Oklahoma State shrugged off Central Michigan's upset bid with a 24-13 win against the Chippewas on Thursday night.
Here are five thoughts on the Cowboys' season-opening win:
Oklahoma State must play better if they hope to battle for the conference title. The Cowboys didn't look like Big 12 contenders. Silly mistakes. Missed opportunities. Special teams miscues. It looked like a team playing its first game but that's no excuse. Oklahoma State's offense was sub-par and its kicking game was terrible (two missed field goals) as the defense helped save the day with seven different players recording tackles for loss in the double-digit road win. The title hopes for coach Mike Gundy's team aren't over, but the Pokes will have to be much better once Big 12 play rolls around.
Mason Rudolph's youth was on display. It's easy to forget Rudolph has only played four games. The sophomore quarterback looked uncomfortable in the pocket at times and missed some big plays with inaccurate throws as we were reminded of the ups-and-downs of youth. Rudolph finished 22 of 32 for 266 yards and one touchdown while adding five carries for 20 yards and another score, but his play (and numbers) won't be good enough if the Cowboys want to insert themselves in the conference title race.
Cowboys' offensive line woes returned. Arguably the most concerning aspect of the win was Oklahoma State's problems punching the ball in the end zone from the red zone. The Cowboys attempted to overpower Central Michigan on multiple plays in the red zone, only to be stuffed on power runs when the offensive line was unable to get the push into the end zone. Being able to run the ball when the defense expects a run can be the difference between an average offense and a great one. Oklahoma State's offensive line struggled to create running lanes in 2014, particularly in short-yardage situations, so Gundy's team needs to stop that trend as soon as possible.
It wasn't all bad. It was an ugly win but there were some rays of sunshine in the form of the defensive line and the play of receiver Marcell Ateman. Defensive tackle has been a concern for the Cowboys heading into the season but sophomore Vincent Taylor was exceptional, as a disruptive force in the interior on his way to three tackles for loss and a sack. True freshman defensive tackle Darrion Daniels also impressed with one tackle for loss and 0.5 sack in his first collegiate game. The defensive end duo of Emmanuel Ogbah (two tackles for loss, 1.5 sacks) and Jimmy Bean (one sack) continued to be key performers on the outside. On offense, Ateman looks like he could finally become a big part of the Cowboys' offense with four receptions for 75 yards and one touchdown. Arguably the most talented receiver on the roster, Ateman could be a player to watch if he becomes a consistent -- and focused -- player as a junior.
OSU's defense is fast and could be as good as advertised. Overshadowed in the offense's struggles was a solid performance by Glenn Spencer's defense. The Cowboys allowed 1.08 points per possession, 4.9 yards per play and 2.8 yards per carry. The defensive line did its part but safety Jordan Sterns (nine tackles), Jordan Burton (six tackles, two tackles for loss) and Tre Flowers (six tackles, one interception) were all over the field. This could be the fastest defense of the Gundy era and the foundation of any title run the Cowboys will make in 2015.