID-19, more time to prepare. Now that we've all seen a week of Big 12 football and watched No. 23 Iowa State get beat by Louisiana 31-14. Our eyes also saw Arkansas State go into Manhattan and upset Kansas State 35-31. Texas Tech won 35-33, but in the most embarrassing Big 12 game of the week was life and death to beat FCS and Southland Conference doormat Houston Baptist. Forget Kansas, the Jayhawks are capable of losing any and every game still.
The question begs could the pandemic opener for the Cowboys become a disaster like it did for the three Big 12 teams above. Iowa State was ranked and besides my sometimes "homer" feelings about the Cyclones there were other college football aficionados across the country that liked Iowa State as a dark horse challenger to compete for the Big 12 Championship. I knew this would be a challenging game because Louisiana is experienced and talented.
I also felt that Arkansas State was talented and had played a game already and would match up well against Kansas State. I still thought both Iowa State and K-State would win. Texas Tech cutting it close with Houston Baptist, I'm still trying to figure out and somebody tell me how Texas Tech winds up with the Big 12 Defense Player of Week. The HBU Huskies had 600-yards of total offense!
Okay, the question begs, could one of those ugly scenarios jump up and happen to the Cowboys Saturday at Boone Pickens Stadium? The short answer is yes, anything is possible.
The analytical answer is that it is possible, but highly unlikely. The games mentioned above all had two things in common.
The Big 12 teams, Iowa State, Kansas State, and Texas Tech all won the time of possession thus proving again that is a worthless statistic even for K-State, who thrives on playing keep away. The other commonality is that the opposing teams, Louisiana, Arkansas State, and Houston Baptist all won two other phases of the game that helped them win or make it close.
Arkansas State, winners on a late touchdown drive, out rushed Kansas State 159-yards-to-94, outgained the Wildcats overall 489-yards-to-374, and owned a slight advantage in penalties as Kansas State was penalized for 85-yards to the Red Wolves 58-yards.
Louisiana had the hidden yardage advantage with 226-yards on returns and a kickoff and punt return for touchdowns. Iowa State had just 82-yards in returns. The Cyclones outgained Louisiana 303-yards-to-272, but two turnovers to none for the Ragin Cajuns.
In Lubbock where Texas Tech has a tradition of throwing the ball all over the place, Houston Baptist quarterback Bailey Zappe threw for 567-yards and four touchdowns. Texas Tech outran HBU 194-yards-to-28. Texas Tech was penalized for 44-yards more than Houston Baptist.
You have to ask yourself, can Tulsa out play Oklahoma State in any of those critical areas?
Again, the quick answer is no. Last season in Tulsa, even with the empty second quarter and Tulsa leading at halftime 21-20 before the Cowboys won it 40-21, Oklahoma State owned about every line of the box score except turnovers. The Cowboys turned it over twice and Tulsa played clean. In penalties, Tulsa was far from clean last season with 156-yards in yellow flags while Oklahoma State had 80. Oklahoma State outrushed Tulsa 337-yards-to-158 and led in total yards 536-to-396.
Last year is just an indicator, but as Tulsa head coach Philip Montgomery said Oklahoma State returns so much for last season. His team does too, but Oklahoma State proved they are more talented.
"Obviously, Hubbard is fantastic," Montgomery said of the Cowboys running back. "He runs the ball like no other. He has great speed, he's strong, he runs through tackles, and he does a great job in the passing game. You have Wallace out there and you can throw a little receiver screen to him. I'm watching Iowa State game the other day when they played. He catches the ball and four guys hit him but can't tackle him. He stiff-arms one guy to the ground and then hurdles the other one to score a touchdown."
Gundy will tell you that Tulsa has a good team. The tandem of running backs in Shamari Brooks and Corey Taylor II along with receivers like Keylon Stokes and Sam Crawford Jr. combined with returning quarterback Zach Smith give the Golden Hurricane star power, but still not the likes of Chuba Hubbard and Tylan Wallace.
"Well they've got wide receivers that can go up and get the ball. They put them in the inside slot position and they do a nice job with play-pass and double moves and such," Gundy said of Tulsa. "I would expect them to attack us in that area. Defensively they've replaced a number of guys, but they've got (linebackers) that can run and their nose guards have played well. I would expect them to be ready to play, but those are some areas that you know who they are based on the returning players from last season."
Maybe last season is a great predictor as both teams do return some guys. The areas of change, Oklahoma State on the offense line and Tulsa on the defensive line and secondary.
Back to the question, could Oklahoma State be taken down? Yes, but something strange like a rash of turnovers or a key injury or two would be required. If the two teams play close to their games, Oklahoma State is a solid favorite to move on past week one of the COVID-19 pandemic season, albeit, a week after it was originally scheduled and 16-days after the Cowboys original opener was supposed to be played.