Today was the 75th renewal of the Turnpike Classic, so named for the 70 miles down Oklahoma Highway 51 that separate Oklahoma State and Tulsa.
The series began in 1914, and before 1959, TU led in the win column. But post 1959, it’s been all Cowboys, leading the series 27-7.
QB1 Spencer Sanders was back in the pocket for this game, but struggled early to find his rhythm, not connecting with receivers, and tossing an interception that led to a 55-yard pick six for TU late in the first half.
It was a game of defense today, both teams forcing the punters to spend significant time on the field. Both teams were also trying to run the ball, but neither doing it well.
It looked like an evenly-matched game this Saturday in Stillwater, punters getting a lot of action and a halftime score of 7-7. In the fourth quarter, LD Brown had a spectacular 98-yard kickoff return for a touchdown to put OSU back on top 21-17.
Tulsa has not won in Stillwater for 70 years and OSU barely kept that streak alive, 28-23.
First Takeaway: A Sluggish - and Nearly Scoreless - Start
Spencer Sanders and the offense combined for a total of just 40 yards in the first quarter. FORTY.
That is an abysmal beginning. Having Sanders back should energize the offense to get going, and Illingworth did well filling in last week, but the offense still stalled. Sometimes the ideas were there, like a couple deep lofted balls from Sanders, but his receivers had to wait on it when they had space. The deep ball isn’t Sanders’ specialty. The connection is lacking - and it needs to start clicking.
The Cowboys need to figure out a way to come out pistols firing. They can’t rely on defense alone or on just a few miracle plays, particularly once they get into conference play. It isn’t going to work.
And can we talk about the play calling? In my humble opinion, it was dismal at best. Let’s get creative, especially after a first quarter - when you can see what the TU defense is doing - so let’s find the holes.
It took until there was four minutes left in the first HALF for the Cowboys to get on the board. We’ll take the touchdown but would have loved to have one a bit sooner.
If our offense isn’t scoring, at least the defense is doing their job.
Second Takeaway: Is This A Defensive Team?
Is this - is this a defensive team?
The defense held TU scoreless in the first (the only score coming from an offensive turnover) and forced a total of eight punts in the game. For reference, there were 15 TOTAL punts in this game.
OSU defensive end Ben Kopenski had a sack at a crucial moment, forcing Tulsa out of field goal range in the second quarter.
They gave up a touchdown at the start of the second half, but held the Golden Hurricane to a field goal on a drive that looked destined to end in six points.
The defense spent a lot of time on the field and honestly, they’re what kept OSU in the game. Not much else to it.
Third Takeaway: Searching For Rhythm
OSU needs to settle down and settle in.
Having Sanders back should bring some familiarity and confidence to the OSU offense (nothing against Illingworth’s work), but it felt disconcerted.
There were sloppy mistakes, including one very costly interception. Sanders was unable to connect consistently with his receivers, making them wait on the ball or just missing them.
And unfortunately for OSU, the Golden Hurricane was ready to capitalize on those mistakes. The TU defense stifled the OSU running game and shut down opportunities to score.
A fortunate call reversal kept a driving Cowboys offense alive late in the fourth. A fumble by Sanders - that luckily for OSU was not recovered by TU - turned into six points on a beautifully slippery run by Jalen Warren. This was the first time the offense felt in rhythm, even with the fumble.
The pieces exist for the Cowboys, with strong wide receivers and a plethora of running backs at their service. All that’s needed - besides some more creative play calling - is rhythm.