Interest in a quarterback’s first start is always going to be at peak levels.
For Oklahoma State, that raised the question of whether fifth-year senior Taylor Cornelius was at peak performance as the Cowboys riddled Missouri State 58-17 in the season opener.
Cornelius, who last started a game in the Class 2A Texas high school playoffs for Bushland, completed 24 of 34 passes for 295 yards, with five touchdowns and an interception. He also showed some versatility on the very first drive, executing a 32-yard keeper.
What does it mean? Well, good question.
Missouri State was a Football Championship Subdivision opponent. The last time the Bears reached the playoffs in that division was 1990. And at times, Cornelius had trouble shaking off his rust, throwing the one pick while also missing some open receivers.
“You know in baseball when guys try to aim instead of throwing the ball? Pitchers? That’s what he did,” Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy said. “And that doesn’t surprise me. He was more tentative based on I’m the starter instead of just cutting it loose. He’s got to just cut it loose.”
The next opportunity will come Saturday when Oklahoma State plays again at home against South Alabama (0-1). The Cowboys’ toughest nonconference test then follows a week later at home against Boise State.
Look for Oklahoma State to continue building a fierce rushing attack to give Cornelius more openings to exploit through the air.
Against Missouri State, the Cowboys rushed for 436 yards, the second most under their 14th-year head coach. They were led by last season’s Big 12 rushing leader, Justice Hill. He played in only the first quarter but still gained 122 yards on 10 carries and scored a touchdown.
Oklahoma State also came out with a good grasp of the 4-2-5 defensive scheme introduced by new coordinator Jim Knowles. On the first five drives the Cowboys defended, they recovered a fumble, forced four punts and allowed one first down.
So then, Cornelius’ development remains the biggest issue. Especially since Oklahoma State was confident enough against an FCS opponent to use its fourth-string quarterback, Keondre Wudtee, who entered as the first backup the Cowboys used. Wudtee was not even listed on the depth chart.
Dru Brown and Spencer Sanders will remain the top backups, though Oklahoma State’s intention could be to redshirt both.
South Alabama fell 30-26 to Louisiana Tech in its opener. The 231 yards the Jaguars allowed on the ground will be a pressing concern considering the breakaway potential Hill possesses for the Cowboys. South Alabama will have to play a clean game to provide Oklahoma State a challenge. That could be a tough task considering the Jaguars were flagged for five major penalties in the first half of the Louisiana Tech defeat.
–LB Calvin Bundage led Oklahoma State with seven tackles in the 58-17 season-opening rout of Missouri State. He was in on six solo stops, including a third-down sack in the first quarter. Bundage was the Cowboys’ most disruptive defender, which was hardly a surprise since he showed off those qualities a year ago. Oklahoma State was playing its first game under new defensive coordinator Jim Knowles.
–LB Justin Phillips was able to penetrate the Missouri State line and record three tackles for loss as another disruptive influence alongside Bundage. Phillips ranked third among Oklahoma State defenders last season with 9.5 tackles per game.
–RB Justice Hill barely broke a sweat in the opener against Missouri State, but still posted a 100-yard rushing performance. Hill played only in the first quarter and carried 10 times for 122 yards and one touchdown. The junior, a third-year starter, led the Big 12 in rushing last season.