Hubbard, Oklahoma State overcome slow start to secure season-opening win over Tulsa

Photo courtesy: Bruce Waterfield

The Canadian Cowboy fell short of sky-high expectations in his season-opening performance on Saturday.

Chuba Hubbard had 27 carries for 93 yards and one touchdown in a 16-7 win over unranked Tulsa. The Alberta native also lost a fumble early-on due to an awkward exchange with quarterback Spencer Sanders.

Things turned from bad to worse for No. 11 Oklahoma State when Sanders suffered a lower-body injury at the end of the first quarter. The redshirt sophomore did not return to the contest, giving way to junior college transfer Ethan Bullock.

Bullock struggled to move the ball through the air, completing eight-of-thirteen attempts for 41 yards and an interception. Lacking the dual-threat ability of Sanders, Bullock forced the Cowboys’ offence to adjust its game plan on the fly.

Tulsa’s defence responded to Oklahoma State’s one-dimensional attack by stuffing the box, stifling the run game. Hubbard struggled to find any running lanes and the Cowboys had just 100 total yards at halftime, trailing 7-3.

Head coach Mike Gundy pulled Bullock late in the third quarter and replaced him with true freshman Shane Illingworth. The four-star recruit quickly orchestrated the Cowboys’ first touchdown drive, ending in a three-yard score from Hubbard.

Tulsa started to open up defensively in the fourth quarter after Illingworth breathed life into the Cowboys’ offence. Hubbard’s longest carry of the day came midway through the fourth quarter, breaking a run for twenty yards.

Hubbard finished eighth in voting for the Heisman Trophy last season after rushing for 2,094 yards and 21 touchdowns on 328 carries. He failed to reach the century mark just once in 2019 when he recorded eight carries for 44 yards against McNeese. His string of 11-straight 100-yard rushing games came to an end against Tulsa.

NFL scouts want to see Hubbard become a more well-rounded running back capable of blocking and receiving out of the backfield. He made two receptions for minus-seven yards on Saturday, though the passing game was disrupted due to the absence of Sanders.

Oklahoma State was favoured by 23.5 points on Saturday in what our own J.C. Abbott identified as the 3DownNation CanCon Game of the Week. Injuries and turnovers prevented the contest from living up to expectations with both offences struggling to move the football.

Oklahoma State (1-0) entered the game as the eleventh-ranked team in America, its highest ranking in three years. They will look to put together a stronger performance next week when they host Canadian defensive back Alonzo Addae and the West Virginia Mountaineers (1-0).

John Hodge is a Canadian football reporter based in Winnipeg.