By Chad Waters
No. 21 Oklahoma State (8-3) survived a late rally from No. 18 Miami (8-3), outlasting the Hurricanes to a 37-34 victory in the Cheez-It Bowl in Orlando on Tuesday night.
The Cowboys never trailed in the game and, as they’ve done in most games this season, were relied on to save the day. This time the defense won the turnover battle 2-0 and stopped the Hurricanes on a crucial fourth down late in the final quarter to seal the Cowboys’ fifth bowl victory in the past seven seasons.
The Pokes came out slinging the ball around, throwing the ball 10-straight times in the opening drive with zero rush attempts. The opening drive was punctuated by a touchdown pass to freshman Brennan Presley. Two more scoring drives, separated by quick stop from the OSU defense, saw the Cowboys build a 21-0 lead in the first quarter.
The biggest story of the day was the play of Presley. The 5-foot-8, 165-pounder entered the game with just one reception on the season but finished with six catches for 118 yards and three touchdowns against the Hurricanes. Presley’s last touchdown grab gave the Cowboys an 11-point lead midway through the fourth quarter, which ended up being the game-winning score. Presley’s impressive performance came in a big spot, too, as OSU star wide receiver Tylan Wallace did not play in the second half due to a pre-determined plan by the coaching staff to keep Wallace protected heading into the NFL Draft process. Mike Gundy also mentioned watching Miami quarterback D’Eriq King go down with an injury in the first half probably playing a role as well. Wallace finished the game with six catches for 45 yards in the first half.
Presley’s excitement should carry over into next season as the Cowboy fanbase hopes he takes the torch as the next big-time receiver to come through Stillwater.
Despite Presley’s electric performance, OSU quarterback Spencer Sanders won the bowl game’s MVP Award. Sanders finished the day 27-of-40 passing for 305 yards and four touchdowns. Sanders played one of his best college games against the Hurricanes, and most notably, didn’t turn the ball over for just the second time all season and for the first time in five games. A huge moment for Sanders, who needs all the momentum he can get heading into the 2021 offseason with a quarterback battle against sophomore Shane Illingworth in the spring.
ONE OF THE BEST
Tylan Wallace ended his Cowboy career as one of the best receivers in program’s deep history of great receivers. Wallace finished 5th all-time in total reception yards (3,429), 5th all-time in receptions (205), and 6th all-time in receiving touchdowns (26). Wallace put up these impressive career numbers despite missing seven games in his final two seasons, not including the four quarters of football he missed this season during games against TCU and Miami. As a sophomore, Wallace recorded 86 receptions for 1,491 yards and 12 touchdowns in his only full season, finishing as a Biletnikoff Award Finalist in 2018.
A PAIR OF COWBOY DEFENDERS ANNOUNCE THEIR RETURN
Senior Malcolm Rodriquez will return for a fifth season, taking advantage of the NCAA not counting this season toward athletes’ eligibility. The linebacker has played in 42 games for OSU where he has recorded 279 tackles, 16 tackles for loss, 4.5 sacks, an interception, two fumble recoveries, and nine forced fumbles. Rodriguez was the Cowboys’ second-leading tackler this season (82 tackles), behind only fellow linebacker Amen Ogbongbemiga. Next season, Rodriguez will return to an inexperienced group of linebackers, barring any returns from fellow senior linebackers Ogbongbemiga, Calvin Bundage, and Devin Harper.
OSU will also get back one of its most productive safeties for next season as Tre Sterling announced his return after Tuesday’s win against Miami. Sterling, a redshirt junior, led the Cowboys defense in tackles for loss (12) and tied for best on the team with two interceptions on the season. Sterling is a ball-hawking safety who played a huge part in stopping the run on the back end for the Cowboy defensive unit, finishing third on the team with 74 tackles this season. He topped off his breakout season in the Cheez-It Bowl with a team-high 13 tackles and 2.5 tackles for loss.
Fellow safety Kolby Harvell-Peel also has a pending decision on his future because he’s also eligible for the NFL Draft. The junior battled injuries throughout the season before entering this year as a potential All-American candidate. Whether he stays, Sterling’s return is a massive boost to the OSU secondary, which will return plenty of experience in 2021.