OSU travels to Austin for a pivotal Big 12 showdown

After dispatching winless Baylor 59-16 in Stillwater Saturday, the No. 10 Oklahoma State Cowboys face a tough stretch of four games that will help determine a Big 12 champion.

That road begins at 11 a.m. Saturday against the Texas Longhorns in Austin.

Texas stands at 3-3 but still has hopes for a spot in the Big 12 championship with a 2-1 conference mark – only one game behind league-leading TCU.

Texas came close to upsetting No. 9 Oklahoma in the Cotton Bowl Saturday but lost 24-29. The Longhorns, under new head coach Tom Herman, were upset by Maryland in a season opener and then almost upset No. 11 USC.

Herman praised OSU’s offense.

“They’ve got great players,” Herman said of OSU. “I don’t know what round (Rudolph’s) going to be drafted in but he is an phenomenal player. They have probably the best receiving room in the country led by the best receiver in James Washington. They have three seniors starting on their offensive line to pave the way for Justice Hill, who is preseason all-conference pick, too.”

OSU coach Mike Gundy knows this will be a tough game.

“Year in and year out, from top to bottom, they are probably the most athletic team in this league,” Gundy said of Texas. “It’s no secret. They finish in the top 10 or maybe higher in the top recruiting in the country. The guys on their team are four- or five-star players.”

A win Saturday would enhance the Longhorns’ chance and be a big blow to the Cowboys’ title aspirations.

“It’s a one-game season every week and that’s all that you can focus on,” said OSU quarterback Mason Rudolph. “We’re excited about going down to Texas. They’re a great team and they have a good defense…”

TCU is undefeated and atop the Big 12 standings with five teams – OU, OSU, Iowa State, Texas and West Virginia – in second place, each with a 2-1 record. The other four teams have two or three losses and while not numerically eliminated, they have little chance of making the championship game.

If you count the games against the top six teams in the conference, OSU and West Virginia each play four of those teams while TCU, OU and Iowa State play only three of the top four.

If OSU and TCU each win their next six games, there would be a rematch in the Big 12 championship game. Even though the only blemish for OSU was a home loss to TCU, the winner of a game between No. 4 TCU and No. 10 OSU would have a great shot at the college football playoff. In that scenario, OSU would have wins over No. 4 TCU and No. 9 Oklahoma.

If OSU and OU win their next two games, the November 4 Bedlam game would be a springboard for the winner into the Big 12 Championship.

OSU has arguably the toughest upcoming stretch with games against Texas, West Virginia, Oklahoma and Iowa State. They finish against Kansas State and Kansas.

Against Baylor, Rudolph had 459 yards passing – his seventh career 400-yard passing game, which ties the school record set by Brandon Weeden.

“It was great,” said Rudolph. “The atmosphere was great from the start and it was packed. The offense was moving the ball and the defense was getting turnovers and stops. It’s just an awesome feeling. I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else for Homecoming.

“We just wanted to come out and Coach Gundy kind of set the tone early. He told us that for whatever reason we’ll sometimes come out with not as much energy as we do on the roads, so he wanted us to come out with that energy and mindset and it paid off.”

Rudolph averaged 14.81 yards per attempt and 24.16 yards per completion Saturday, both second most in a game in OSU history.

“Obviously, we were very explosive and ran the ball well,” said Gundy. “We made a lot of big plays. Our offensive line held up pretty well. Zach Crabtree held up okay, I thought, without watching the tape. (Johnny Wilson and Teven Jenkins) played pretty well for being first-time guys. (J.D. King) came in and pounded the ball late. L.D (Brown) was the same way. Kicking was good, for the most part. Our kickoffs, other than one, were better than two weeks ago. Then (Matt) Ammendola hit the field goal and his PATs, so that was encouraging for us.

“We’ve got to take care of the football. When we’ve been really good around here, we don’t turn the ball over much and that’s going to be something we’re going to continue to stress. When two teams are even, it really comes down to special teams play, penalties and turnovers, for the most part. We had one penalty I wasn’t really fired up about. We had a late hit on the quarterback. When I saw the replay I really wasn’t sure where it came from, but regardless they made the call.”

