Few teams were as impressive in their Week 1 victories as the Oklahoma State Cowboys, who jumped out to a 21-0 lead in the first quarter over Tulsa before winning 59-24. Oklahoma State was explosive offensively, and an inexperienced but athletic, talented Cowboys defense did well to hold the Golden Hurricane to 4.4 yards per play.
South Alabama was less successful holding down the Ole Miss offense in its season opener on the road. The Jaguars surrendered 531 total yards and allowed 8.3 yards per play while managing 374 total yards and 5.5 yards per snap offensively. However, the Jags outgained the Rebels 170-102 on the ground. South Alabama played well early, and trailed just 13-10 at the half but lost 47-27.
No. 10 Oklahoma State is a heavy favorite, but the Jaguars beat the last ranked team to visit Ladd-Peebles Stadium when they upset No. 19 San Diego State 42-24 last year.
Oklahoma State at South Alabama
Kickoff: Friday, Sept. 8 at 8 p.m. ET
TV Channel: ESPN2
Spread: Oklahoma State -27
Three Things to Watch
1. Explosive Oklahoma State playmakers
Simply put, Oklahoma State has one of the most diverse and explosive offenses in college football. Running back Justice Hill put up 132 rushing yards and a touchdown on 15 carries (8.8 yards per carry) in Week 1, and J.D. King and La’Darren Brown added 95 and 92 yards, respectively, and each scored a TD. Both King and Brown burst through for gains of at least 71 yards. Overall, Oklahoma State ran for 332 yards on 37 carries against Tulsa – an average of 9.0 yards per attempt.
But the passing game was just as good. Quarterback Mason Rudolph completed 20 of 24 attempts for 303 yards without an interception against the Golden Hurricane. His favorite target, James Washington, caught six passes for 145 yards and two touchdowns – a 40-yarder and one that covered 77 yards. Rudolph also connected with LSU transfer Tyron Johnson on a 44-yard scoring strike. Rudolph and Washington are widely considered two of the best players in the country at their respective positions.
2. South Alabama safety Jeremy Reaves
The Jaguars will certainly have their hands full trying to slow down one of the most explosive offenses in the nation. And even though South Alabama finished in the top 10 in FBS against the pass last season (174.6 ypg), last week’s game against Ole Miss showed this may not be the same Jaguars defense this year. South Alabama surrendered 429 yards and four touchdowns through the air to the Rebels with Ole Miss wide receiver A.J. Brown going off for 233 yards and two touchdowns (one going for 77 yards) on just eight receptions.
Nevertheless, South Alabama has a few defenders capable of making a game-changing play. Most notably, senior safety Jeremy Reaves was an All-Sun Belt Conference pick as a junior in 2016 and opened the season with a team-leading eight tackles (six solo) and two tackles for a loss against Ole Miss. Reaves also recorded one of the Jaguars’ two sacks and broke up a pass.
3. Big plays on defense
South Alabama averaged a modest 4.6 yards per rush in Week 1, and quarterback Cole Garvin completed 19 of 31 passes for 204 yards and a touchdown against Ole Miss. The Jags didn’t have a turnover. Even though South Alabama lost, the performance was a positive start for an offense that averaged 25.4 points and 389.4 yards per game last season.
The Oklahoma State defense allowed a few big plays against Tulsa, including a 55-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter. However, the Cowboys also came up with a big play when Kenneth Edison-McGruder picked up a fumble and returned it 82 yards for a touchdown. It was the first of two turnovers Oklahoma State forced in the contest.
Both defenses made big plays in 2016. South Alabama forced 10 interceptions and returned one for a touchdown, while the Cowboys picked off 14 passes and returned one of three fumble recoveries to the house.
Oklahoma State showed its already explosive offense could be even more balanced than expected a week ago against Tulsa. A veteran South Alabama front seven could hold the Cowboys in check in the rushing game early, but Rudolph-to-Washington is one of the best quarterback-to-receiver combinations in the country. Also, receivers Tyron Johnson and Marcell Ateman also have big-play potential and Justice Hill leads a capable stable of running backs as well. Even if the Jaguars find success stopping one area of attack, Oklahoma State has other options.
The Jags have pulled off a few upsets in the past, including wins at Mississippi State and home against San Diego State in 2016. But frankly, it’s highly unlikely South Alabama can match up to the Cowboys on either side of the football. Expect lots of points for the Cowboys and a fairly easy victory.
Prediction: Oklahoma State 49, South Alabama 14
— Written by Nicholas Ian Allen, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Follow him on Twitter @NicholasIAllen.