Tulsa faces stiff challenge against OSU in season opener

With a rookie quarterback, Tulsa has to go on the road to face No. 10 Oklahoma State – a team with perhaps the best quarterback/wideout combination in the nation.

It’s a daunting task for a team that had not decided on a starting quarterback a week before game time.

TU travels to Stillwater Thursday with a 6:30 p.m. kickoff to open the 2017 campaign. Record-setting TU quarterback Dane Evans is with the Philadelphia Eagles and as recently as last Friday, TU Coach Philip Montgomery had not decided on a replacement.

The TU quarterbacks are sophomore Chad President and redshirt freshman Luke Skipper. All during fall practice, Montgomery has not designated a starter or said if he might alternate quarterbacks.

“We have confidence in both of these young men,” Montgomery said. “Yeah, as you look at it, when you’re playing games like this, you would love for your quarterback to have already had some game-type experiences and been through the war, if you will, and been able to go back in after a game and be really able to coach off of that and kind of create some of that stuff.”

OSU coach Mike Gundy would like to know who TU would start at quarterback.

“I think if you knew who exactly it was and you had video that you could study tendencies and such it would be, but the guys they’re going to use, there isn’t much video of that in the way of carryover,” Gundy said. “You would prefer to have that, but in Tulsa’s case, it doesn’t affect much.”

Gundy doesn’t have that quarterback problem. Mason Rudolph is one of the top returning quarterbacks in the nation. He could have turned pro and would have been drafted but returned for his senior season. He and could be a first-round pick in the 2018 NFL draft.

“He’s an NFL guy,” Montgomery said of Rudolph. “Honestly, I don’t know why he didn’t come out last year with the quarterback class like it was. And I am not saying that just because we’re playing them but he’s got an NFL arm, he’s got an NFL body.”

Rudolph mentioned the greater focus in the preseason camp at OSU this year.

“We feel great,” Rudolph said “There are a lot of great components on our offense, every position is very strong. Obviously, I spend a lot more time with the receivers. There are a lot of new running backs, a lot of new faces that we’ve brought along, younger guys that are going to have to play early. We feel confident in them.”

Another outstanding Cowboy who could have turned pro and would have been a high draft pick is wideout James Washington. Washington has been labeled as the No. 1 senior receiver in the country by Mel Kiper and as the No. 1 returning receiver in college football by ESPN.com’s Adam Rittenberg and by Athlon Sports.

Washington leads all active Power Five conference receivers with 2,923 yards and a career average of 19.2 yards per reception. At a school with a remarkable string of great receivers, Washington’s 2,923 career receiving yards rank fourth on OSU’s all-time list. He is one of five Cowboys in history with multiple 1,000-yard seasons, joining Justin Blackmon, Rashaun Woods, Hart Lee Dykes and Adarius Bowman. Washington was being named to the Preseason AP All-America team and a unanimous preseason All-Big 12 selection.

“We’re fortunate that we have an experienced quarterback that our team trusts,” Gundy said. “They have a lot of respect for him. He’s played injured throughout his career. He’s unselfish. We have a group of wideouts that are certainly the best as a group that I’ve ever been around. They’re unselfish. They understand that there’s not enough footballs to go around. We’re going to do the best to stay involved. Some of them are going to draw a safety over the top. Some can draw a little double coverage.”

Add sophomore running back Justice Hill to the mix and you have a lot of potential to score points. “I want to be a better pass blocker, and I worked on that this fall and have really improved on that, so that’s really the biggest thing I wanted to focus on,” Hill said.

TU counters with senior running back D’Angelo Brewer, who finished second in rushing yards last season in the American Athletic Conference, behind teammate James Flanders, who graduated. Brewer rushed for 1,435 yards, for an average of 5.4 yards per carry. He also ran for seven touchdowns in the season.

Montgomery, who battled Gundy’s OSU teams when he was offensive coordinator at Baylor, knows what a challenge it is to play the Cowboys.

“I’ve had the opportunity to go against them in a couple of different occasions,” Montgomery said. “The one thing that I will say about their football team this year is I think it is the most talented one I have ever faced with him as the head coach.” They have a ton of weapons offensively. They have a ton of experience offensively. If you look at them defensively, both ends are back. Most of the linebacking corps is virtually back. They have made some changes in the secondary.

“We know we have our hands full. And anytime you go to Stillwater, it’s a great environment. I know the paddles will be beating against the side.

“What an exciting matchup to kick off the college football season. Our guys are excited to play and I know we will be ready to play.”

This is a big game for Tulsa and Oklahoma State. Tulsa can make a big statement and perhaps jump into the Top 25. It would provide a lot of confidence for a young quarterback and give the Golden Hurricane momentum for the American Athletic Conference race.

For OSU, the Cowboys have a legitimate chance to win the Big 12 Conference and perhaps jump into the College Football Playoff. A loss wouldn’t prevent the Cowboys from winning the conference but might be a deathblow to national championship aspirations.

Why is OSU playing TU on a Thursday night in such an important game against an in-state rival? The answer is to accommodate television and increase publicity.

On a Thursday night, tailgating is lessened. Parking in Stillwater is a problem as fans wait for the lots to empty after campus business. And fans who work until 5 p.m. are inconvenienced.

OSU will play at South Alabama next week on a Friday night. TU will also play SMU on a Thursday night (October 27) and Memphis on a Friday night on November 3.