#10 Oklahoma State Cowboys v Texas Longhorns
Darrell K Royal–Texas Memorial Stadium, Austin, TX
Score: #10 Oklahoma State 13, Texas 10 (OT)
1) Holton Hill makes a statement
It would be tough to convince you of any of the leading narratives that grew during the course of this game. Oklahoma State’s nation-leading offense only scores 10 points in regulation? That’s weird. More runs attempted than passes? That’s weirder. But the most shocking stat has to be this:
James Washington came into the game averaging 5.66 catches, 147 yards, and 1 TD per game–that’s an astounding 25.9 yards per reception. Against Texas junior CB Holton Hill, Washington had 4 catches for 32 yards.
Hill used his NFL-sized frame expertly to his advantage, disrupting the catch point on multiple occasions with length, physicality, and an alpha-mentality. He did well staying connected to Washington through the receiver’s cuts and breaks, even committing a wise holding penalty when he knew he was smoked. His most impressive trait, however: his closing burst and physicality. Against both the run and short to intermediate passing game, Hill arrived to the ball-carrier from a cannon. He tackled exceedingly well in open space and keyed the run quickly, which will help him see playing time in the NFL.
World, meet Holton Hill.
2) World, meet Poona Ford as well
Okay, a few people were already high on Poona Ford before this contest. He wasn’t anywhere near my radar, but the Texas defensive tackle was an absolute game-changer in the middle of the defense.
The knock on Poona (First ballot All-Name Team, by the way) is size: under six feet tall, NFL decision-makers may pass on Poona in favor of larger bodies. But height is an overrated metric for a position so focused on leverage, and Poona regularly reset the line of scrimmage by coming off the line, and fitting his hands, lower than the opposing offensive lineman.
Poona diagnosed flow quite well, especially on zone plays, and was able to disrupt multiple running plays by generating enough penetration to disrupt the path of the runner. I’d like to see him disengage more readily from blocks–when he is able to, he’s usually behind the ball-carrier and in pursuit. His motor runs impressively hot when pursuing, however, as highlighted by a forced fumble in the redzone in which he blew up the play, chased it down from behind, and got the strip. In a loaded interior defensive line class, don’t let Poona fall to the wayside.
3) Justice Hill capitalizes on full workload
Only a sophomore, we’ll be talking more about Justice Hill in 2018–that being said, he saw a career-high 33 carriers against Texas, and made good use out of every last one.
Incredibly bursty, Hill regularly took advantage of a Texas linebacking corps that overreacted to zone action, sticking his foot in the ground and taking the backside lane for chunk yardage. I like that blend of vision and instinct. For a smaller back (185 lbs), Hill showed a nice willingness to lower his shoulder and pick up dirty yardage–I would, however, like to see him illustrate better elusiveness. His pass protection really stood out: he was active, physical, and heady, regularly cleaning up 5-man pressures to give his QB time to read the field.
However, if you pick up one side of the stick, you pick up the other: while Hill impressed, Texas LB Malik Jefferson did nothing to assuage the concerns regarding his game. A player who has to see it to attack it, Jefferson was regularly worked out of position by misdiagnosing backfield action or over-pursuing his visual keys. His athleticism, arguably his saving grace, flashed on blitzes and straight-line closes–but when asked to scrape laterally or mirror ball-carriers in space, he struggled. The athletic profile warrants a significant Draft investment; but Jefferson is undoubtedly a project.
4) Ateman and Richards overshadow highly-touted counterparts
We already detailed the quieter game WR James Washington had: due to bumfuzzling play calling from HC Mike Gundy, Washington didn’t have a single opportunity to feature his incredible jump-ball ability. His route running was as sharp as ever, and his cuts crisp, but the usual big-play volume wasn’t there.
On the other side of the football for the Pokes, FS Tre Flowers was starred on my sheet for his downhill play style, physicality, and ball skills. Relegated to middle of the field duty, Flowers had a very quiet day against a Texas offense that hardly attacked the deep areas of the field, or even the intermediate middle, at all. Besides a timely hit to disrupt a catch, he had a pedestrian outing.
Oklahoma State WR Marcell Ateman and SS Ramon Richards, on the other hand, both stood out. Richards had the louder day–he was all over the field, playing a run-first, LB-esque position that allowed him to flow quickly to the football. As an alley defender, he was aggressive and arrived at contact with intention. Sometimes, as the force defender, he was overaggressive–but overall, the range and hitting power were nice. Bonus points for chasing down a 70+ yard catch for a tackle inside of the five.
Ateman’s stats suffered just as Washington’s did, given the struggles of the Oklahoma State offense–but he flashed on a couple of plays. At 6’4, his catch radius jumps off the film: he had a one-handed snag on a high ball to the boundary that highlight his hand strength away from frame. His long strides eat up space when working deep, and he located and adjusted quickly to a poorly thrown bomb that became Oklahoma State’s longest play and led to their OT-forcing FG.
5) Mason Rudolph continues to be a divisive evaluation
Finally, we end on the QB–and with good reason. Given Oklahoma State’s uncharacteristic play-calling, and even the lack of success deep when the play was dialed up, some wondered if Rudolph got dinged up during the first half, and was playing limited. A confusing almost-trip to the locker room did nothing to assuage these rumors.
It’s tough to evaluate Rudolph, as such, on today’s performance. He modeled his typical touch to the intermediate levels of the field, placing the football effortlessly relative to defensive flow. His ball to the boundary, also as expected, seem to die in the air. Rudolph also force-fed his first read, which cost the Pokes a TD and a few first downs across the game–but that’s nothing new either.
I fall still on the bearish side of Rudolph’s projection: I just don’t trust his ability to work the pocket and work through his progressions yet. That said, the entire Oklahoma State team had a rather puzzling day, and I shy from putting much stock into this performance.
While we’re on the topic of QBs, however, true freshman QB Sam Ehlinger has a bright future. The Texas starter made one of the most boneheaded decisions I’ve ever seen, gifting Oklahoma State the victory with an overtime interception, but his ability to create outside of structure and deliver accurate throws with velocity are nice building blocks for future development.