Since the day he shrugged off his redshirt late in the 2014 season and helped Oklahoma State reach a bowl game, Mason Rudolph has been steady and sometimes spectacular as the Cowboys’ quarterback.
With his team facing a crucial road game at Kansas State Saturday, Rudolph is in position to further his legacy as an Oklahoma State quarterback. The Cowboys are in prime position to win the Big 12 regular-season title.
While the M&M QBs (Texas Tech’s Patrick Mahomes and Oklahoma’s Baker Mayfield) have posted gaudy numbers (a combined 55 touchdown passes), Rudolph has been quietly effective and efficient. He’s third in the Big 12 in passing and has thrown 17 touchdown passes.
Perhaps most impressive, he has thrown just two interceptions in 291 attempts.
“Part of it is Mason understanding the schemes,” Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy said this week. “He’s been willing to take what the defense has given us and not been too eager to take something that’s not there.”
Rudolph has been rock solid for an offense that has warts. The running game has been inconsistent and the offensive line is next-to-last in the Big 12 in sacks allowed. Junior wide receiver James Washington is a favorite target but often gets double-teamed. Rudolph has solved that problem by placing his faith in sophomore Jalen McCleskey as his second choice.
In last Saturday’s upset of West Virginia, Rudolph was poised and patient against the Mountaineers’ 3-3-5 defense that thrives by using confusing coverages and blitzes. Rudolph was 26-of-36 for 273 yards and three touchdowns. And while Oklahoma State’s defense produced three game-changing turnovers, Rudolph was clean.
“It is the most important thing,” said offensive coordinator Mike Yurcich about limiting turnovers. “What determines games is turnovers. It’s detrimental when you’re turning the ball over, it’s hard to win games.”
When Rudolph arrived in Stillwater from Rock Hill, S.C., he was determined to become the Cowboys’ starter. With Daxx Garman and J.W. Walsh on the roster, Oklahoma State coaches hoped to let Rudolph sit out 2014 as a redshirt, but late in a tailspin of a season, injuries left the Cowboys no choice but to turn to Rudolph.
Some players might have balked at having “wasted” most of the season to step on to a sinking ship. Rudolph, though, helped the Cowboys upset Oklahoma in the season finale to become bowl eligible and then led the team to a bowl victory.
“Sometimes it takes guys a couple years to figure out who they are,” said Zac Veatch, who plays Cowboy back, a hybrid fullback/tight end position. “He came in and he knew who he wanted to be. The biggest testament to his character was burning his redshirt with two games left. That was huge.”
Rudolph commands the huddle and has the respect of his teammates. He successfully walks the fine line between cocky and confident. Last season, with Walsh a senior and short yardage specialist, Rudolph showed no jealousy as Walsh often came in to finish off scoring drives.
“I’ve been a leader for as long as I can remember,” Rudolph said.
“There’s no quiet quarterback. There’s never been one. You’ve got to assert yourself. I think you can ask anybody and they’ll know what kind of leader I am and what kind of leader I’ve been since I’ve been the starter here.”
He also played last season on a broken foot suffered late in the season. The 6-foot-5, 235-pound Rudolph credits the rehab with strengthening the muscles in his foot and making him more mobile.
“He’s improved his ability to run and make some plays,” Gundy said. “His body is in better condition. And his willingness to be more aggressive when he runs the ball, that has helped our football team this year.”
Rudolph also been working with former Oklahoma State quarterback Zac Robinson, a quarterback coach now based in Dallas.
“Mason is the one putting in all the work,” Robinson said. “He’s taken it on his own and really, really worked on those things. He really has a ton of drive and will. It’s not surprising those things are showing up for him on game days.”