Liberty Bowl: Taylor Cornelius joins elite company
Taylor Cornelius held tight to the wings of the giant golden eagle atop the Liberty Bowl's most valuable player trophy.
A bowl official stopped the Oklahoma State quarterback to share a bit of trivia — the last quarterback to win that trophy was Dak Prescott.
“Oh, really?” Cornelius said.
Not bad for a former walk-on who waited four years before he started a game.
On a night Cornelius joined some elite company — not only bowl MVPs like Prescott but also OSU legends like Barry Sanders and Mason Rudolph — the Cowboy quarterback had perhaps the most quintessential night of his career. He was great and horrible. He was smooth and disjointed. He was everything Cowboys everywhere loved and hated this season.
But in the end, he and his team were good enough.
OSU 38, Missouri 33.
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“His game was really, really good,” Cowboy coach Mike Gundy said. “His mental approach and the way he handled their defense was really good.”
For much of the game, that was absolutely true.
Cornelius had a solid first half, then in the third quarter, he really hit the accelerator. The Cowboys scored touchdowns on their first three possessions of the second half, thanks in large part to Cornelius. While the second touchdown of the half was a short-field score powered by three Chuba Hubbard runs, the other two drives had Cornelius' fingerprints all over them.
The first of the touchdowns was a 10-play, 75-yard drive. Eight of the plays were passes, and six of them were completed, including a 9-yard touchdown on a bullet of a pass from Cornelius to Tylan Wallace who was hanging out uncovered in the back of the end zone.
The third of the touchdowns was more quick strike. It went 75 yards, but it took only four plays, the last three of which were passes from Cornelius.
Fourteen yards to Hubbard, who had a big game.
Twenty-seven yards to Tyron Johnson, who had a big game, too.
Forty-six yards to Johnson for the touchdown.
And frankly, that touchdown strike might've been the best throw Cornelius made all year. He rolled right out of the pocket, and on a full run, he heaved the pass pretty much off his back foot and put the ball right in Johnson's bread basket.
It was a thing of beauty.
But then almost as quickly as Cornelius had the offense rolling and the Cowboys up 35-19, things went south. He threw a couple incompletions to end the third quarter — a defensive pass interference call helped bail him out on the second one — and then the first play of the fourth quarter, he threw an interception.
Missouri answered with a touchdown.
The next OSU drive ended in another Cornelius interception.
Missouri answered with another touchdown, and suddenly, the Cowboys' lead was gone and the fight was on.
“He missed a couple throws,” Gundy said of Cornelius, “but so did their guy.”
Missouri quarterback Drew Lock is projected to be one of the first quarterbacks taken in the NFL Draft. He was 23 of 38 for 373 yards and three touchdowns.
Cornelius was 26 of 44 for 336 yards and four scores.
In the process, Cornelius became only the third player in OSU history to account for 40 touchdowns in one season. The other two — Sanders in 1988 and Rudolph in 2017.
Cornelius doesn't reach that mark without a steady hand. He had to manage through the rough patch, of which there were many, and frankly, that's what he did again Monday. After the Tigers roared back, Cornelius steadied the Cowboys. They ran more than 3 minutes off the clock and got a field goal.
“Taylor was very poised,” Johnson said. “He never seemed to get rattled in situations like big games.”
That was the case all season, and even if Cornelius didn't always endear himself to fans with his play, he was beloved by his teammates because of that steady, consistent approach.
“Obviously, he got some hate,” Hubbard said, “but I always supported him. He's a great guy, on and off the field. I wish I could back him up, say some stuff to people that were hating on him.”
How about now?
“That's OK,” Hubbard said, smiling.
Players hooted and hollered when Cornelius was announced as the MVP. There were hugs and handshakes and smiles afterward. Even when he credited the offensive line, Hubbard, Johnson, Wallace, basically anyone other than himself, his teammates were happy to celebrate him.
“He's awesome,” Hubbard said. “I think everyone on the team knows that.”
Jenni Carlson: Jenni can be reached at 405-475-4125 or email@example.com. Like her at facebook.com/JenniCarlsonOK, follow her at twitter.com/jennicarlson_ok or view her personality page at newsok.com/jennicarlson.