By Brad Locke
HOUSTON – Oklahoma State’s offense did not show up in its usual high-powered form on Saturday. Mississippi State’s barely showed up at all.
The No. 13-ranked Cowboys started slowly but eventually found a rhythm by turning to the run game. Led by sophomore quarterback J.W. Walsh, who came off the bench, Oklahoma State broke open a close game in the second half for a 21-3 win at Reliant Stadium in the season opener.
OSU gained 286 of its 432 yards on the ground, with Walsh running for 125 and a touchdown. Tailback Jeremy Smith added 102 yards and two touchdowns, as coach Mike Gundy turned to a heavy dose of the zone read run game after the offense stalled early under starting QB Clint Chelf.
“I don’t think we did a great job adjusting to it fast enough and gave up a couple of big plays,” said MSU head coach Dan Mullen, who’s now 4-1 in season openers and 2-17 against ranked foes. “You get into a game, and they were slow, and all of a sudden got a little spark, got a little juice, and you stick with the hot hand.”
Oklahoma State took a 21-3 lead early in the fourth quarter on Smith’s 20-yard touchdown run, his second score of the day. The run game was there for OSU all second half, when it gained 270 total yards, 170 of it rushing.
The Cowboys were also clutch on third downs, converting 8 of 14 chances. MSU was 2 of 16.
After months of Gundy staying mum on who would start for him at quarterback, he went with the senior, Chelf. He lasted two series, and then it was all Walsh.
Gundy stuck with what was working.
“First game of the year, an unorthodox blocking scheme and set, and in my opinion it was obvious that they struggled with it and that we needed to keep running it,” Gundy said.
MSU lost quarterback Tyler Russell late in the third quarter when he took a knee to the helmet. He completed 10 of 16 passes for 133 yards and an interception.
The Bulldogs gained 333 total yards, including just 141 after halftime. Tailback LaDarius Perkins had 50 yards rushing and 52 receiving.
The three points was MSU’s lowest output since a 31-3 loss to Alabama in 2009.
“We’d get close, but we’d never break anything. You’ve got to break some plays, score some touchdowns,” offensive coordinator Les Koenning said.
MSU controlled the clock in the first half by a better than 2-1 margin, but it trailed 7-3 at halftime. The Cowboys, who punted five times in the first half, finally found some life when Walsh entered.
He peeled off a 46-yard run to get OSU into MSU territory for the first time all game, then two plays later he walked in from 3 yards with 2:16 left in the half.
The Cowboys carried that offensive momentum into the second half, going 75 yards on 11 plays to take a 14-3 lead. The drive featured a good run-pass mix and was capped by Smith’s 1-yard scoring run for a 14-3 edge.