OSU safety Trey Rucker’s game-clinching strip and fumble recovery put an exclamation mark on the most productive two-game stretch of his OSU career and sent the Cowboys into the Big 12 title game Saturday in Arlington.
STILLWATER — When OSU safety Trey Rucker pried the ball loose for a fumble that sealed the game, Cowboy safety Kendal Daniels felt relief.
“Thank God it’s over,” Kendal Daniels said he thought at the moment. “I mean, I don’t think I could do another two-overtime game.”
The “it” Daniels referenced was a 40-34 win over BYU that took two overtime periods to sort out. The game, 3 hours and 55 minutes long played in rainy conditions, was brutal on the body. It also challenged the psyche of players on the Cowboy sideline, as the stakes were a trip to the Big 12 Championship and OSU faced a 24-6 halftime deficit.
Rucker’s strip ended all of it.
It was second down from the OSU 23-yard line and BYU needed a touchdown to force another overtime. The play BYU ran, OSU defensive coordinator Bryan Nardo said, was a good one. The Cougars’ 6-foot-6, 255-pound tight end Isaac Rex helped block a defender and then ran three yards up and cut sideways to the left.
Rucker was defending Rex one-on-one. Rucker’s arms wrapped around Rex’s as soon as the ball was caught and Rucker tore at the ball with his left hand. The ball popped out and into Rucker’s arms. Game over.
“Trey had eyes, stayed locked right on to it, tracked his guy back across the formation,” OSU defensive coordinator Bryan Nardo said. “And not only is he able to do all that stuff well and be in a position to make the play. He has the confidence in his ability to rip at the football which is the next step in it.”
Rucker’s second fumble recovery Saturday marked his third takeaway in two games. A week ago, Rucker returned an interception for a touchdown, igniting the Cowboys’ rally from a two-touchdown deficit to win 43-30 at Houston. It’s a level of production Rucker hadn’t reached in a Cowboy uniform.
Rucker began his career at Wake Forest, starting nine games as a freshman. His availability has been spotty since transferring to OSU as a walk-on in 2021. After playing mostly special teams that season, he was ruled ineligible in 2022, playing only in the bowl game.
In September, the day after OSU lost 34-27 to Iowa State, Rucker was arrested on a DUI charge. It was his second arrest since arriving in Stillwater.
Nardo was asked Saturday how Rucker handled the arrest, but said, “It’s not something he and I have really discussed.”
Coaches say Rucker is still a respected leader.
“It took him about a year to learn our culture, how we do things, the way we do them and why we do them,” coach Mike Gundy said, “and once he figured out ‘I kind of like this’ he’s been a great leader for us.”
Rucker led OSU’s defense with OSU’s 741 snaps entering Saturday’s game and is the lone senior in the secondary. Oklahoma State did not make him available for interviews after the game.
“I’m gonna say he dang near hasn’t missed a play in the game,” Nardo said. “He hasn’t missed one day of practice, at all. He takes every rep in practice. He just shows up and works and hits and he covers and he never flinches.”
It’s safe to say the Cowboys wouldn’t be playing Texas in the Big 12 title game next Saturday in Arlington without Rucker.
“So proud of him,” Nardo said. “Back-to-back weeks with huge, huge plays that we needed to have. And he changed the game for us down in Houston with the interception, he won the game for us today… I’m proud to see him have the success he’s had.”