STILLWATER, Okla. (AP) After a dominant outing by quarterback Mason Rudolph in Oklahoma State's dramatic win over Pittsburgh, it's clear his play will be key to the Cowboys' success this season.
Rudolph is coming off a game in which he threw for a school-record 540 yards, hitting on nine passes of 20-plus yards, in a 45-38 victory on Saturday.
Now, as Oklahoma State (2-1) opens its Big 12 conference schedule next week at No. 16 Baylor (3-0) - the site of Rudolph's first collegiate start in Nov. 2013 - the junior will once again be the center of attention for the Cowboys' offense.
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''He had a great game for us last Saturday,'' Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy said. ''Oklahoma State, traditionally, goes as their quarterback goes. He plays pretty good, we usually do pretty well, and if they play average, then we're usually pretty average. So it really hasn't changed. Most teams are that way. But he's matured and understands. I thought he missed three, maybe four, throws last week, but overall, his reads and where he was at with the football, were pretty high percentage.''
Rudolph's ability to connect on the deep ball was crucial to the Cowboys' victory over Pittsburgh, as he had five passes of 35 or more, with two additional long passes causing pass interference penalties. That includes the 91-yard touchdown pass to James Washington on the game's first play from scrimmage and the 86-yard pass to Jhajuan Seales that set up the game-winning touchdown with 1:28 remaining.
''I think when you've got weapons like James and Seales and (Chris) Lacy and (Austin) Hays, it's fun to go to work every day at practice and get those practice reps in and get comfortable with those certain routes,'' said the 6-5, 235-pound Rudolph, who now ranks seventh in the nation with 1,017 passing yards. ''That's what we did all week and that's what we've done as long as I've been here. We've prided ourselves on being able to blow the top off of the offense and be accurate down the field.''
Just as Rudolph was quick to praise his receivers for being able to come down with the ball in those 1-on-1 situations, OSU offensive coordinator Mike Yurcich took it a step further, detailing all the factors that go into a successful long pass.
''You can't throw deep balls against soft coverage,'' Yurcich pointed out. ''So you have to take what the defense is giving you. Secondly, you need good pass protection, third you need fast (receivers), and fourth, you need guys that can catch it. If you have all those things, then you have deep balls. It's everything.''
But it all starts with Rudolph being able to make the throw. He has demonstrated significant growth since the last time he stepped onto the field at McLane Stadium in Waco, Texas, developing from a nervous freshman into a respected team leader. Since then, he is 14-4 as a starter.
''Mason's growth has been pretty consistent,'' Yurcich said. ''There's not really one area where he had to dramatically improve, he was a pretty well-rounded quarterback when he got here. He's a mature guy, has a lot of confidence in himself. I think his poise and his demeanor set himself up to be a successful quarterback, because he doesn't get too high and he doesn't get too low. He stays somewhere in the middle, and I think that's where the key to his success has been.''
Specifically, Yurcich noted several subtle areas of improvement for Rudolph, pointing out how his summer camp stint with former Oklahoma State quarterback Zac Robinson helped his fundamentals, among other things. Mostly, though, he noted Rudolph's overall desire to be better.
''He's really done a great job improving himself from a physical standpoint,'' Yurcich said. ''He knows there's still room to improve, so he's never going to think he's arrived, there's always a way to get better. He's better in the film room, he's better at recognizing defenses, so overall, he's gotten better from just about every angle.
''He's done a hell of a job and deserves a lot of credit for that, because a lot of that stuff is outside of the time that we have him - it's in the summer, it's in the offseason, it's on his own. Any quarterback that wants to be great has that in him, and that's great to see. He's a great example and a great leader for everybody else to follow.''