Baylor was impressed with the Cowboy offense.

“I thought Mason Rudolph was fantastic,” said first-year Baylor coach Matt Rhule. “The receivers made a lot of plays down the field. I thought the back was special. I want to make sure I give credit where credit is due. I thought they played an outstanding game.”

“At the end of the day, Oklahoma State was just better than us. We have to be honest with ourselves. In a lot of games, we we’re able to hang in there. Today we weren’t able to hang in there.

“You can see why they’re the No. 2 offense in the country. They were clicking on all cylinders.”

OSU receiver James Washington had 235 receiving yards to mark his third career game with at least 200 receiving yards. That ties the school record set by Rashaun Woods.

“We stayed balanced between running and passing the ball,” Washington said about the Baylor game. “ Justice Hill and all the other running backs did a tremendous job running the ball and Mason Rudolph did a great job getting the ball to us receivers. It couldn’t have worked out better.

“Today gives us a little bit more confidence in my eyes, but at the same time, we have to keep guys healthy and out of trouble and just keep moving forward.”

His total also marked his 17th career game with at least 100 receiving yards. He has hit 100 yards in four straight games and in six of his last seven. He entered the game ranked second nationally this year with 129.4 receiving yards per game.

Washington entered the game leading the nation with eight 30-plus yard catches on the year. He added four such catches Saturday. Saturday’s game marked the fourth time in OSU history that OSU has had a 400-yard passer, two 100-yard receivers and a 100-yard rusher. OSU’s 747 yards of total offense surpassed its previous best single-game tally of 742 set against Louisiana in 2012.

Marcell Ateman finished with 119 receiving yards to mark his fourth consecutive game with at least 100 receiving yards. Both Washington and Ateman have hit the 100-yard receiving mark in four straight games.

OSU running back Justice Hill finished with 117 rushing yards to mark his third straight 100-yard rushing game, his fourth of the season and the 10th of his career.

“There’s a lot of people cheering us on throughout the whole week,” said Hill. “That’s something that really made the difference for us, just like it does in every game.

“It’s always a good feeling to get a win. We were able to go out, have a good time and get the win. Tomorrow, we’ll come back in and get ready for Texas.”

Hill’s 79-yard touchdown rush in the second quarter was a career-best for Hill and OSU’s longest rush since Herschel Sims ran for an 81-yard touchdown against Baylor in 2011. OSU had rushed for at least 200 yards three times in six games this season.

“Marcell Ateman’s block on the run was tremendous,” said OSU offensive coordinator Mike Yurcich. “Seeing him finish down the field was awesome. It was fun to see our guys blocking down the field. Perimeter blocking is so, so important because you never see big-time run touchdowns without great, exceptional perimeter blocking. You’ll never see bad perimeter blocking and a run go for explosive yards. To have those receivers do what they do through the air and also understand the important and effort it takes to be good in perimeter blocking is awesome.”

OSU’s Justin Phillips recorded his first sack of the season in the first quarter to bring his career total to 3.5. He also forced a fumble on that play and one on Baylor’s opening drive that marked his first and second forced fumbles of the season and the third and fourth of his career. Two forced fumbles matches the OSU single game record for one player. OSU has forced at least one turnover in 20 straight games and in 29 of its last 30 games.

“He caused a fumble,” OSU defensive coordinator Glenn Spencer said of Phillips. “He was just an add-on. He really wasn’t designing the blitz. Great job of raking the arm opposed to just going for the tackle. I think he’s just starting to hit that next step in his maturity.”

The Cowboys know they face a wounded but talented Texas team in Austin Saturday.

“We can get better in a lot of areas – tackling and some of our technique stuff – but it’ll be fun to see Texas again,” said OSU linebacker Gyasi Akem. “It’s a lot of fans in that stadium – over 100,000 people – so it’s always an awesome place to play.”