Pittsburgh will be a more physical foe for the Cowboys

OSU quarterback Mason Rudolph racked up 244 yards while playing only one half Friday night to become the all-time passing leader in Cowboy history.

In their first road game, No. 8 Oklahoma State raced past South Alabama, 44-7, in Mobile.

In their first Saturday game of the young season, Oklahoma State travels to Pittsburgh. Pittsburgh lost at No. 4 Penn State, 33-14, last Saturday. Pitt opened the season with a 28-21 win over Youngstown State.

Last season, the Cowboys hosted Pittsburgh and won 45-38 in Stillwater.

“Our opponents are getting better each week,” OSU coach Mike Gundy said Monday. “I’ve watched quite a bit on Pitt and they’re very similar scheme-wise in all three phases to what we saw last year, albeit a little bit different personnel-wise.”

Pittsburgh relies more on physical play than finesse.

“They believe in playing very physical,” Gundy said. “They’re going to run the ball and block down the hole. Their mentality defensively is the same way. They’re in attack mode. I tried to mention that last year when we played them that they’re a really good football team. Regardless of how some of the games ended up, you go on the road and beat the team that wins the national championship, you’ve got to be a pretty good team.

“They do a good job with their schemes. They have some younger players that are playing now that didn’t last year, but with all their movement, shifts, flying motions, speed sweeps and such, if you aren’t gap sound, you can be in some bad positions, and they got us in some bad positions last year. Defensively, they’re going to play the game the way they want to play the game. We’re going to have to mix it up to have the chance to play well.”

In that 2016 Pittsburgh game, Rudolph was 26 of 46 for 540 yards and two touchdowns. Wideout James Washington had nine catches for 296 yards and two scores.

Pittsburgh coach Pat Narduzzi has begun the third year of his tenure. Pitt’s Qadree Ollison rushed for 96 yards against Penn State last Saturday, but PSU pulled away late in the game. Pitt quarterback Max Browne completed 19 of 32 passes for 138 yards and was intercepted twice. Pitt dominated in time of possession, holding the ball for more than 38 minutes.

Against South Alabama last Saturday, Rudolph went past former OSU quarterback Brandon Weeden’s 9,260 career passing mark to become the school’s all-time passing leader.

Rudolph and Weeden are the only OSU quarterbacks with more than 9,000 passing yards in their careers (Mike Gundy is third with 8,473). Rudolph set the record in 31 games and 1,006 passes, 97 fewer than Weeden threw in his career.

“Oklahoma State’s) quarterback (Mason Rudolph) was tremendous,” said South Alabama coach Joey Jones. “I thought they threw the ball really well and made plays when they had to.  They were able to make a bunch of third-down throws.”

Jones was really impressed with Rudolph.

“He’s pretty good – a NFL proto-typical quarterback being 6-5,” Jones said. “He throws the ball extremely well and has good presence in the pocket.  He also has some good receivers to throw to.  He’s going to be dangerous to anybody that they play and they’re going to score a lot of points this year.  I thought our defense played well enough to keep us in the game in the first half (but) they were out there a lot of snaps.”

Gundy found little to criticize about Rudolph’s play against South Alabama.

“Mason played really well,” said Gundy. “He missed a guy right down the middle before the end of the half.  Other than that he was pretty good.  We caught the ball well.  The backs when they had a chance ran good.  Ammendola was good on his long field goals which was good to see after he missed one early.”

Gundy said he sees growth in Rudolph all the time.

“Guys can lose focus, it’s happened to us before,” Gundy said. “The leadership he provides and some other guys, prevent that from happening most of the time.  I am very pleased with the way he’s handling things and defensively there are a few guys that are starting to step up and lead.  A coach’s fear is to have let downs during the season.  I thought our guy’s prepared well, but you still have to come to play.”

For OSU, it was their sixth straight over teams currently playing in the Sun Belt Conference, and improved its all-time record against those teams to 16-1. Gundy’s nonconference record is now 43-11.

Friday’s game marked Rudolph’s 14th career game with at least 300 passing yards, as well his third-straight 300-yard game, his fifth in his last seven games and his eighth in his last 13 games.

With three passing touchdowns and a rushing touchdown, Rudolph has accounted for four touchdowns in each of the Cowboys’ first two games of 2017. He’s thrown three TD passes in each of his last three games.

Washington’s 66-yard touchdown reception in the first quarter was the 29th in his career, tying him with Dez Bryant (now with the Dallas Cowboys) for fourth place on OSU’s career receiving touchdowns list and further improved his status as the NCAA’s active career leader in touchdown catches.

Washington has three touchdown catches of 40 yards or longer this season. He has also caught a pass in 34 straight games.

The OSU defense held USA without a first down and to just 9 total yards on four drives in the first quarter. That marked the fewest yards gained by an OSU opponent in a quarter since the Cowboys held Kansas to a 6-yard third quarter in 2010.

“I thought our defense was excellent,” Gundy said. “They are going through some quarterback adjustments.  Our guys did a good job stopping the run and getting off the field to allow our offense to get going.  They ran a run prevention defense most of the night allowing us to throw the ball pretty successfully.”

OSU linebacker Calvin Bundage was disqualified for targeting in third quarter and must sit out the first half of the game at Pittsburgh Saturday. That could be a factor since linebacker Kenneth Edison-McGruder might not play against Pittsburgh due to an injury.

OSU was the highest ranked team that USA has played in its eight-year history. South Alabama quarterback Dallas Davis hit 13 of 23 passing attempts for 126 yards and one touchdown. Davis filled in for starter Cole Garvin, who was injured in the first quarter and did not return.

“Anything can happen in a football game, so you have to be ready at any moment,” Davis said. “I hate it for Cole that he got hurt, but hopefully he comes back.  “We played two powerhouse teams (OSU and Mississippi State), and we knew they were going to be good.  I’m glad we finished the game strong; we didn’t give up or hang our heads.”

The Jaguars made a run to start the second half.

“We started off with a kick-off return to their 30-yard line, but we had a holding call,” Jones said. “We just couldn’t get any momentum.  When you don’t get the momentum against a team like Oklahoma State it’s just going to be a long night.  We were never able to flip it.  We have to go look at what we are doing coming out of the locker room.  We haven’t played well yet in the third quarter.

“We knew these first two games would be tough facing an SEC West team and a top-10 program.”

OSU announced that its home game on September 23 against TCU will kick off at 2:30 p.m. and will air on ABC, ESPN or ESPN2.