STILLWATER, Okla. — It’s unfair to try to compare Taylor Cornelius – once a walk-on at Oklahoma State – to his predecessor.
After sitting behind Mason Rudolph, a third-round NFL Draft pick, for the past four years, Cornelius finally got his chance to start Thursday against Missouri State.
There was no way he was going to replace a three-year starter, having barely a game’s worth of experience in garbage time across five games in his career.
But it is fair to compare him to the competition he faced, and that which lies ahead.
And the competition he was playing was less than stellar. An FCS program that hasn’t had a winning record since 2009 – and only 10 winning seasons over the past 32 years.
It was certainly a mixed bag for his first start.
His first two touchdowns – and three of his five – were to wide open targets on somewhat gimmick plays.
The first was a throw back across the field toward wide-open Cowboy Back Sione Finefeuiaki – typically more regarded as a blocker than a catcher – in the flat. He was able to backpedal into the end zone catching the ball.
Tylan Wallace’s TD came with stacked receivers on the right, and the secondary lost track of him when the routes were run.
Cornelius also had several instances of looking like a rookie signal-caller.
The most glaring was an interception on a horribly under-thrown pass into the corner of the end zone after Jalen McCleskey had beat his coverage in the red zone, and another woeful short pass on a deep ball that should have been intercepted by a defender who dropped the easy takeaway.
Cornelius showed flashes of being a contending quarterback, and fortunately for him and the Cowboys, he isn’t going to have to carry the load.
The running backs were already fine-tuned with Justice Hill rushing for 122 yards on 10 carries – including a 92-yard rush – all in the first quarter before making way for J.D. King, who had 52 yards on 8 carries, and LD Brown, who went for 115 on 10 carries and 77-yard touchdown in the fourth.
Even fourth-string tailback Chuba Hubbard busted out with 42 yards on 7 rushes, to go with 3 catches for 65 yards – and a 54-yard catch and run.
With an unimposing opponent like Missouri State, Oklahoma State was at least able to give Cornelius easy reps for his first start. And the same should be the same against South Alabama back in Boone Pickens Stadium next weekend.
But the type of opponent the first two weeks won’t make it clear if Cornelius can create Big 12 Conference contention buzz for the Cowboys. Check back after Boise State.
Elmquist is sports editor for Stillwater News Press, a CNHI News Service publication.