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Cowboys host Golden Hurricane Thursday night

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OKLAHOMA CITY – ESPN reporter Mark Schlabach has chosen OSU as the most entertaining team this year.

“With one of the country’s best quarterbacks (Mason Rudolph) and best wide receivers (James Washington) leading a high-flying offense, and their mullet-wearing, rattlesnake-hunting head coach running the show, the Cowboys are the most entertaining team to watch in college football,” Schlabach wrote. “And, if Mike Gundy screws it up, OSU billionaire booster T. Boone Pickens won’t be afraid to tell us all about it.”

A lot of hype for the Pokes this year and many pundits believe this is the Cowboys’ year to do great things. The offense will be tremendous. The defense will be tested beginning with Tulsa Thursday night at Boone Pickens Stadium (6:30 p.m. FS1).

Although these teams have met 71 times before, this is the first matchup to be known as the Bank of Oklahoma Turnpike Classic. BOK announced its sponsorship of this rivalry about a month ago.

The last time Tulsa was on OSU’s schedule was in 2011 when the Pokes won the Big 12 championship and finished the season 12-1 and ranked third in the polls. That last meeting with the Golden Hurricane was set to begin a 9 p.m., but rain and lightning in Tulsa delayed the game for more than three hours. It kicked off at 12:16 a.m. and ended at 3:35. A few thousand fans stuck around to watch one of the latest kickoffs in college football (the NCAA doesn’t have a record of all kick off times, but this had to be the latest.)

The Cowboys won that game, 59-33, and fans are likely going to see some fireworks Thursday night when these two tee it up. The Golden Hurricane finished 10-3 a year ago and were 10 points away from going 12-1.

TU head coach Philip Montgomery has seven starters back on offense, but he must find a replacement for quarterback Dane Evans, the school’s all-time passing leader, and starter of the past three seasons. Redshirt freshman Luke Skipper and sophomore Chad President have battled to replace Evans, and Montgomery likely will play both against the Pokes.

OSU coach Mike Gundy said there isn’t much video on Skipper and President to prepare his defense.

“I think if you knew who exactly it was and you had video that you could study tendencies and such it would be, but the guys they're going to use, there isn't much video of that in the way of carryover,” he noted. You would prefer to have that, but in Tulsa's case, it doesn't affect much.”

The Hurricane also must replace their top rusher (James Flanders) and top two receivers (Keevan Lucas and Josh Atkinson). Four of five starters return to the front wall. Senior tackle Evan Plagg and junior guard Tyler Bowling were second team All-American Athletic Conference in 2016. The experience of the front line should allow tailback D'Angelo Brewer (1,435 yards & 7 TDs last year) to get most of the carries this year.

Tulsa will be hard-pressed to equal their offensive numbers a year ago. The Hurricane put up 527 yards (4th nationally) and 42.5 points (7th) per game in ’16. But Tulsa has some real talent to make a run at the AAC title.

The Hurricane will try to exploit the Pokes’ secondary. Sophomore cornerback A.J. Green played very little last year, and redshirt freshman Rodarius Williams has yet to set foot on a college football gridiron.

Two of Tulsa’s top tacklers on defense have graduated. Seniors Jesse Brubaker and Jeremy Smith are prolific pass rushers who return this year. The duo combined for 21.5 tackles for loss including 9.5 sacks. Brubaker was the Hurricane’s interceptions co-leader with 2 picks last year. Senior Craig Suits, the team’s third-leading tackler with 79 stops, is the lone returnee in the linebacking corps.

Three-fourths of the secondary return. Starting corners Kerwin Thomas and Reggie Robinson are back, along with safety Jordan Mitchell, the team’s second-leading returning tackler. They will have to step it up big time against OSU’s receivers since only Thomas had an interception among the trio in ‘16.

Rudolph should bomb away at the TU defense and almost score at will. The Cowboys have a tremendous runner in sophomore Justice Hill to maintain a balanced attack to rock the TU defense.

The Cowboys (ranked 10th in AP poll and 11th in Amway coaches poll) must find a replacement for kicker Ben Grogan, who was the team’s all-time scoring leader. Sophomore Matt Amendola is taking over the placekicking chores. Junior punter Zach Sinor (41.3 career average) was the nation’s best in pinning opponents inside the 20-yard line (62.5%).

Tulsa must find a replacement for its punter and walk-on Thomas Bennett from Baylor appears to be the guy. Senior kicker Redford Jones is back. Jones has converted 38 of 51 field goals and 125 of 127 PATs in his career.

The Hurricane might make it close for a while, but look for OSU to use its balanced attack to wear them down in the fourth quarter.

 

ETC.

*OSU leads the series, 39-27-5, including five straight wins.

*OSU leads 24-6-3 in Stillwater, including five straight wins.

*OSU is favored by 18 points.

*OSU is 69-41-5 in season openers; 48-7-4 in season openers at home.

*TU is 68-48-1 in season openers; 14-30-1 in road openers.

*Gundy’s coaching record: 104-50 overall (.675); 2-0 vs. TU; 10-2 in season openers; 7-0 in home openers.

*Montgomery’s coaching record: 16-10 (.615) overall); 0-0 vs. OSU; 2-0 in season openers; first season opener in the road.

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Ray Dozier

Ray Dozier is the author of Legends of Oklahoma Sooners Football and two editions of The...

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