Underdog Dynasty hooked up with Pistols Firing this week to talk some football and get you football nuts ready for an exciting Friday match-up between the Pokes and the Jags. Phillip Slavin was kind enough to sit down with me and answers some questions about the Cowboys. If interested, here’s what I head to say about South Alabama.
Adam Luckett: What makes the Oklahoma State passing game so electric? How do Mason Rudolph and James Washington do it on the deep balls?
Phillip Slavin: A lot of the credit goes to the sheer talent and ability of Rudolph. The guy is going to be playing on Sundays with his arm strength and accuracy. Throw in, this year especially, the sheer depth of talent at wide receiver, and OSU has an endless supply of weapons. If a defense tries to double team Washington, they’ll leave Johnson, McClesky, Lacy, or Stoner open. Each one of those guys has sure hands and speed.
As far as the deep balls go, Washington is a physical specimen. Rudolph is accurate enough to put the ball where the defender can’t get to it, and then allow Washington’s athletic ability to do the rest of the work. The two have a great connection, including off the field, which helps them on gameday.
AL: We all know about the receivers, but how big of a gamechanger is Justice Hill?
PS: Oklahoma State hasn’t had a running back like Hill since 2012. The reigning Big 12 Freshman of the Year is only getting better. He’s put on more muscle and seems to have become more nimble on the field.
If you start with week four of last season through the end of the year, Hill averaged 100 yards a game as a true freshman. This year, he’s bigger and stronger, and running behind an improved offensive line. With as potent as the passing game is, it forces teams not to load the box. Once Hill has a lane, he’ll burn you.
AL: Biggest strength of team? Biggest weakness?
PS: Strength is the offense. Defenses will have a hard time slowing down the passing attack, especially if they can’t generate pressure on Rudolph. Not that that will do them a lot of good; against Tulsa, Rudolph went 4-5 for 176 yards and two touchdowns on six pressured dropbacks.
As far as weakness, OSU had the same problem against Tulsa that they had last season, giving up big third down plays. Against the Golden Hurricane, OSU allowed first downs on nine third down attempts of 7 yards or more. It’s a concern moving forward, especially against dual-threat quarterbacks.
AL: What should USA fans expect from Oklahoma State special teams?
PS: I would be shocked if USA returns much in this game. Punter Zach Sinor (you should check out his Heisman campaign) is a not-so-secret weapon for OSU. His ability to hang a ball in the air, and then plant it inside the opponents 20 yard-line is fantastic.
On the flip-side, OSU may finally have a return game for the first time in awhile. He’s only attempted one return, but Tyron Johnson looks poised to take at least one return to the house this season, if not multiple.
AL: Who are the difference makers on defense?
PS: Despite the concerns on the secondary entering the season, OSU’s two safeties Tre Flowers and Ramon Richards, are the guys to keep an eye on. Both are great about being wherever the ball is and have big-play potential.
One other guy to keep an eye on is linebacker Kenneth Edison-McGruder. I think he had the best game against Tulsa, not including the fumble recovery he ran back for a touchdown.
AL: South Alabama has a strong front seven that performed well at Ole Miss. What kind of offensive line will they be facing?
PS: Oklahoma State’s offensive line is a good but not great one. They are improved over a unit last year that gave up over 30 sacks. However, there is a lot of experience on this unit, including Cal graduate transfer Aaron Cochran who is still acclimating to playing at OSU. He played well against Tulsa and is likely to continue to show improvement.
AL: Any worry of a letdown performance for a random Friday night game in Mobile?
PS: There’s always worry. Cowboy fans have seen what can happen on the road in Alabama and on a Friday night. If this were any other year I’d be nervous, but not with this OSU team. There’s too much talent on both sides of the ball. Plus, the only people who are going to slow OSU’s offense down are Mike Gundy and offensive coordinator Mike Yurcich. The final score might be closer than it should because of a couple of late USA scores, but this one should be over early.