Through three quarters last season, Oklahoma State held only a four-point advantage over Central Michigan. The Pokes then pulled away for a 24-13 victory, but a scare could have been avoided had they silenced the Chippewas’ passing attack better. Heading into Saturday’s game, that is likely to be a point of emphasis for Mike Gundy’s mullet and crew.
This is essentially the first game for both OSU and Central Michigan; both dominated cream-puff FCS opponents in Week 1. Saturday’s contest will be a good litmus test for the 22nd-ranked Cowboys. They’ll need to limit an offense that ranked in the top 20 in passing last season and returns its starting quarterback.
Last week against Presbyterian, Central Michigan seemingly pumped the brakes: The Chippewas passed for just 237 yards, scoring only once through the air in a 49-3 win. However, starting quarterback Cooper Rush was nearly as efficient as he was last season in FCS play.
Following the opening-night loss to OSU last season, Rush faced an FCS foe, Monmouth. In that game, he completed 69 percent of his passes for an average of 9.1 yards. In the season opener this year, Rush completed 62 percent of his attempts for 9.1 yards on average against an FCS team.
While he threw for roughly 100 fewer yards and found the end zone two fewer times last week, he showed he can still drive the ball downfield,
Furthering the Chippewas’ chances to return to form through the air is receiver Mark Chapman. Due to fewer passing attempts from Rush, Chapman collected only five receptions for 60 yards last week, but he still led the team. Hosting the Pokes last season, Chapman was the leading receiver with six receptions for 72 yards.
Shutting down Chapman will be the first step for the Cowboys on defense in this tilt. It’s also the first step to prove that defensive ends Emmanuel Ogbah and Jimmy Bean, along with cornerback Kevin Peterson, were not the only pillars of the defense. The onus is on corners Ashton Lampkin and Ramon Richards, along with defensive end Jarrell Owens, to make a strong testimony about the Cowboys’ depth.
Richards, in particular, will be one to keep an eye on. The junior cornerback had a remarkable freshman season two years ago but took a step back last season, causing frustration in the secondary. Not much was shown from him last week — he’ll have to flip the switch this week.
None of this is to say OSU can’t or won’t win this week. The offense looks more explosive than last year with a more seasoned Mason Rudolph and a revamped running back. It is also a home game, giving the Cowboys another leg up. Getting off to a good start on defense would set them on a good track — not just for this game, but to make a run in the Big 12, where passing reigns supreme.
After this week, the focus on stopping a vertical offense will turn to stopping Pittsburgh running back James Conner. For now, Oklahoma State must steer clear of the close call Central Michigan gave last season. That starts with limiting how well the Chippewas move the ball through the air.