In a wild game filled with big plays and turnovers, the Oklahoma State hung on to beat Troy 41-38.
The Cowboys received some great performances and some that should soon be forgotten.
This is how they graded out.
Sometimes statistics can be misleading when assessing a player’s performance. Brandon Weeden’s game on Saturday is the perfect example.
Weeden connected on 29 of 39 passes for 348 yards and two touchdowns. However, he was responsible for four of the team’s five turnovers, including a botched snap in the victory formation that could have been disastrous. As the opponents get tougher, Weeden must emphasize ball security, or the Cowboys could be in trouble.
Cowboy fans had ample reason to be nervous during every moment of Saturday’s game, unless the ball was in Kendall Hunter’s hands. He continued to display All-American form, shredding the Troy defense for big gains on his way to 157 yards and two touchdowns. He also had a kickoff return touchdown that was called back on a penalty. It was just another day at the office for Hunter.
Add Josh Cooper’s name to the list of Cowboys to have early season breakout performances. Cooper was a reliable target on third down all night, continually picking up first downs in crucial spots. He even contributed on special teams, weaving through Troy defenders on his way to a 66-yard punt return.
Justin Blackmon continued his torrid start to the season with another huge game. Weeden and Blackmon have pinpoint timing on the deep ball and fade route, but for this offense to get to the next level, the other receivers must step up and begin producing.
Troy has a very athletic front seven, and it gave the Cowboys offensive line problems. Defensive end Mario Addison was consistently pressuring Weeden and disrupting the rhythm of the offense. They only gave up two sacks, but both resulted in fumbles caused by untouched Trojan rushers.
Center Grant Garner must also take blame for the botched snap with less than a minute to go that would have haunted the Cowboys had they lost.
Facing a dynamic rushing attack that features all kinds of formations, the defensive line did a great job containing the Trojan speed. The return of Jamie Blatnick was a big factor, as he contributed with a sack and a near interception on back-to-back plays.
Although Richetti Jones and Ugo Chinasa were shut out in the sack department, they were essential in stopping the run. More pressure from the defensive ends would have gone a long way in slowing down the Troy offense.
The defense was placed in tough situations throughout the night because of costly turnovers and poor kick coverage. That is when the leadership of Orie Lemon and Justin Gent shone through. Lemon continued to play inspired football, racking up a game-high 13 tackles.
When they needed it the most, these leaders came up with the biggest play of the Cowboys' young season. One play after the botched snap debacle, Gent drilled Troy quarterback Corey Robinson, causing a fumble that was pounced up by Lemon to seal the game.
The Cowboy defensive backs were exposed all night. For two weeks they have been giving up big plays in the passing game, and it is something that must be corrected. They had trouble covering the quick Troy receivers and dropped a few potential interceptions.
However, some young players have shown promise. Freshman Devin Hedgepeth had a breakout performance and caused a fumble near the goal line that saved a touchdown.
With Quinn Sharp routinely booming touchbacks, the kick coverage team got lazy. Troy playmaker Jerrel Jernigan made them pay with a long kick return that briefly swung momentum. They also committed a penalty that negated a touchdown return by Kendall Hunter. However, the return by Cooper and the strong legs of Sharp and kicker Dan Bailey played key roles in the win.
The Cowboys were not well prepared, and it showed on the field with a sloppy game littered with penalties and turnovers. After the game, coach Mike Gundy blamed himself and the rest of his coaching staff for all the penalties.
Offensive coordinator Dana Holgorsen called a brilliant game. He got the ball to Kendall Hunter, found his playmaking receivers, and used misdirection reverses at the exact right times.
As the game stayed tight, Cowboy fans began to fear a repeat of the Houston upset of a season ago. It was not pretty, and the team cannot be satisfied with how they played, but in the end they got the job done. Playing in a close game and winning ugly could be very beneficial for this team down the road.