How OSU exploited wide receiver mismatches to ignite rally against BYU

How OSU exploited wide receiver mismatches to ignite rally against BYU

Oklahoma State had a size advantage with its receivers and offensive coordinator Kasey Dunn was not going to let it go to waste. The big guys, Leon Johnson III and Rashod Owens, delivered against an outmatched BYU.

Sam Hutchens

By Sam Hutchens

| Nov 25, 2023, 11:01pm CST

Sam Hutchens

By Sam Hutchens

Nov 25, 2023, 11:01pm CST

STILLWATER — Oklahoma State’s game-winning touchdown in double overtime on Saturday was improvised. Running back Ollie Gordon started running left, cut away from his blockers, leapt skyward and soared over two hard-hitting defenders for a two-yard touchdown 

That play was unplanned, but it was set up by a meticulous, stringently followed game plan. The Cowboys’ outside receivers had a size advantage over BYU corners. OSU exploited it.

“We were planning on it,” OSU offensive coordinator Kasey Dunn said. 

Receivers Leon Johnson III (6-foot-5, 207 pounds) and Rashod Owens (6-foot-2, 219 pounds) played a big part in OSU’s 40-34 win against BYU. Of the Cougars three starting corners, Kamden Garrett, Jakob Robinson and Eddie Heckard, none were taller than 5-foot-11 or weighed more than 190 pounds.

Johnson III caught nine passes for 132 yards. Owens caught three passes for 51 yards including a 23-yarder on OSU’s second touchdown drive of the second half. Combined, they were targeted 20 times.

“We had 11-plus games watching (BYU on film),” Owens said. “We see who we’re potentially going to have in front of us and we know our size and strength is going to top theirs for sure.”

OSU used that advantage in double overtime to set up Gordon’s decisive two-yard touchdown. On first-and-10 from the BYU 11, Johnson III lined up against Garrett on the near hash. It was one-on-one all the way. OSU quarterback Alan Bowman snapped the ball, took three quick shuffle steps to set his feet and lofted a pass toward the back left pylon and his receiver with a six-inch height advantage.

“There’s not many corners that are (Johnson III’s) size, or even close to that,” Bowman said. “Being able to close my eyes, throw it up to him and trust he’s going to be able to come down with it is pretty legit.”

Johnson III leapt, twisted and reached for the ball. He couldn’t come up with it, but Garrett had pushed him before the ball arrived. Garrett extended his arms palms up toward the field judge as a flag for pass interference came out. Garrett wasn’t the only player surprised.

“As I was coming in, I got tackled,” Johnson III said. “It was pretty much impossible for me to catch the ball. I didn’t think the PI was going to get thrown.”

Coach Mike Gundy said he was impressed with his team’s ability to throw and catch. There was a steady rain throughout the game, and the kickoff temperature was 40 degrees. The rain was never less than a drizzle, and occasionally intensified to a downpour.

Johnson III, who transferred to OSU from Division III George Fox in Oregon, said he is used to the dreary elements.

“The rain that we had today was pretty much Seattle, Oregon rain,” Johnson said. “It’s kind of what I grew up playing in. As long as you keep your gloves dry. We were switching out the balls pretty much every snap when the ball gets too wet. I wasn’t really thinking too much about the rain. It was just, damn, it’s pretty cold out there.”

OSU’s 40-34 win over BYU in pictures

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Johnson III, also an accomplished baseball player at George Fox, said he stopped playing basketball in his freshman year of high school. And yet, whether on in-breaking routes or fades, there were a few plays where Johnson essentially became a rebounder by using his large frame to box out and secure a catch.

His most important box-out catch came with 2:27 left in regulation when the Cowboys trailed 24-21. Johnson III ran a deep cross on second-and-one, finding a soft spot in the smaller Heckard’s coverage. Johnson III shielded the ball with his body and grabbed it for 27 yards.

“Really any in-breaking route we ran today went for around 15 (yards),” Johnson III said. “We were taking advantage of that and running a lot of in-breaking routes. It was awesome.

“I feel like no matter where I’ve been at, even at the Division III level, everybody is shorter than me. You don’t really find corners that are really anywhere near 6-foot-5.”

Not all of OSU’s success came from a size mismatch. Brennan Presley, OSU’s 5-foot-8 slot receiver who leads the Cowboys in receptions, finished with nine catches for 90 yards.

Presley had 15 catches last week at Houston and has become a weekly standout. Dunn said the standouts on Saturday were the outside receivers, and that he wishes he would have called even more deep shots in the passing game.

“When (Johnson III and Owens’) number was called, they delivered,” Dunn said. “I just can’t say enough good stuff about Rashod and Leon. And hell, Brennan played his ass off. So a lot of guys did a lot of good things and we’re moving forward to Texas next week.”

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Sam Hutchens covers Oklahoma State sport for Sellout Crowd. He interned for The Stillwater News Press in 2021 and The Guthrie News Leader in 2022, where he won a first-place OPA award for in-depth reporting. He has also covered sports in southwest Oklahoma for The Lawton Constitution. He strives to tell you the OSU sports stories that you want to tell your friends about. You can email him at [email protected] and connect on Twitter (X) @Sam_Hutchens_

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