A disclaimer before we begin: Missouri State is an FCS team coming off a 3-8 season, and South Alabama ranked 114th in passing defense a year ago. Good passing offenses will thrive against both opponents.
Still, Taylor Cornelius’ 728 yards passing through two weeks are impressive. They’re impressive because no player in OSU history has thrown for that many in his first two career starts.
Game 2, Saturday’s 55-13 win over South Alabama, was progress from Game 1. Cornelius threw two interceptions and only found the end zone once, but his decisiveness and confidence in himself grew. With the same amount of completions and five more attempts, he managed to raise his yards per attempt from 8.6 to 10.7.
“You’re so much better after you’ve played 500 plays in live action than you are just from going through practice,” coach Mike Gundy said Monday.
Four quarters against Boise State will tell us more about Cornelius and the type of season he’s going to have. But watching the 75 passes the fifth-year senior has tossed so far can reveal some things, too.
Some of what we learned:
There’s a reason to look lateral
With eight receptions through two games, Oklahoma State’s running backs are averaging nearly a full catch more per game than they did last season.
Checking down might not be ideal, but it can still be effective for this OSU team. On passes completed behind the line of scrimmage, Cornelius is 13-of-14 for 151 yards and a touchdown — the 54-yard scamper by Chuba Hubbard in the win over Missouri State.
Five of the 13 completions have resulted in plays of 10 or more yards. In addition to the running backs, Landon Wolf has begun to emerge as an option in the short passing game.
Effective on the move
The majority of Cornelius’ work so far has come from the pocket — not a surprise, given that Gundy and the staff said they wouldn’t have to change much for the senior to take over the offense.
When offensive coordinator Mike Yurcich gets Cornelius moving, though, he has proven to be effective.
We counted 12 throws in which Cornelius was rolling to the right or left — sometimes by design, other times because of pressure. He is 8-of-12 for 178 yards, a touchdown and an interception.
Two designed rollouts led to big plays against South Alabama. On the first, he moved to the right and hit Tyron Johnson streaking laterally across the field for a catch-and-run play of 60 yards. Later, the same combination hit for 32.
“If he stays active with his legs, it could present a problem for defenses,” Gundy said. “His ability to run and get 4, 5, 6 yards and avoid the sack. Then his arm is strong enough to throw the ball down the field. So we think that’s an advantage for us.”
More aggressive with experience
While some of the result was an effect of the style of defense, Cornelius was clearly more willing to push the ball downfield against South Alabama.
Of 35 pass attempts against Missouri State, 11 traveled 10-plus yards beyond the line of scrimmage. Five went 20-plus.
Of 40 attempts against South Alabama, 23 traveled 10-plus. Eleven went 20-plus.
He was 15-of-23 for 351 yards on those attempts of 10-plus yards Saturday, an improvement on the 4-of-11 (for 79) he delivered against Missouri State.
Can he use that aggressiveness to solve Boise State? In wins over Troy and Connecticut, the Broncos have allowed just four passes longer than 20 yards and two longer than 30.
Deep ball a work in progress
Though Cornelius was more aggressive, he’s still trying to hit his stride throwing the ball long.
Over two games, Cornelius is 6-of-16 on passes of 20-plus yards for 165 yards, with two touchdowns and an interception. The two touchdowns came in the first game — a 21-yard throw to an open Tylan Wallace and a 29-yarder to Jalen McCleskey.
Against South Alabama, he connected a couple times, including a 25-yard toss to Johnson on a fourth-and-6 early in the game. But it’s the area where he probably needs to be more consistent.
“He has been here so long, and he wants to play as good of a game as he can, mentally,” Gundy said. “We run 80 plays a game. We play fast. Lots on the quarterback. There’s going to be mistakes. He has a high level of really quiet confidence in my opinion. And I think we saw more of that in the last game in that he didn’t toss the ball. He threw the ball. I think each game he’ll get a little better.”