Special teams and defense big part of Okla. St. opening win
STILLWATER, Okla. (AP) An explosive offense was a key component of No. 22 Oklahoma State's season-opening 61-7 blowout over Southeastern Louisiana on Saturday.
The Cowboys also received significant contributions from their special teams unit and defense.
The bonus for Oklahoma State is that most observers expected the offense, which ranked 22nd in the nation with 480 yards per game last season, to be potent. There was considerably less optimism about the other aspects of the game, particularly the defense, which surrendered 439.1 yards per game in 2015, 99th in the country.
Getting contributions from all three phases was in line with coach Mike Gundy's pre-game wish list.
''We've talked about today's football, in our opinion, is the offense being able to get big plays; trying to find a way to establish some sort of a run; control the ball as best you can; be sound in special teams; try to get one big play in special teams; and defensively, try to force turnovers,'' Gundy said. ''Defenses are going to give up yards, defenses are going to give up points, so you minimize it and try to force turnovers to give yourself more opportunities for your offense to be on the field. That's really the direction that we're moving as a team.''
On special teams, freshman Madre Harper scored the first touchdown 1:45 into the contest, when he recovered a fumble by Southeastern Louisiana punt returner Javon Tillman in the end zone.
''A true freshman, playing his first play, in a defensive role, scores an offensive touchdown,'' Gundy said. ''That may be one for the record books.''
That set the tone for the rest of the contest, with the defense pitching in just three plays later. Cole Walterscheid forced Lions quarterback D'Shaie Landor's fumble, with OSU's Tre Flowers recovering. Four plays on offense after that, Oklahoma State led 14-0 when Chris Carson scored on a 14-yard rush.
That was the first of three fumbles forced and recovered by the Oklahoma State defense, all of which ultimately resulted in touchdowns. One was a highlight-reel play forced by Devante Averette, who dived to keep to keep the ball in bounds before Ramon Richards grabbed it and carried it the remaining 9 yards into the end zone 22 seconds into the second half.
''Turnovers are really important, especially in the Big 12, when you have 70-80 plays a game,'' Richards said. ''We have to give our offense the maximum opportunities as possible. In practice, we stress turnovers a lot, so going into the game, that's something that we have in our heads.''
The defense also limited Southeastern Louisiana to 203 yards, yielding one touchdown on a 26-yard run by Kaelyn Henderson after OSU was already ahead 31-0. The Cowboys also had three sacks and 12 tackles for loss.
In addition to Harper's opening touchdown, the special teams' effort included a 57-yard punt return by Barry J. Sanders late in the first quarter. He was forced out of bounds at the 1-yard-line.
The Cowboys' special teams came up with another big play when Vincent Taylor blocked a field goal attempt early in the third quarter.
While Gundy claimed credit for Sanders' near-TD punt return, he also praised new special teams coordinator Steve Hauser.
''Coach Hauser does a great job,'' Gundy said. ''We've been very lucky that we've had young coaches that have come in here and taken our special teams over. Great commitment and dedication to what they do, very intelligent guys. Hauser did a nice job.''
The combined result of the defensive and special teams excellence was an average field position start at the OSU 47 yard-line, with seven drives beginning in Lions territory and four inside the red zone.
''Four turnovers, those fourth-down stops are huge, and the blocked kick - really, there were eight instances where we had instant field position change for our offense,'' said OSU defensive coordinator Glenn Spencer. ''That's big. It's all about what we can do for this team.''
Oklahoma State would like a repeat performance next Saturday at home against Central Michigan (1-0), a team it fought hard to defeat 24-13 a year ago on the road.
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