3rd-down conversions deserve high marks
The Cowboys hit Pitt early and often, taking a 35-0 lead and breezing to a 59-21 victory at Heinz Field, and the grades reflect a dominating performance.
AThe Cowboys converted all 10 third downs they faced with quarterback Mason Rudolph on the field. On third downs, Rudolph was 6-for-6 passing for 152 yards and a touchdown. OSU needed at least six yards on seven of those 10 third downs.
ABetween injuries to Kevin Henry and Kenneth EdisonMcGruder, plus the first-half suspension of Calvin Bundage, OSU was woefully thin at linebacker. But the Cowboys held up, with a rotation of Justin Phillips, Chad Whitener, Gyasi Akem, Kirk Tucker and even Amen Ogbongbemiga. Mike Gundy said he was really disappointed in only two plays – a bubble screen to Quadree Henderson that went for 74 yards and a 14-yard touchdown pass to Rafael Araujo-Lopes. Gundy said defensive backs were responsible for the big play to Henderson, while safety Ramon Richards and end Jordan Brailford missed tackles on Araujo-Lopes.
AEarly in the fourth quarter, backup OSU quarterback Taylor Cornelius overthrew a deep ball to freshman Tylan Wallace. Never fear. Wallace dove, corralled the ball with one hand and nestled it to his body for a 39-yard catch. Wallace is a fast, 6-foot, 185-pound freshman. And he’s the Cowboys’ seventh-best receiver. The OSU receiving depth was on full display, not just because four Cowboys had triple-digit receiving games. OSU had no drops, and several catches were either pristine clamps on tight spirals in coverage or leaping grabs on jump balls tossed by Rudolph.
AHeinz Field is not an opulent stadium that provides a close encounter of the third kind. But it’s beautiful, functional and scenic. Many of the seats provide of a view the downtown skyline and the Allegheny River. Several thousand OSU fans enjoyed not only the result, but the venue.
Pitt wants to run the ball, but the Panthers had only occasional success. On called running plays, Pitt gained 117 yards on 28 carries. Some of that came on receiver sweeps (five carries, 45 yards) and backup quarterback Ben DiNucci had a 23-yard gain on an option play.
The only major OSU negative came when either team punted. OSU punter Zach Sinor took the field only twice, but on the second, Sinor failed to handle Sam Walkingstick’s snap that was only slightly high. The ball went through Sinor’s hands into the end zone, and he whiffed on trying to kick it out of the end zone. Pitt’s Jason Pinnick recovered for a touchdown. But
Pitt punts rarely went well for the Cowboys, either. Jalen McCleskey’s trouble on returns continued, as he let several Pitt punts bounce. Two were downed inside the OSU 5-yard line, and another died just at the goal line. McCleskey’s adventures have to be a point of concern.
AThe Cowboys ran well and threw with amazing efficiency, despite losing offensive line anchor Zach Crabtree to a first-quarter injury. Redshirt freshman Teven Jenkins replaced Crabtree, and who knows how Jenkins held up? But the line as a whole did well. Pitt did not take advantage of Crabtree’s void at right tackle. Rudolph was sacked just once, and that came less than five minutes into the game, before Crabtree’s injury. The Cowboy tailbacks gained 134 yards on 31 carries, but that’s with J.D. King and LD Brown running behind the secondteam line most of the second half.
OSU quarterback Mason Rudolph hands the ball off to Justice Hill during the second quarter of the Cowboys’ win over Pitt on Saturday. OSU was 10-for-10 on third down conversions when Rudolph was in the game.