The first game of the season is usually not the smoothest. There are often some mistakes, a little dust to shake off to get settled in as a team.
And while it certainly doesn’t help that starting quarterback Spencer Sanders did not start due to COVID-19 protocols, this was a shaky win for Oklahoma State.
Early on, Oklahoma State was in control at Boone Pickens Stadium. Offense putting up points calmly and confidently, the defense shutting down the visiting Missouri State Bears right off the bat. P.S. it’s so fun to see a blocked kick, particularly when it’s your team doing the blocking.
Unfortunately for the Pokes, the control did not last. The offense stalled in the second and Missouri State continued battling down the stretch, pushing OSU to finish the game out to the final second.
Defense wins championships, or at least games against FCS opponents, and ultimately, Oklahoma State squeaked out the win, 23-16.
First Takeaway: Illingworth Back In The Pocket - Again - And Generally In Control
While the starting man behind center was unexpected today, it was at least a familiar face for Cowboy fans.
Less than an hour before kickoff, it was announced that Spencer Sanders would not play due to COVID-19 protocols, but Shane Illingworth took the baton with ease. ESPN said Illingworth knew he would be starting for a few days and his confidence showed on the field.
He went 5-6 completions on the Cowboys’ first touchdown drive, including a TD pass, and the only incompletion was a dropped pass. He looked comfortable.
His first mistake, an interception on an attempted deep ball, did give the ball back to the Bears. Yeah, there are a few decisions and plays that were questionable from Shane down the stretch, including a few deep shots and back-to-back delay of game penalties deep in the Missouri State territory.
Though only a sophomore and not QB 1, Illingworth certainly shows maturity and poise. Sanders was in and out of the games through the 2020 season, so Illingworth has seen snaps and made connections before, key experience and a comfort for OSU.
There’s work to do, but it is nice to know that if QB 1 is out, Shane puts on a show worth watching.
Second Takeaway: Plenty of Running Back Options, But a Nonexistent Running Game
LD Brown, Braydon Johnson, Jaylen Warren, Dezmon Jackson. Four running back options but where was the running game tonight?
By the end of the third quarter, the Cowboys had just 52 rushing yards, averaging 2.3 yards a carry. The end-of-game stats were not much better for the team, putting up just 54 yards on 1.9 yards a carry.
OSU had a total of 369 yards tonight. That means the running game, usually a bright spot of the Cowboys attack, put up just 14.6% of the offense.
Brown, the veteran, led the rushing box score with 15 carries for 30 yards. Johnson rushed for 13 yards on a single carry. Warren had nine yards on six carries and Jackson rounded it out with eight yards on two carries.
While Missouri State did defend the run well, it was simply not clicking for OSU tonight - a concerning fact for the future.
Third Takeaway: A Tale Of Two Halves
It was the best of times, and then the third quarter hit.
The third quarter left many Oklahoma State fans - myself included - scratching their heads. The Cowboys scored no points, and they were on their heels.
It was a glorious start to the game, offense driving quickly for a touchdown and the defensive stepping up to block the Bears’ first field goal attempt.
OSU looked lost entering the second half, particularly as the Bears only continued to gain momentum and settle into their game as the game went along. Who knows what all the Cowboys needed to really click, but the running game (or lack thereof) was definitely lacking.
The defense had a strong showing tonight. Special teams blocked a field goal attempt and held the Bears to field goals only until the fourth quarter. If only the offense could have been as consistent.
Granted, the offense put up a strong showing in the first half, giving a cushion of a lead to hold onto in the second half when they simply stalled. It is also tough to start the season off with your backup quarterback, but this is a team sport that relies on all the men on the field, not just the one behind center.
Starting off the season with a win is a win, but it’s clear there’s room for growth.