Oklahoma State quarterback Mason Rudolph enters this season with big expectations from OSU fans and a target on his back from critics. He turned heads this spring and summer, continuing where he left off in 2014. There is no question that Rudolph can run an offense comfortably and sufficiently.
But how good is the young gun?
Rudolph burned his red shirt for the final three games of the season last year following injuries from the other two starters, J.W. Walsh and Daxx Garman. To his surprise, Mike Gundy wishes he started Rudolph sooner. While the young QB didn’t have stellar statistics in his three games, he was going up against tough opponents like Baylor and Oklahoma on the road and Washington in the Cactus Bowl.
When Rudolph first stepped in against Baylor, he looked so calm and poised, although he made a few careless mistakes throwing deep. The most promising sign for Oklahoma State is that poise and confidence he brings. In their last scrimmage, Rudolph gave up a near impossible interception in the first drive on a deep ball. In the next drive, instead of being scared to throw or hanging his head low (like many young athletes tend to do), he led the offense to a quick touchdown.
With all four of his season interceptions, Rudolph tried to squeeze the ball into very tight pockets, sometimes in double coverage. This could be an area of concern or a great sign of confidence in the pocket. As long as Rudolph doesn’t get too comfortable behind center, he can be the most accurate and dangerous quarterback that Oklahoma State has seen since Brandon Weeden.
Weeden saw limited snaps in his first two seasons but exploded in the national spotlight come his junior year. In his first three starts, he put up slightly better numbers than Rudolph, but it was after almost two seasons as a backup with real-game experience next to star receivers.
As Weeden had receivers like Justin Blackmon and Joseph Randle, Oklahoma State returns some big receivers to help Rudolph in 2015. David Glidden, who led the Cowboys with 42 catches a season ago, Brandon Shepherd, who led with 737 yards, and James Washington, who led with six touchdowns, will all be top targets for Rudolph.
Rudolph beat out last year’s starter Walsh in the quarterback battle, but even Walsh (and Gundy) praised Rudolph’s talented ability and potential stardom. However, Rudolph would like the hype come to an end and for people to move on to see what he can do this season.
The biggest question for Rudolph is his ability to be a leader on and off the field. This offseason, his teammates and coaches gave him endless support and praise to the media that hasn’t been seen for the Cowboys since the years of Weeden.
“Just the way he talks to us,” junior receiver Austin Hays said. “He’s the vocal leader now. We trust in him. We believe in him.”
Offensive coordinator, Mike Yurcich, told sources after a team scrimmage, “He’s controlling the team. He pushes everybody to work their butts off. So yeah, that excites us.”
At any level of football, the quarterback is usually the engine to a team’s success. Rudolph, according to Gundy, is “doing a good job” leading the team in their attitudes and temperaments.
The potential and talent, along with the hype, is definitely there. The coaches, fans, and players all see it. The first few games against easy opponents should help Rudolph ease into the season where he left off last season. A kid with this much poise and comfort with taking snaps should live up to the hype.