Jenni: The best & worst of OSU’s 27-13 victory over Central Arkansas

Jenni: The best & worst of OSU’s 27-13 victory over Central Arkansas

Cowboys coach Mike Gundy on whether he’s any closer to naming a starting quarterback: “No. You guys watched; you wouldn’t be able to do it either.”

Jenni Carlson

By Jenni Carlson

| Sep 3, 2023, 1:09am CDT

Jenni Carlson

By Jenni Carlson

Sep 3, 2023, 1:09am CDT

STILLWATER — There are lots of traditions on game day.

Where you park. What you eat. Who you watch with.

One of my traditions for the past decade-plus has been handing out grades for each game, a report card that hits on some of the highs and lows of the day. But Ben and Sam Hutchens, our tag-twin duo covering Oklahoma State for, have decided to pick up the report-card duties.

All good. Gives me a chance to do something different, so today debuts Best and Worst, a different way to look at games. And after the way OSU played against Central Arkansas, a 27-13 nailbiter that no one saw coming, Cowboy fans should probably welcome looking at this a different way.

Best pregame moment: Bullet. Duh. Bullet zooming down the middle of the field as the marching band parts to make way is always cool, but on opening day? It’s even better. I also loved that the rider and all the on-field handlers were female.

Best debut: Bryan Nardo. No, the new OSU defensive coordinator’s unit wasn’t perfect. Frankly, giving up 13 points to Central Arkansas was too many. But this was the first time Nardo has led a defense in a major-college game. This was a big step up. And he and his defense handled themselves well.

Best player debut: De’Zhaun Stribling looks like a big-time receiver. The transfer from Washington State had four catches for 73 yards, including a 30-yarder. He was only targeted five times. Don’t be surprised to see that number double or more as the season goes on.

Best part of the OSU uniforms: The Cowboys debuted their new uniforms from Nike, and while it might’ve been hard to see a difference from a distance, up close there were some cool details. Best was the lettering on the front of the jersey spelling out OKLAHOMA STATE. It reminded me of Eddie Sutton era basketball uniforms. A nod to that font and that time in OSU athletics was a sweet touch.

Best reason to feel good about this team: It didn’t panic when it found itself in a close game against an FCS opponent. Cowboy cornerback Korie Black told me there was absolutely no panic, and it showed. The offense scored on two of its last three possessions, the third of which ended when the game clock ran out, and in the fourth quarter, the defense force a punt, a punt and a late touchdown that proved meaningless.

Best reason to want to pack it in: How could the Cowboys work on the run game throughout the spring, the offseason and fall camp, and still struggle so miserably against Central Arkansas? The Cowboys finished with 149 yards rushing. Doesn’t it seem like they should’ve had that in the first quarter? 

Best highlight: Gunnar Gundy to Jaden Bray for 39 yards mid-way through the fourth quarter. We didn’t see the Cowboys take many deep shots, but this was one — and it was a beauty. Gundy put the ball right on the money, and even though Bray had a defender right with him, he hauled in the pass effortlessly. Pretty, pretty stuff.

Worst lowlight: Ugh. Several to choose from, but even though the OSU defense gave up two early touchdowns that were both negated by penalties, I’ll go with the end of OSU’s first offensive possession as the worst moment. The Cowboys had second-and-4 after a nice Jaden Nixon run on first down, but they managed only two yards on a Collins run, then minus-one yard on another Collins run. Facing fourth-and-3, OSU decided to go for it — I’m fine with that — but Central Arkansas got pressure on Garret Rangel and forced an interception. Three plays that were total clunkers.

Best under-the-radar offensive play: Brennan Presley’s five-yard catch on second-and-9 with 12:33 left in the game. It was Gunnar Gundy’s second possession, and after looking so-so on his first, he opened the second with a throw that sailed high of Presley. A few minutes later, Presley had to go high to snag Gundy’s second-and-9 throw. Had Presley not corralled it, the Cowboys would’ve faced third-and-long and Gundy’s confidence might’ve tanked. Instead, they converted on third-and-short, and four plays later, they were in the end zone.

Best under-the-radar defensive play: First down with 11:53 left in the second quarter. The play goes down as a two-yard loss when Central Arkansas running back Darius Hale was tackled by OSU linebacker Xavier Ross, but Cowboy nose guard Justin Kirkland made the play. He absolutely blew it up, pushing the center into the backfield, clogging the running lane and forcing Hale to change directions. He ran right into the arms of Ross. Give Kirkland an assist.

Biggest offensive concern: Offensive line. Sounds like Preston Wilson will return to the lineup soon — Cowboy coach Mike Gundy said he held out Wilson; sounds like an off-field issue, but Gundy said there’s no legal issue — and Jake Springfield’s injury during the first half doesn’t seem serious. But still. When is the Cowboy offensive line going to stop being cause for concern?

Biggest defensive concern: In-game adjustment. The Cowboys struggled with the Bears’ underneath passing routes, and in some instances, OSU seemed to be struggling with the exact same play. That has to be coached better, played better, recognized better. Maybe it will be — coaches said the Cowboys went pretty basic against the Bears — but it was concerning.

Best offensive player: Brennan Presley. The speedy receiver caught six passes for 54 yards and a touchdown, but he also ran once for five yards and had two kickoff returns for 25 yards. Looks like the Cowboys are going to try to find more ways to get the ball in Presley’s hands this season. Sign me up for that. 

Best defensive player: Kendal Daniels. Yes, he led the Cowboys with six tackles, five solo, but his value wasn’t in the quantity of tackles but in the quality. The OSU defense had a heck of a time covering Central Arkansas’s underneath routes, and a couple of times, pass catchers broke free. Daniels kept tracking them down. If not for the safety’s speed and tackling, the Bears might’ve made things even tougher on the Cowboys.

Best quote: Cowboys coach Mike Gundy on whether he’s any closer to naming a starting quarterback: “No. You guys watched; you wouldn’t be able to do it either.”


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Jenni Carlson is a columnist with the Sellout Crowd network. Follow her on Twitter at @JenniCarlson_OK. Email [email protected].

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