Week 1 was not how either the Tulsa Golden Hurricane (0-1) or Oklahoma State Cowboys (1-0) planned to start the 2021 season.
While the Cowboys came out of last weekend with a victory, it was not an impressive one as they defeated Missouri State 23-16 after entering the contest as nearly 40-point favorites. Struggles on offense were partially attributed to the absence of starting quarterback Spencer Sanders, who missed the contest due to COVID-19 protocols, but mustering 23 points against an FCS opponent was not what head coach Mike Gundy had anticipated.
A win is a win, though, and Tulsa can’t say the same after falling to FCS member UC Davis 19-17 in another ugly offensive showing. Runners-up in the American Athletic Conference a year ago, the Golden Hurricane were expected to challenge Cincinnati for the top spot yet again in 2021 with a veteran roster returning but now face an 0-2 hole to begin the year.
Tulsa at Oklahoma State
Kickoff: Saturday, Sept. 11 at 12 p.m. ET
Spread: Oklahoma State -13
When Tulsa Has the Ball
Running the ball was not the issue for Tulsa last Saturday, as the duo of Deneric Prince and Shamari Brooks combined for more than 230 yards on the ground behind an offensive line that returns all five starters. The struggles came through the air with first-year starting quarterback Davis Brin, who completed just 55 percent of his passes for 202 yards and two interceptions. Three turnovers doomed the Golden Hurricane, and they were just 2-of-10 on third down — not a recipe for beating any football team regardless of which division they play in.
Tulsa will have the benefit of facing a Cowboys defense that will be without a few of their top playmakers on Saturday. Star safety Tre Sterling will miss the first half after he was ejected in the fourth quarter last week due to a targeting penalty, while starting defensive end Trace Ford suffered a season-ending knee injury in practice. Ford had 4.5 sacks last year.
When Oklahoma State Has the Ball
What is Sanders' status? As of Tuesday, Gundy said that he expected his junior quarterback to be back on the field on Saturday, but that he had not been cleared to that point. Sophomore Shane Illingworth started in place of Sanders, throwing for 315 yards and a touchdown, though that resulted in only 23 points due to a lackluster rushing attack that mustered just 54 yards on 28 carries with the longest run being 13 yards … by a receiver
A bright spot came at wide receiver with former Washington State transfer Tay Martin, who brought down six catches for 107 yards and a touchdown, all of which were team-highs. The Oklahoma State offense was looking for new faces to step up this offseason with Tylan Wallace and Chuba Hubbard now in the NFL, and Martin looks to be one of the primary replacements for the Cowboys in 2021.
The under is looking very enticing here at 51 for two teams that both struggled to move the ball with any consistency in the opener, have major question marks at quarterback, and will field talented, experienced defenses on Saturday afternoon. Last year was a defensive slugfest where both teams combined for all of 10 points heading into the fourth quarter, with the Cowboys eventually pulling away because of their star running back. Oklahoma State doesn’t have that in its backfield and will need to depend on the quarterback to move the ball with any consistency, whether that's Sanders or Illingworth. Expect a replay of last year’s contest in a low-scoring battle.
Prediction: Oklahoma State 28, Tulsa 17
Podcast: Week 1 Recap
— Written by Mike Bainbridge, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Bainbridge is a graduate of Northern Illinois University. Follow him on Twitter @MBainbridgeCFF.