Oklahoma State, Tulsa seek improvement after rough openers

STILLWATER, Okla. (AP) — Oklahoma State hosts Tulsa on Saturday in a matchup of teams that competed below expectations in their season openers last week.

Oklahoma State nearly squandered a game in which it was a 38-point favorite, needing some late defensive heroics to escape with a 23-16 victory over Missouri State.

Cowboys coach Mike Gundy focused on the positive, praising his defense that forced Missouri State into turning the ball over on downs twice in the final two minutes, including once from the Oklahoma State 20-yard-line.

“The defense obviously did a great job,” Gundy said. “We put them in terrible situations multiple times, and they continued to make play after play. They faced 83 plays, which is a lot, so they really stood tall.”

Tulsa had enough experience back from last year’s 6-2 squad to enter the season with high expectations, but suffered a 19-17 loss to UC Davis last week. The Golden Hurricane had the advantage in offensive yards, 448-399, but were hindered by three turnovers, including a fumble on the UC Davis 1-yard-line that bounced through the end zone for a touchback in the final minutes.

“We’re a different team,” Tulsa coach Philip Montgomery said. “This is a new year. We have got to find our identity and who we’re going to be this year. We can’t live off of what happened last year. … That being said, one game doesn’t make our season. We just know we got a lot of work to do.”

SANDERS’ STATUS

It isn’t yet clear if Oklahoma State will have starting quarterback Spencer Sanders back, after he missed the opener due to COVID-19 protocols. Backup Shane Illingworth played well in his place, completing 22 of 40 passes for 315 yards and a touchdown, along with an interception.

“We’re hoping that he’ll be back,” Gundy said of Sanders. “I think he’s going to be fine, I just can’t say that because we have a very strenuous introduction back into our team from that, and sometimes they say he’s not ready and sometimes they say he’s ready. That’s not me making that decision.”

FULL STRENGTH

The Golden Hurricane will have six players back in uniform who were suspended by the team for the opener due to their involvement in the brawl at the end of Tulsa’s 28-26 loss to Mississippi State in last year’s Armed Forces Bowl. Three other players were held out of the first half of last week’s game for their actions in the bowl game. Tulsa should have everyone on the field that is healthy this week.

FLAG DAY

Both teams are hoping to cut down on penalties after their openers. Oklahoma State had 10 penalties for 68 yards while Tulsa had 12 flags for 122 yards.

Oklahoma State safety Tre Sterling was ejected for targeting in the fourth quarter, meaning he’ll miss the first half Saturday.

Tulsa was burned by several key flags, none more damaging than the personal foul in the third quarter with the Golden Hurricane leading 17-13 that nullified a 58-yard run by Deneric Prince. Instead of being at the UC Davis 7-yard line, Tulsa ended up punting.

GROUND GAME, PART 1

Oklahoma State gained just 54 yards rushing last week. Starting running back L.D. Brown rushed for 30 yards (and a touchdown) on 15 carries. Brown and backup Dezmon Jackson lost fumbles, forcing the Cowboys to pass a lot more than they initially intended.

Gundy attributed most of the problems to offensive line issues.

“We didn’t run block as well as I would have liked,” he said. “Several times we were one block away from being a lot better in the running game.”

GROUND GAME, PART 2

The Tulsa ground attack was definitely a bright spot last week. Led by Prince’s 151 yards on 14 carries, Tulsa rushed for 247 yards total and had two touchdowns. Shamari Brooks, who is back after missing all of last season with a torn ACL, also gained 80 yards on 10 rushes.

“I thought our running backs played extremely well,” Montgomery said.

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