Why is Penn State ranked No. 4, two spots above No. 6 Oklahoma State?
Both the Nittany Lions and Cowboys have played and defeated Pittsburgh. Penn State struggled and depended on some late scores to win 33-14 while OSU completely dominated Pitt at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh 59-21 last Saturday. Penn State has beaten Akron, Pitt and Georgia State. OSU has beaten Tulsa, South Alabama and Pittsburgh.
Penn State’s No. 4 AP ranking may be due to their standing atop the Big 10 Conference, thanks to the Ohio State loss to Oklahoma. But the rankings won’t matter if the OSU offense keeps playing at this level and OSU keeps winning.
OSU opens Big 12 Conference play by hosting No. 16 TCU at 2:30 p.m. in Stillwater.
TCU dispatched SMU 56-36 last Saturday to finish the nonconference schedule undefeated. TCU opened with a 63-0 blanking of Jackson State and then beat Arkansas 28-7 in Fayetteville.
Pitt coach Pat Narduzzi thinks OSU deserves their high ranking. “That’s about the worst day you can have at the office,” Narduzzi said after the game. “As I said to Coach Gundy after the game, ‘you certainly have a top-10 team.’ That’s a good football team. That’s a top-five football team for sure. We’re obviously disappointed in the performance. Our kids are disappointed. We had trouble covering them on defense. We had trouble getting first downs on offense.”
OSU quarterback Mason Rudolph set a school record for passing yards in a half, throwing for 423 in the first half against Pitt.
“That’s an explosive team – explosive quarterback, explosive receivers, explosive back,” said Pitt cornerback Avonte Maddoz. “Coming into the game, we knew what they were going to do but they executed and we didn’t.”
It was Rudolph’s third career game with at least 300 yards in a half, as he threw for 372 in the first half vs. Pitt last season and for 310 in the first half vs. Texas last season. Rudolph’s half was the second best in Big 12 history, trailing only the 438 by Baylor’s Seth Russell vs. Northwestern State in 2014. Rudolph also set a school record for consecutive pass attempts without an interception. He entered the game with 185 and added 31 Saturday before an interception in the third quarter to set the new school mark at 216. Brandon Weeden had the previous record of 194 set in 2011. Rudolph’s streak was the longest active streak in the nation and began Nov. 5, 2016.
“Honestly, I didn’t even pay attention to those statistics,” Rudolph said. “I knew they scored a lot. But no, usually it flows like that. Sometimes there will be some sputtering drives, but the coaches on the offensive line are making the right calls and making us run up front. We were protecting our butts and making that block for Justice [Hill] today. That one-two punch with J.D. [King] was something serious and it’s cool to watch.”
Rudolph’s first half line: 20-for-28 passing for 423 yards with five touchdowns with zero interceptions and a passer rating of 257.3.
OSU set a school record for offensive yards in a half with 516 in the first half. The previous record was 450 in the first half vs. Louisiana in 2012.
“Our players were really focused and they did a really nice job in preparation,” said OSU coach Mike Gundy. “As a coach that’s so gratifying. To see guys get ready to play a game, prepare and execute. Obviously we were very explosive on offense.“
Rudolph made some great plays while avoiding the rush.
“He’s worked hard in the offseason on a couple of things – his footwork on different styles of throws, also his ability to protect the ball and move around in the pocket,” Gundy said. “He made some big plays Saturday at crucial times, and you see the importance of having a quarterback who makes plays. He made a lot of plays.”
For the first time in school history, OSU had four 100-yard receivers in one game – Jaylon McCleksey – 162, James Washington – 124, Dillon Stoner – 100, Marcell Ateman – 109. It was the first time someone has had four 100-yard receivers since Texas Tech had four against Kansas State in 2005.
“Mason [Rudolph] has done a nice job of spreading the ball out,” Gundy said. “When we have good skill guys, he’s responsible for delegating the ball to the people based on what they give us. And he did a job for us, except for one time and it cost him an interception. And that’s why we spread them out and got multiple guys catches. We saw some heavy roll in the play towards James Washington, and when that happens we have [Jalen] McCleskey in the middle of the field most of the time.”
An ever-improving running attack is helping the passing. “Coach always stresses it to us that if we want to pass it we have to run it, so we stress that every day in practice,” said running back Justice Hill. “We work hard every day, and that translates to the game.”
Last year, OSU dominated TCU and beat them 31-6 in Fort Worth. That win set up a Bedlam showdown for the last game of the season. Against TCU in 2016, Rudolph ran for two touchdowns and passed for a third. Hill added 154 yards rushing on 16 carries.