HOUSTON — OSU got off to a slow start Saturday against Mississippi State, but the Cowboys found their bearings and beat the SEC foe 21-3. The grades reflect the physical nature of OSU's victory.
Full-house backfield: A.
OSU calls the three-back set “Trey,” and it worked wonderfully against Mississippi State. OSU's first TD came out of the formation, on a three-yard run by J.W. Walsh, three plays after his 46-yard run out of the full-house. In all, Walsh ran eight times out of the formation, for 95 yards. Walsh passed four times out of the full-house, completing just a 14-yarder to Jhajuan Seales, but the formation also produced what would have been an easy 19-yard TD pass to Des Roland, except Walsh threw poorly and forced Roland to catch the ball out of bounds.
Short-yardage defense: A.
Four times Mississippi State needed three yards or less on third down. All four times, OSU turned back the Bulldogs. Twice, MSU power-package quarterback Dak Prescott was stuffed at the line of scrimmage. Twice, the Bulldogs tried passing, including a play in which Justin Gilbert made an interception.
Neutral-field concept: D.
The crowd numbered just 35,874, and you can't blame the schools. OSU and Mississippi State accounted for virtually all the patrons, with OSU having maybe a 60-40 edge. The game didn't even warrant a mention in the Saturday Houston Chronicle. And the extracurricular activities didn't scream special: hula-hooping children and an adult dance contest.
Replacing Sharp: B.
In OSU's first game since 2008 without Quinn Sharp's all-American foot, the Cowboys mostly succeeded. Punter Kip Smith was sensational in keeping field position in the Cowboys' favor when they struggled early – he finished with six punts for a 45.2-yard average, and four of his punts pinned MSU inside its 20-yard line. Smith's four kickoffs were solid, with going inside the Bulldog 5-yard line. But kicker Ben Grogan's 49-yard field-goal attempt was blocked, and Mike Gundy later disdained a 48-yard try in favor of trying to convert a 4th-and-8.
Reliant video screens: B.
Reliant Stadium's huge video boards above both end zones provided great pictures. But the operators didn't make good use of them. Every snap was not replayed. Learn something from your friends in Arlington, Houston Texans. Replay every snap.
New coordinators: A.
Both Mike Yurcich and Glenn Spencer had dubious first quarters. In the first 14 minutes, Mississippi State had eight plays that gained double-digit yardage; OSU had zero. But Spencer's defense dominated the rest of the game. And Yurcich's gameplan eventually took hold as Walsh and an expanding run game wore down the Bulldogs.
OSU's runners and receivers produced some big plays, but they also had their shaky moments. Tracy Moore dropped an easy pass on Walsh's first possession, Smith had a fumble that OSU recovered and, worst of all, three of the Cowboys' four major penalties came via perimeter blocking – a block in the back by Seales, tripping by Roland and holding by Josh Stewart.
Pass coverage: A.
Mississippi State completed 17 of 33 passes, and there weren't a ton of Bulldog receivers running free. Part of that was because of the pressure OSU's pass rush provided. And while MSU quarterback Tyler Russell left the game late in the third quarter with concussion-like symptoms, he was just 10 of 16 passing for 133 yards at the time. The Cowboys had two interceptions, both off deflections in good coverage, and came close to two others – Shamiel Gary could have had a pick, and Justin Gilbert should have had another pick to go with the one he grabbed in the second quarter.