Cornelius, OSU's inexperienced senior QB, were to falter during the first half of the Boise State contest? How might Cowboy coach Mike Gundy and offensive coordinator Mike Yurcich respond?
If the second period wasn't better than the first, would the coaches send backup Dru Brown to the field?
In a high-stakes game, against a 17 th-ranked Boise State team that in four days evolved from a 2½-point underdog to a 2½-point favorite, Cornelius was given the opportunity to swim or sink.
He thrived, although it looked different than expected, and the 24thranked Cowboys recorded a 44-21 statement victory at Boone Pickens Stadium.
In one quarter, Cornelius morphed from a Cate lookalike to a Collin Klein clone.
For several days, in whispers that emanated from Stillwater, there were indications something special might be installed for the Boise State date.
How would that look? Would it be a special package for Brown, the graduate transfer from Hawaii?
Or maybe something that would involve freshman QB Spencer Sanders? None of the above. The low-tech wrinkle simply was an emphasis on Cornelius as a ballcarrier. He would read the defense, he would tuck the football and he would go.
It was the kind of stuff you would have seen in Cornelius' previous football life, when he played against Texas Panhandle Class 2A competition.
The 41-yard, two-touchdown involvement of Cornelius in the run game could be labeled the Bill Snyder Special. Gundy's utilization of Cornelius resembled what Snyder did with Klein, Kansas State's big, physical quarterback in 2010-12.
“I think (Cornelius) is comfortable running the ball,” Gundy said. “He gets into the flow of the game, right? Like a 3-point shooter in basketball. He hits a couple of 3s and gets hot. He's played three games now. He's getting a little better each game.”
At 3-0, the Cowboys open Big 12 play by hosting Texas Tech next week.
At 2-1, Boise State arrived in Stillwater with smooth senior Brett Rypien and a 38-2 advantage in career quarterback starts, but OSU answered that deficit with a complete performance that included a sevensack afternoon for the defense, two punt-blocks and three field goals from special-teams units, and 123 rushing yards from Justice Hill.
OSU first-year defensive coordinator Jim Knowles currently is a $600,000 assistant coach. By this time next year, he might be an $800,000 staff member.
A lot of proving remains to be done, but Knowles' defense is trending in the best possible direction.
If winning is all that really matters, Cornelius is trending just as impressively.
As the Cowboys are on the brink of breaking into the national Top 15, there are averages of 590 yards and 52 points per game. Cornelius has completed 64 percent of his passes (one percentage point below Mason Rudolph's 2017 success rate).
Because Cornelius was intercepted three times before Saturday, there might have been doubters within the fan base. The Boise State game attendance was about 2,000 shy of a sellout.
After the 1-of-5 start against the Broncos, Cornelius established a better groove. He connected on nine of his final 11 pass attempts.
“Whatever the game plan is, I'll do it. It doesn't matter to me,” Cornelius said in reference to his 16 rushing attempts and having been hit harder than he's ever been hit before.
“We don't want him taking unnecessary hits,” Yurcich said, “but we have to take advantage of his skill set and toughness.
“With him, we knew his toughness. That's a hard thing to simulate. You never want to simulate that in practice. But there was never any (possibility) that he would turn it down. We had full faith in him.”
There's something to be said for enduring a few bruises and having a physical investment in an important victory. The satisfaction level skyrockets.
However, while the result was positive, and while Cornelius seemed to have emerged in one piece, there has to be this consideration: OSU can't utilize its quarterback this way every week. It's too risky.
Maybe Oklahoma State doesn't need a 16-carry contribution to beat Texas Tech or Kansas, but Gundy and Yurcich liked what they saw Saturday. The Cornelius run-game component is a viable, valuable option, and it was an unexpected factor in the victory over Boise State.