Due to a month of practices held under football quarantine, Oklahoma State's opener against Mississippi State promised to be quite, well, revealing.
And it did not disappoint, with “new look” emerging as a fitting description almost across the board.
The quarterback, the new quarterback — J.W. Walsh — actually went OSU old school in making more plays with his legs than his arm.
The new and seemingly improved defense turned on the aggression, as promised.
The new running back tandem, the new kicking game parts and the many new coaching pieces gave a peek into what to expect.
The one-game review:
What We Learned
Quarterback competition. Or should we call it a controversy? Nah, not unless we're checking in with a certain family member who has his brother's back. Walsh has seized the job — for now — taking over for Clint Chelf and playing well, continuing a storyline that sources say carried out through August practices. It's been a weird, uneven trail to get to this point, complete with Mike Gundy declaring Chelf the starter, then retreating on the claim, before dealing with former starter Wes Lunt's departure and finally making a decisive and quick flip to Walsh just two series into Game 1. Now it's done. And not only is Gundy all in with Walsh, but the Cowboys players and most fans are, too.
Free minds free playmakers. We'd heard plenty about the Cowboys' shift to a more aggressive defensive style. And after a rather conservative feeling-out process early against the Bulldogs, OSU brought it, over and over. But the key complementary element to the added intensity — less thinking.
Seriously. Cowboy defenders talked Saturday about how liberating it was to just play, not read and react, freeing their minds and their instincts. Shamiel Gary may have been the best example, with the once maligned safety making plays everywhere, totaling 10 tackles and breaking up three passes.
Tandem run game. There was reason to believe that Jeremy Smith was ready for his close up. And he shined in the spotlight, running for 102 yards and two touchdowns on 15 carries. Still, there were questions whether Desmond Roland was ready, too, with a No. 2 back so important in OSU's fast-paced attack that demands a two-pronged running game. Roland responded, going for 46 yards on 10 carries, showing power and toughness.
Joe Wickline still rules. The Cowboys' popular offensive line coach keeps spinning bad news and spitting out results. For the second straight year, Wickline lost his starting left tackle before the opener when Devin Davis was lost to season-ending knee surgery. Then we learned that the starting tackles, Parker Graham and Daniel Koenig, were hobbled as well. So Wickline pulled some of his plug-and-play mastery, forming a group that dominated an SEC team at its own game.
Kip is OK. Actually, Kip Smith was better than OK in the opener. On the spot as Quinn Sharp's replacement at punter, Smith averaged 45.2 yards per boot, with a long of 54 yards. Smith also excels at booming high kickoffs, also apparent Saturday.
Chelf life? So has Clint Chelf's feel-good meteoric rise to Choo Choo fame and good football fortune really flamed out just as fast? Don't bet on it. Chances are he'll be needed this season, perhaps again to bail out the Cowboys like he did in 2012. The way Walsh keeps colliding with defenders — the way Zac Robinson did, and it never ended well for him — there's no guarantee he'll remain standing through 13 games. And knowing Chelf, he'll be ready.
Offensive direction. Gundy keeps talking about how the Cowboys are committed to spreading it out and throwing it. And with his current collection of elite receivers, seems like a solid plan. But there wasn't much winging it Saturday. And there's uncertainty, even with Gundy, of where exactly the offense is headed.
Deep defense. Sure, Gary looked like a reborn safety. And Justin Gilbert returned to his intercepting ways and Mississippi State never reached the end zone. Don't declare a shutdown mode just yet. The Bulldogs didn't really pose much of a test through the air, not with their newbie receivers and quarterback Tyler Russell getting hurt. That was no Big 12 offense on the other sideline. Bigger tests await.
Kicking concerns. Smith answered some kicking game questions with his punts and kickoffs. Still more questions remain. Like, is Ben Grogan a weapon? The freshman got just one field goal try, and a 49-yarder at that, but it was low and blocked and nearly returned for a score. MSU's Jameon Lewis also returned a kickoff 66 yards.