Oklahoma St.’s improved running game helps balance offense
STILLWATER, Okla. (AP) The last two seasons, No. 10 Oklahoma State has boasted a powerful offense led by Heisman Trophy candidate quarterback Mason Rudolph and preseason All-American receiver James Washington.
Now, if their performance in a Week 1 victory over Tulsa is any indication, the Cowboys’ running game looks pretty potent, too.
Rudolph completed 20 of 24 passes for 303 yards and three touchdowns and Washington had six receptions for 145 yards and two TDs. Oklahoma State also racked up 332 yards rushing, with four different runners scoring touchdowns, as the Cowboys cruised to a 59-24 triumph on Saturday.
Sophomore running back Justice Hill, who rushed for 1,142 yards and six touchdowns last year to earn Big 12 Newcomer of the Year honors, piled up 132 yards and one TD on just 15 carries (an 8.8-yard average).
It was Oklahoma State’s depth that really made a difference, though, as freshman backups J.D. King and L.D. Brown each totaled over 90 yards and scored touchdowns.
Cowboys coach Mike Gundy liked the offensive balance and hopes it can continue.
”We’re getting back on track for balance and, for me, balance is very important,” said Gundy, whose team was eighth in the nation in passing offense last year but just 66th in rushing. ”We got good running back play. Obviously, Hill was able to make guys miss in space, which is important. Some young guys that were getting a few reps, I like where they’re at, at this time. The balance is going to be important. We’re not going to be able to just come out and throw for 500 yards and rush for 75 yards and win games. We’re going to have to have balance, for a variety of reasons. I thought, for the first game, our running game worked out pretty well.”
While Hill’s performance wasn’t much of a surprise considering what he accomplished last season, it was evident that his offseason work in the weight room, which added about 15 pounds to his 5-foot-10 frame, made an impact. He seemed a little more of a physical runner and he made several impressive jukes to make defenders miss tackles.
”I think any time a running back can put on good weight, and it’s muscle mass, and it makes him stronger and faster, it’s going to be a good thing,” said OSU offensive coordinator Mike Yurcich of Hill. ”He’s done a great job, he loves to compete, he’s a tremendous talent. He’s just a huge weapon for us offensively and we’ve got to keep going to him. And he’s going to continue to grow (as a player). A very talented young man, he’s squared away. He does everything off the field exactly right, and he’s just a very mature guy that you love to have on your ballclub.”
Rudolph also appreciated having a strong running game that can help take up some attention from opposing defenses.
”It’s been great,” Rudolph said. ”I kind of wanted to see the freshman guys come out and play, and J.D. answered the bell, as well as L.D. getting the first few snaps of his career. And then Justice, I think you saw it with his added size and weight and make-you-miss capability, he had a great game. All three of those guys. When you can rush for 300 and throw for the same, it’s fun and it keeps the defense off-guard.”
Coming into the season, the backup spots behind Hill were a question mark, especially after junior Jeff Carr transferred to Texas A&M-Kingsville, but the freshman duo of King (95 yards on six carries) and Brown (five rushes for 92 yards), certainly raised some eyebrows. Another freshman, Ja’Ron Wilson, carried the ball five times in the fourth quarter, gaining eight yards.
”I liked what I saw from J.D., from a standpoint of thinking he ran physically and protected the ball really well,” Gundy said. ”Early in your career, those things are really important to prove that you’re physical enough to compete at this level and take care of the ball. I thought he did a good job of that. He showed a little bit more burst in the open field than I thought he had.
”L.D. made a couple of plays and showed that he has the chance to run the ball a little bit. I thought we got some good play from those guys.”