Bill Haisten: On the big stage at Texas, Mason Rudolph has to be better than before
In advance of a football game, there is the study of personnel, statistics and trends.
And then there is a glance at the forecast: In Austin on Saturday, there is a 50 percent chance of rain before and during the 11 a.m. Oklahoma State-Texas game.
When the turf and football are wet, stats and trends might not mean as much. Team records might not mean as much.
While the Longhorns are 3-3 overall with a freshman quarterback (Sam Ehlinger), the favored and 10th-ranked Cowboys are 5-1 with a senior QB (Mason Rudolph) who has the longest streak of 300-yard passing performances in major-college football.
It’s a cool distinction, but no one cares about statistics if Oklahoma State loses.
Rudolph’s assignment is simple: On the Big 12’s biggest stage — 100,119-seat Darrell K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium — he’s got to play better than he did two years ago in Austin.
During a dry, warm afternoon in 2015, Rudolph committed three turnovers. A fumble and one of his two interceptions were returned for Longhorns touchdowns.
OSU trailed during most of the fourth period, but prevailed 30-27 because of two late field goals and a terrible special-teams mistake by Texas.
Dating to the Alamo Bowl in December, Rudolph totaled no fewer than 303 passing yards in seven consecutive games. With his next touchdown pass, he will tie Brandon Weeden’s career program record of 75.
By a significant margin over Weeden, Rudolph already is OSU’s career leader in passing yards. With only a few more completions, Rudolph’s cushion in that category will have increased to more than 2,000 yards.
During a possibly rainy Big 12 contest Saturday, Rudolph has a chance to be added to the short list of opposing quarterbacks who twice have won on Texas’ home field.
“I obviously didn’t play my best that day (in 2015), so it was a day to forget for me,” Rudolph said. “That’s why I’m excited to get back down there and get that taste out of my mouth in that stadium and do a better job.”
With four consecutive victories over the Longhorns in Austin — in 2010, 2011, 2013 and 2015 — the Oklahoma State program already has achieved an unprecedented feat. No other program ever has recorded more than three consecutive road wins over Texas.
On 28 percent of Rudolph’s completions, Oklahoma State gains at least 20 yards. Ehlinger also has a knack for big-play connections. Expected to make his fifth start of the season, the Longhorns rookie has gotten a gain of at least 20 yards on 22 percent of his completions.
Ehlinger has some nice targets, but he doesn’t have James Washington. OSU’s senior wide receiver has one of the more outlandish stat lines in college football: nearly 900 yards on only 34 catches. He averages 25.9 yards per reception.
If there is significant rain, crazy things can happen on pass plays and punt plays, and even during a typically uneventful quarterback-running back handoff exchange.
A little rain might have only a slight effect on what transpires at Texas. The surface is blanketed with FieldTurf, which typically drains really well. You rarely see players slipping and sliding on wet FieldTurf.
Rudolph has a mostly positive history of playing in wet conditions. He finished with only 11 completions during last year’s Bedlam loss, but there were fewer opportunities than usual because OSU’s play-calling was weirdly conservative.
In his first college start, Rudolph contended both with steady rain and the Baylor Bears in Waco, Texas. He passed for 273 yards and two touchdowns.
A week later, Bedlam 2014 was soggy. Rudolph converted on big passes as OSU stole a victory in Norman.
Torrential rain preceded the kickoff of the 2015 opener at Central Michigan. His numbers were solid in a Cowboy victory.
Rudolph always dwells more on team victories and goals than on personal numbers. What he wants most are a Nov. 4 Bedlam triumph in Stillwater, a Big 12 title and a ticket to the College Football Playoff.
If he jolts Texas with his typical productivity, Rudolph will savor another conquest of the Longhorns and look ahead to the rest of what could be a special senior season.