OFF THE RIM: Will Cowboys suffer from rust, 2 QB system?

News Press file photo The Oklahoma State defense has built off of the experience gained last year to find themselves as the top defense in the Big 12 three games into the year.

Do you remember that Oklahoma State is still playing football this fall?

It’s hard to do, simply because it’s been three weeks since the Cowboys last played a game, and in this current world, three weeks feels like three months or more.

The last time OSU took the field, it demolished a Kansas squad that has been below average for more than a decade. That same KU program just lost its top offensive weapon in running back Pooka Williams, who opted to sit out the remainder of the season.

The Cowboys took care of business three weeks ago and regained the offensive swagger and confidence that was missing the first two games of the season. True freshman Shane Illingworth made his second-career start and looked like the highly-touted prospect he was when he signed with OSU, albeit if it was against the pitiful Jayhawks.

OSU followed the win with a bye week before Baylor postponed last week’s game because of COVID-19 numbers in the program. Yet, the Bears were able to host a huge homecoming celebration last week. Interesting.

The Cowboys welcome Iowa State to town this week for the first of back-to-back home games. The Cyclones are tied with K-State atop the Big 12 Conference, but the Cowboys are a game back with one less league game played thus far.

Will OSU remain unbeaten Saturday? Or will Iowa State remain at the top of the standings?

Here are four downs to think about when the Cyclones invade Boone Pickens Stadium.

1st Down: Will OSU look rusty?

Not having played a game in three weeks could be tough on the Cowboys. One bye week is normal, but having two weeks without games could affect a team.

How OSU starts and plays will be determined by how well the Cowboys have practiced since winning in Lawrence. If those practices were sharp and they prepared well for the Cyclones, OSU should be well rested and healthy this week.

However, being in game shape is a real thing. Hence, the season opener was quite sloppy. I think OSU fans will know early if the time off will hurt the Cowboys against a talented Iowa State squad.

2nd Down: Will the Cowboys use a 2 QB system?

For the second-straight game, the OSU starting quarterback is unknown heading into the game. However, this week, the starting spot isn’t the biggest question.

Illingworth could make his third-consecutive start, and no one would blame OSU coach Mike Gundy. Redshirt sophomore Spencer Sanders could also make his second start of the season and return to the field since the Cowboys’ second drive of the season opener.

Is Sanders healthy enough to return and play at full strength?

If he does come back, Gundy has hinted he might use both QBs against the Cyclones. Will Sanders be used in the same manner J.W. Walsh was in 2016 to spell Mason Rudolph in the red zone?

Seems silly to to limit Sanders to only running-type plays, especially for a player who’s returning from a lower leg injury. All eyes will be on the field Saturday to see how OSU uses its quarterbacks, especially if you’re the ISU defense because of the different styles by each signal caller.

3rd Down: Will OSU defense remain stout against Cyclones?

There’s no doubt, ISU possesses the best offense the Cowboys have faced all season. ISU is led by junior quarterback Brock Purdy, who is 1-1 against the Cowboys.

OSU has held its first three opponents to 27 total points, allowing only three touchdowns. The Cowboys did a great job of pressuring the West Virginia and Kansas quarterbacks.

However, the experienced defense squad faces an ISU squad that has scored at least 31 points in its past three games – all of which have been conference wins. Purdy has gradually thrown for more yards and matched or improved his touchdown total each week.

Purdy threw 62 passes – completing 39 of them – for 382 yards in last year’s loss to OSU. He also threw three interceptions in the game. Can’t see him throwing that many passes again, unless it’s a shootout where each team scores at least 40 points.

4th Down: Who will emerge as OSU’s No. 2 receiver?

Tylan Wallace is already putting up impressive stats this season, and he will continue to do so as one of the best receivers in the country. Whoever plays quarterback for the Cowboys must continue to find Wallace and utilize his ability to catch nearly every pass thrown his direction.

But, it’s the No. 2 receiver that hasn’t been established this season. Wallace has racked up 325 yards through three games, but no other Cowboy has more than 90 yards receiving.

Braydon Johnson had a long TD catch at Kansas. Dillon Stoner is quite reliable, especially on third down. Several other receivers have talents, too, but they haven’t produced much yet this year. Of course, there are Cowboy Backs who rarely get passes thrown their way, too.

Maybe it’s a rotating cast that helps keep defenses from double-teaming Wallace, but someone needs to emerge as a threat to allow Wallace to do his thing. There’s enough talent on this squad to spread the ball out, so the QBs need to trust the receivers to make plays.

Jimmy Gillispie is a sports reporter for the Stillwater News Press. He can be contacted at jgillispie@stwnewspress.com.

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