Carlson: Why OSU football went with a throwback offense on the day it wore throwback jerseys for Thurman Thomas
STILLWATER — OSU rolled out some throwback jerseys in honor of Thurman Thomas going into its Ring of Honor.
Then, the Cowboys rolled out an offense to match.
Saturday was a trip back in time, an OSU offense that went heavy on the run and light on the pass, that relied on its tailbacks and only threw it to keep the defense honest. But the Cowboys didn't do it because the Thurmanator was in the house.
The reason was necessity.
Now, it worked.
OSU 27, West Virginia 13.
But on a day quarterback Shane Illingworth made his first collegiate start, the Cowboys didn’t want to put too much on the true freshman’s shoulders. And they didn’t have to push it because they have a stingy defense and a stout run game.
"It's one of those games, we can grind it out," OSU offensive coordinator Kasey Dunn said. "It feels like playing old-school SEC football."
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It was a formula we haven't seen much out of the Cowboys over the past decade, but Saturday, it worked to perfection.
Now, this wasn’t Illingworth’s first action, of course. He pitched in relief in last week’s opener, entering the game against Tulsa in the third quarter after Spencer Sanders was injured and Ethan Bullock was ineffective. Illingworth was great, too. He rallied the Cowboys to victory.
No small thing.
But starting and playing the whole game would be different than playing a little over a quarter.
West Virginia would be different, too.
The challenge would be much stiffer, so Dunn and the OSU offensive brain trust decided to ease Illingworth into things.
"He's a pup," Dunn said. "He's just kind of getting used to some things out there. The nice thing for us, we've got a really good defense. What you don't want to do is screw that up and turn it over and create a situation where you're scoring points against yourself."
Vanilla, then, became the flavor of the day.
It didn’t necessarily look like that would be the case at the start, though. Illingworth’s first snap was a long, downfield heave to Dillon Stoner. The Cowboy wide receiver came up with the ball, but replay would show he didn’t have control of it before it hit the ground.
That was the longest pass Illingworth would throw all day.
He finished the day 15-of-21 for only 139 yards, no touchdowns and one interception.
You’d have to look deep in the OSU record books to find a game the Cowboys won when they threw for less than 150 yards. That sort of thing just hasn’t happened much since OSU adopted a pass-happy offense.
But the equation worked Saturday because Illingworth had lots of help out of the backfield. The Cowboys ran the ball 41 times, Chuba Hubbard going 22 times for 101 yards and one touchdown and LD Brown going 11 for 103 yards and one score.
It was the first time since 2016 that OSU had two 100-yard rushers in a game.
Dezmon Jackson even came in for three carries for 10 yards in the fourth quarter.
About the only hiccup in the run game was Hubbard’s fumbles. Normally, the OSU superstar is rock solid with ball security, but Saturday, he didn't really look like himself for much of the game. That showed most when he fumbled the ball twice; lucky for him, both were recovered by OSU linemen.
But Hubbard looked shaky holding onto the ball and a step slow at times hitting the hole. The Cowboys will have to get that remedied.
Otherwise, it was hard to find a bunch of bugaboos in the OSU offense, and in the Big 12 opener on a day Sanders was reduced to a sideline spectator and a timeout motivator, solid was just fine.
Sanders warmed up before the game, by the way. He wasn’t hobbling. He wasn’t limping.
Cowboy coach Mike Gundy said Sanders could've played.
"I hate when people put percentages on stuff, but he was 80% maybe," Gundy said after the game. "It would've been better for us and him if he didn't play today, but he could've."
Frankly, Sanders might be able to nurse that high ankle sprain for a few weeks. OSU goes to Kansas next week, and there's no reason for Sanders to play against the lowly Jayhakws. Then comes an off week. The Cowboys may not feel they need Sanders until they go to Baylor on Oct. 17.
Giving his ankle nearly a month to heal would be huge.
And Saturday, Illingworth gave no indication Sanders would have to rush back to duty. There were times Illingworth looked like a true freshman. He threw an interception in the second half, for example, that was the product of him standing in the pocket too long.
But there were way more instances of Illingworth looking ready for more. His third-down throw to Tylan Wallace with a little over 5 minutes left was big time. Rolling right. Throwing across his body. Putting it where Wallace and probably no one else could get it.
This was not a perfect game, but still, the Cowboys did enough to win. In this season of uncertainties, that’s significant.
On a day Thurman Thomas in the house, OSU looked a lot like his Cowboy teams often did. Same uniforms. Same offense. Same result.
Jenni Carlson: Jenni can be reached at 405-475-4125 or email@example.com. Like her at facebook.com/JenniCarlsonOK or follow her at twitter.com/jennicarlson_ok.