The biggest matchup of the weekend takes place in Stillwater, OK Saturday afternoon - no matter what College Game Day says - as the #6 Cowboys and #16 Horned Frogs face up in the Big 12 opener for both teams. To get the lowdown on the Cowboys, we reached out to Tyler Weiderhoeft of the exception SB Nation blog Cowboys Ride For Free, and he was kind enough to answer a few questions for us.
He is, confident, to say the least :/.
Frogs O War: Oklahoma State has looked like world-beaters in the early-going so far, though admittedly against a soft schedule. Do fans feel like this efficiency and fire-power is a result of overmatched opponents, or that the Cowboys are just that good?
Tyler Weiderhoeft: While it may look like it is simply because we are playing below-average teams, I believe this team – especially Mason Rudolph – is that good. The fact that the Cowboys can score in a variety of ways, whether it be through the air, on the ground, defensively or on special teams – seemingly at will – tells me this team is going to be competing for a national championship in January.
FOW: Mason Rudolph is completing 72% of his passes and has 11 TDs through what basically amounts to less than two full games. He was really good in 2016, but seems to be on an even higher level this year. What is his best attribute as a quarterback and what does he seem to have improved on this year?
TW: His best attribute is his height and his patience. Measuring up at 6’5 means he can see over the trees he calls his offensive line and not just where the line opens up holes and leaves viewing lanes for him. His height also helps the majority of his passes make it over the line without getting tipped. With the abundance of riches the Cowboys have at WR, Rudolph’s patience is a great asset. He uses it to hang out in the pocket and go through all four or five of his options before tucking it down and running.
He seems to have improved on his strength and his ability to extend plays. We have seen multiple times this season already where he will shake off a tackler or dance around his blockers to extend the play and give his receivers more time to get open and get that “big play” in the secondary.
FOW: There was once a time when James Washington was the most feared wide receiver on the Cowboys, but he has some competition in that category this fall. Rudolph has spread it around early, and Ateman, McCleskey, and Stoner have all made big plays. Against a solid secondary Saturday, do you expect that to continue? Or will Washington be the go-to guy for Rudolph if the game is close?
TW: Don't forget about Tyron Johnson (editor’s note: yep, I forgot about Tyron Johnson. Do they ever run out of wide receivers at Okie State?!). Actually, on second thought, do forget about him. The WR that TCU forgets about will be the one that burns them. As a prime example, Jalen McCleskey had five catches for 17 yards and no TDs before his 162-yard, 3 TD explosion Saturday against Pitt. You can't count anyone out, otherwise they will come back to bite. While Washington is still a major key in the Oklahoma State offense, Rudolph is confident in all his receivers and he will spread the ball around. That's what makes the Oklahoma State offense so scary. Washington will still get his licks in, but don't expect it to be the Rudolph-Washington show. Unless, of course, the Frogs decide using single coverage on "The President" all game is a good idea.
FOW: The Cowboys haven't run the ball particularly well over the last several seasons, but seem to have found something in Justice Hill, who burst on to the scene last year as a freshman and has had two big games early in 2017. Meanwhile, the Frogs are allowing a scant 2.7 yards per carry and less than 100 per game so far this year - and stifled an Arkansas team that generally runs the ball well. Who is going to win the battle in the trenches Saturday: the Oklahoma State running game or the TCU defensive line?
TW: This year's team is not about running the ball. That being said, it is still a vital part of the offense. OC Mike Yurcich keeps defenses honest by running the ball. Defensive coordinators are forced to keep defenders up in the box and not drop them all into coverage, otherwise they risk letting the shifty Hill break through the front line and pick up a huge gain. Look what he did against Pitt and they even brought extra pressure. https://www.clippituser.tv/c/vgyplw So, to answer the question straightforward, TCU may statistically win the running game battle, but OSU will win the war, because Chad Glasgow is forced to respect the Cowboy running game, therefore opening up the passing game even more.
FOW: Speaking of defense, the Cowboys have been really good on that side of the ball so far this year, including shutting out opponents in the first quarter. How much of that has to do with the talent and scheme of that unit, and how much is that helped by the offense jumping out to huge leads early and forcing opponents hands?
TW: It's definitely a combination of both. Glenn Spencer turns out a fiery, consistent unit year after year. Are they perfect? No, but it's enough. The offensive tempo is huge. Some teams want to grind it out and use a lot of clock, but they have to guarantee they score, because the Cowboys can go the length of the field and score in less time than it takes for me to get some tacos from the kitchen and get back (true story by the way). You can never take your eyes off the screen when they are on the field, because they can score in the blink of an eye. This prolific Cowboy offense forces OCs to speed up their game plans and get out of their comfort zones, which is when Glenn Spencer and Co. pounce.
FOW: Is there a weakness on defense that you think TCU can exploit offensively?
TW: As it is with many defenses, the longer the QB can extend the play, the better it is for them. The Cowboys are no different. The DBs do alright hanging with their coverage, but if the front 4-7 get out of position and Kenny Hill can escape the pass rush, he may be able to scramble and stay on the field much longer than he should be against OSU. Keeping QBs contained has been a struggle for a couple years now, and not a lot has seemed to change in the first three games on that front.
FOW: Give me your players of the game on both sides of the ball.
TW: Is it too much of a cop-out to go with Rudolph? QB1 wants it really bad this year, and he isn't going to let anybody get in his way. The offensive line is doing admirably, only allowing four sacks in the first three weeks, down from 10 allowed through the first few games last year. Also, as I've said, the riches he has at his disposal are incredible. There's no way Gary Patterson can expect his DBs to play lock-down coverage on every single receiver. It's just not plausible. If the Horned Frogs want to have a chance, they need to get to Rudolph before the DBs lose their assignments.
FOW: And finally, what's your prediction for the game?
TW: I'm excited to finally see Rudolph play a fourth quarter (I'm assuming he will), but I don't think the Cowboys are going to drop this game. They will be hyped up to open up the conference schedule at home, Boone Pickens Stadium will be undoubtedly rocking and Gundy will get them riled up. Rudolph throws for 400 yards with 4 TDs, Washington, Johnson and Marcel Ateman all have a TD reception and Justice Hill adds one on the ground to go along with 100 yards or so. The O/U is set around 70, and my guess is the game goes over that. I'll say OSU 51 - TCU 31.
Thanks again to Tyler and the crew at CRFF!