WR Cooper breaks out for Cowboys in win over Troy
Josh Cooper is a couple of inches taller than Wes Welker, but those familiar with both say they can see the similarities in their style of play.
That's not to say Cooper, an Oklahoma State junior, will ever come close to the New England Patriots star in terms of production. But playing in a system similar to the one in which Welker thrived at Texas Tech, Cooper had his best game as a collegian Saturday during Oklahoma State's wild 41-38 win over Troy.
''It felt like it was a pretty good breakout night for me,'' Cooper said. ''I'm just out there trying to make plays, trying to do what I can.''
Cooper had eight catches for 114 yards - both career highs - and broke three tackles while zigzagging across the field en route to a 66-yard punt return for a second-half touchdown that gave Oklahoma State (2-0) a much-needed momentum surge.
''Josh has been around here for three years or so and what happens is, guys stay around here, they continue to work hard and stay in the program and fight through little injuries (and) they become good football players,'' Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy said. ''That's kind of where we're at right now.''
Like Welker, the 5-foot-11, 192-pound Cooper is a former Oklahoma high school star who is, well, a bit smaller than most coaches would prefer for a receiver. Welker, listed at 5-foot-9 and 185 pounds, found his niche playing in a pass-happy system and returning kicks at Texas Tech, where one of his coaches was Dana Holgorsen - who now is in his first season as Oklahoma State's offensive coordinator.
While the Cowboys' offense doesn't yet remind anyone of what Texas Tech put on the field, that's Holgorsen's eventual goal and he sees Cooper as a key.
''He did a good job,'' Holgorsen said. ''He was one of the guys going in that we felt like we could count on. He put the ball on the ground in the first quarter. Some kids are the kind of kids that get down about that, but he is one of those that you motivate him and he was anxious to go out there and make some more plays and he did.''
Cooper entered the season with 22 catches for 244 yards and one touchdown. In Holgorsen's system, which often uses four receivers at once to spread the field, Cooper is on pace to quickly surpass those two-season totals, as he already has 13 catches for 145 yards heading into this Saturday's home game against in-state rival Tulsa.
Against Troy, the Cowboys used him all over the field - on slants, screens and deep patterns - and he also carried the ball once, going for 16 yards.
His 40-yard catch near the end of the first half set up a 24-yard touchdown run by Kendall Hunter, which briefly tied the game 20-20. With Oklahoma State trailing 27-20, he caught a 41-yard strike from quarterback Brandon Weeden as the Cowboys drove for a tying touchdown on their first series of the second half.
Then, after Troy punted, Cooper - after initially wondering if he should field the kick - caught the ball, broke one tackle, went to his left and broke two more tackles as he cut right and outran everyone to the end zone. That touchdown gave the Cowboys the lead for good at 34-27 and ''turned the momentum back to our side,'' fellow receiver Justin Blackmon said. ''I knew he could do it. I was just waiting for him to pull it out.''
Oklahoma State now has had two special-teams touchdowns in as many games this season, equaling its total from all of 2009.
''I was just trying to make a play, make something happen,'' Cooper said. ''I have been waiting all week to make some returns back there so it was a pretty good adjustment.''
Cooper's night wasn't perfect. He was flagged for a holding penalty, he fumbled once - one of five Oklahoma State turnovers - and Gundy noted he risked fumbling on the punt return by carrying the ball away from his body at the end of the run. But the Cowboys are hopeful his emergence means Weeden will have a second primary receiving target, along with Blackmon, who caught two touchdown passes and had a career-high 132 yards receiving against the Trojans.
Blackmon and Cooper became the first pair of Oklahoma State receivers to gain more than 100 yards receiving in a game since Rashaun Woods and Josh Lewis did it against UCLA in 2002.
Cooper ''has just been waiting to explode,'' Weeden said. ''... He's a great player and obviously, you can see what he does when he has the ball in his hands. It was nice for him to get some touches and show everybody what he could do.''