Oklahoma State at South Alabama

Sports Xchange

September 06, 2017 at 5:37 pm.

GAME SNAPSHOT
KICKOFF: Friday, 8 p.m. ET
SITE: Ladd-Peebles Stadium, Mobile, Ala.
TV: ESPN2
SERIES: First meeting
RANKINGS: Oklahoma State No. 11

PLAYERS TO WATCH
Cowboys

–RB Justice Hill, as expected, asserted himself as Oklahoma State’s primary rusher by gaining 132 yards on 15 carries for an 8.8-yard average in the season-opening win over Tulsa. Hill was part of a ground attack that generated 332 yards as the Cowboys achieved the balance coach Mike Gundy desires from his offense. Hill emerged as the lead back, something OSU lacked in previous seasons, as a freshman last year.

–LB Kenneth Edison-McGruder provided some playmaking ability on defense. The junior recorded the Cowboys’ only sack in the opener. He also returned a fumble 82 yards for a third-quarter touchdown. Edison-McGruder began his career as a safety, but at 6-0, 220, provides the bulk and range needed to defend spread tendencies as a linebacker. He was in on five stops, four unassisted.

–PK Matt Ammendola made his debut as a sophomore and provided 11 points with a 24-yard field goal and eight PATs. Tulsa’s average starting field position after kickoffs by Ammendola was its 21.8-yard line. Six kickoffs sailed for touchbacks, but the three kicks that Tulsa fielded resulted in drive starts at its 7-, 17- and 22-yard lines. Ammendola replaced long-time starter Ben Grogan, a senior last season.

–WR Marcell Ateman, who missed last season with a foot injury, caught four passes for 75 yards against Tulsa.

Jaguars

–FS Jeremy Reaves tied for game-high honors in the season-opening game at Ole Miss, posting eight total stops while also breaking up a pass. The senior was credited with a personal-best two tackles for loss, including the first sack of his collegiate career. With the effort, Reaves became the fifth player in school history to surpass 200 career tackles. He was chosen a first-team preseason All-Sun Belt player by many publications.

–QB Cole Garvin accounted for 222 yards of total offense and a career-high-tying three scores against Ole Miss, guiding an offense that recorded 25 first downs and did not turn the ball over. He completed 19 of 31 passes for 204 yards and rushed for two touchdowns.

–LB Riley Cole, a redshirt freshman, made his starting debut last week. He shared game-high honors with eight tackles. Cole actually made three appearances last season — with four tackles — before suffering a season-ending injury and regaining the year of eligibility.

KEYS
TO THE GAME

The last time Oklahoma State played in the state of Alabama as a decided favorite, in 2007, the Cowboys stumbled, putting in motion Mike Gundy’s famous, “I’m a man, I’m 40″ rant.

The last time South Alabama faced a ranked opponent at home, the Jaguars upset San Diego State, one of their many highlights of 2016.

Friday, the Cowboys (1-0) play in Mobile as about a four-touchdown favorite against a South Alabama squad that could use a jolt to this season after losing its opener to Ole Miss.

No. 11 Oklahoma State will lean on its veteran leadership.

“I think any game, no matter the ranking or who you’re playing or where you’re playing, if you’ve got veteran leaders, experienced guys who have been through all types of game situations, it’s great,” said Cowboys senior quarterback Mason Rudolph.

“You know how to kind of approach each and every game, each and every environment you’re going to play in, whether it’s in front of 100,000 in Austin or 30,000 or 40,000 down in Mobile. It’s definitely a plus.”

The Jaguars won’t be awed by facing a Power 5 foe.

Last year, South Alabama went on the road to stun Mississippi State and knocked off No. 19 San Diego State at home, 42-24, on its way to a bowl game.

Already this season, the Jaguars have played at Ole Miss, losing 47-27, so taking on heavyweights has become the norm.

“There’s still a long season in front of us and we can still be a great team,” said South Alabama safety Malcolm Buggs.

Oklahoma State routed Tulsa in its opener, 59-24, behind a balanced offense that feasted on big plays. The Cowboys averaged a first down per snap (10.2 yards) against the Golden Hurricane and produced seven plays of 32 yards or longer, including touchdown passes from Rudolph covering 77 and 40 yards to James Washington and 44 to Tyron Johnson.

The Jaguars surrendered too many big plays to Ole Miss wideouts, including two of 70-yards-plus for scores. Overall, Rebels quarterback Shea Patterson completed 28 of 35 passes for 429 yards and four touchdowns.

“We saw some really good receivers, and I know that (Oklahoma State) has some really good ones as well,” South Alabama coach Joey Jones said. “They also have the No. 1 quarterback in the country. They are going to throw it and run a hurry-up offense every snap.

“I know they are very good.”

Jaguars quarterback Cole Garvin made his career debut a year ago against San Diego State, orchestrating that win. Against Ole Miss, he passed for a touchdown and ran for two scores.

South Alabama entered the season committed to improving its running game. The Jaguars ran for 170 yards against the Rebels, with junior college transfer Tra Minter going for 83, averaging 6.9 per carry.

“I think we’ve got two really good running backs and our offensive line is better,” Jones said.

Oklahoma State is 15-1 all-time against teams from the Sun Belt. The loss, at Troy, remains attached to Gundy and the program still, especially with the 10-year anniversary of “The Rant” coming up on Sept. 22.

The Cowboys lost that night with Zac Robinson replacing Bobby Reid, the school’s biggest-name recruit, at quarterback. When an Oklahoma columnist explained the benching of Reid, and the difficult reasons behind the move, Gundy went off the following week in a postgame tirade that remains relevant through repeated references to this day.

This Oklahoma State team, projected as a College Football Playoff contender, is far removed from that 2007 squad. Gundy carried a losing record through that Troy game, but now stands as the school’s winningest coach, with three 10-win seasons over the last four years.

“I think we’re a better team now,” Gundy said, pointing to growth in the program since 2007, when Oklahoma State lost at Troy, 41-23. “I think our organization and our program is more mature now than it was in years past.

“We’re still vulnerable at all times, and it’s never as comforting to play on the road as it is to play at home. Our players understand that and we’ve had those discussions. We’re holding them responsible for preparation and playing like we’re playing at home.”