OSU, OU win; TU loses.
Cowboys offense unstoppable in blowout win
PITTSBURGH — They started to leave with 12 minutes left in the second quarter.
As Pittsburgh's punter trotted on the field following a fourth consecutive possession with no points, the aisles behind Heinz Field's north end zone started to fill with fans walking out of the stadium like ants up an anthill.
Three plays after the punt, Mason Rudolph validated their choice by launching a pass to an
open Jalen McCleskey down the spine of the field for a 48-yard touchdown.
By then, it was obvious, but still remarkable. In 18 minutes — a quarter and change — Oklahoma State broke the belief of an opponent's faithful.
The Cowboys went ahead by five touchdowns in that short time frame on the McCleskey catch. They were still up five TDs when they returned to the field for the second half in a stadium with swaths of empty yellow seats.
They didn't pile on because the damage was done in the first half. In a 59-21 thrashing of Pittsburgh, Oklahoma State scored touchdowns on all seven possessions before halftime.
The No. 9 Cowboys (3-0) finished nonconference play undefeated by outscoring their opponents 162-52.
And like in the win over Tulsa two weeks ago and the one at South Alabama last Friday, the score could have been worse Saturday. Rudolph took his last snap with 10:37 left in the third quarter. For the game, he was 23 of 32 with 497 yards passing.
“Our players were really focused and they did a really nice job in preparation,” OSU coach Mike Gundy said. “As a coach, that's so gratifying.”
Saturday was a glimpse of this Oklahoma State team at its best: A dominant offense and underrated defense combined to dismantle the Panthers (1-2) and decide the game before a half had been played.
The offensive was so explosive and drove down the field so smoothly that it looked as if it had a cheat code to the Pittsburgh defense.
What other explanation could there be for these numbers?
• Oklahoma State became the first FBS team in 12 years to have four 100-yard receivers (McCleskey,
Dillon Stoner, James Washington, Marcell Ateman).
• The Cowboys were 9 of 9 on third downs with Rudolph taking snaps. Seven of those came on plays of third-and-6 or longer — including a 69-yard touchdown pass to Ateman on thirdand-11 that might be the best play of Rudolph's career (more on that below).
• Rudolph set a school record for passing yards in a half by throwing for 423 yards and five touchdowns in the first half. Had he appeared for more than four plays before taking a seat early in the third quarter, he would have almost certainly broken his single-game school record of 540.
Rudolph did what a veteran quarterback does Saturday: He took what Pittsburgh gave him and let the Panthers pick their poison.
Extra attention on Washington, who burned Pittsburgh for 296 yards in Stillwater last year? Rudolph peppered the Panthers with passes to inside receivers McCleskey and Stoner.
In a set with three receivers to the right, Stoner — one of the inside men on that side — broke open down the right sideline and hauled in a 54-yard catch-andrun TD to put OSU up 14-0.
McCleskey, who entered the day with only 17 yards receiving on the season, led all Cowboys with seven catches, 162 yards and three scores. Two of the touchdowns came on plays of 40 and 48 yards.
That has been the calling card of OSU's offense through three games — the deep pass. Rudolph has nine in three games this year, including four Saturday that went for touchdowns. Sixty of the 128 FBS teams last year had fewer than nine for the season.
The most impressive of the nine, by far, was the 69-yarder to Ateman on third-and-11.
With four receivers wide late in the first quarter, Rudolph took a shotgun snap and quickly had a Pittsburgh pass rush in his face. Panthers end Rashad Weaver broke off Aaron Cochran and nearly got Rudolph, but the quarterback escaped the pocket and ran left.
Amir Watts dove at Rudolph's feet. He kept moving.
Then he reloaded and launched the deep ball — just as Allen Edwards leveled him.
Ateman circled back to the ball, made the catch at the Pitt 35-yard line, beat one defender and ran the rest of the way to put OSU ahead 21-0.
“He's worked hard in the offseason on a couple of things: his footwork on different styles of throws and also his ability to protect the ball and move around in the pocket,” Gundy said. “He made some big plays today at crucial times. You see the importance of having a quarterback who can make plays.”
Even though Washington did not make his first catch until the middle of the second quarter, the Cowboys scored 49 first-half points in an ultra-efficient 46 plays. (The star receiver finished with five receptions for 124 yards anyway).
And the difference between last year's 45-38 win over Pittsburgh and this year's blowout was the defense, which held the Panthers to two first downs on Pittsburgh's first four drives and later intercepted two passes.
By the time Pittsburgh began its fifth drive — and inserted quarterback Ben DiNucci to replace starter Max Browne — the score was 35-0.
The Cowboys starters were preparing for a second half that included plenty of rest — a final chance to relax before Big 12 play begins next Saturday.
And the fans — at least some of them — were already gone.
Oklahoma State offensive lineman Marcus Keyes lifts wide receiver Jalen McCleskey in celebration after McCleskey caught a pass for a touchdown Saturday against Pittsburgh.
Oklahoma State quarterback Mason Rudolph (right) passes over Pittsburgh linebacker Elijah Zeise (left) in the first quarter on Saturday. Rudolph was 23-of-32 passing for 497 yards and five touchdowns.