Mason Rudolph's message to the rest of the Oklahoma State offense was simple. Playing half a country away from home against a Pittsburgh team that took the Cowboys to the wire a year ago, Rudolph didn't want to leave anything to chance in the rematch.
"We wanted to come out and blow the top off this thing," Rudolph said.
Done. And then some.
Rudolph gave his Heisman Trophy campaign an eye-popping kick start by throwing five touchdown passes during an immaculate first half to help No. 9 Oklahoma State rout the Panthers 59-21 on Saturday.
The Cowboys (3-0) reached the end zone on each of their first seven possessions, piling up 516 yards in the process, a school record for most yards in one half.
"I didn't even pay attention to it," Rudolph said. "I knew we scored a lot."
Rudolph finished 23 of 32 for 497 yards before being pulled in the middle of the third quarter with Oklahoma State up by 42. He did throw his first interception of the season, ending a streak of 216 passes without a pick dating to November. He had 423 yards passing in the first half to break his own school record.
"Mason is a workaholic," Cowboys coach Mike Gundy said. "He prides himself on being the Peyton Manning, the Tom Brady of college football. He prides himself on it and he backs it up."
Rudolph lit up Pitt for 540 yards passing in a tense 45-38 victory in Stillwater last September. A year later, the Panthers were no better at keeping Rudolph in check.
Jalen McCleskey caught seven passes for 162 yards and three touchdowns. James Washington added 124 yards receiving. Marcell Ateman (109) and Dillon Stoner (100) also reached the 100-yard receiving mark, the first time in 12 years a team has had four 100-yard receivers in a game. The Cowboys did it despite missing LSU transfer Tyron Johnson, suspended for the game for a violation of team rules.
As they did last season, Pitt played a significant amount of man coverage, though they did occasionally bring another body to keep tabs on Washington, who had 296 yards receiving last season. All it did was create matchup issues in other places.
"Pretty much everything we wanted was open ... especially Jalen," Rudolph said. "He just had the middle of the field on lock down."
The Panthers did attempt to bring pressure at times, but Rudolph expertly extended plays. He broke away from a potential sack in the first quarter and heaved the ball downfield to Ateman, who sidestepped a defender for a 69-yard touchdown strike to put the Cowboys up three touchdowns before the game was 12 minutes old.
It never got any better for Pitt.
"That's about the worst day you can have at the office," Panthers coach Pat Narduzzi said.
Narduzzi tried to avoid a quarterback controversy after last week's loss to Penn State by sticking with struggling graduate transfer quarterback Max Browne instead of sophomore Ben DiNucci.
Narduzzi likely can't avoid it any longer. Browne was pulled in the second quarter after completing 7 of 10 passes for 60 yards. DiNucci guided the Panthers to touchdowns on his first two drives but fizzled in the second half, completing 13 of 25 passes for 228 yards with a touchdown and two picks.
"We have a decision to make," Narduzzi said.
While allowing there are great players all over the country, including Louisville's Lamar Jackson and Southern California's Sam Darnold, Gundy is OK with throwing his quarterback into the Heisman conversation.
"I like our guy," Gundy said. "I like where he's at. I like what he does for Oklahoma State football."
Asked if he considers Rudolph a Heisman candidate, running back Justice Hill just nodded.
"For sure," Hill said. "Top. Top."
The Cowboys have outscored opponents 59-0 in the first quarter this season. Justin Phillips' 10-yard interception return early in the second half gave Oklahoma State defensive scores in each of the first three games.
Oklahoma State's 49 points in the first half were the most given up by Pitt since it allowed 52 in a 72-0 loss to Ohio State in 1996.
Oklahoma State: The Cowboys can take their hyper-tempo offense anywhere and opponents have far more to fear than Mason-to-Washington. By the time Washington caught his first pass, a seven-yard hookup midway through the second quarter, Oklahoma State was already up five touchdowns.
Pitt: Any headway the defense made in a respectable performance a week ago against the Nittany Lions vanished in the span of a quarter. The Panthers played man coverage on the outside in hopes of bringing pressure on Rudolph, a plan that misfired badly a year ago and was no better at home. Pitt will get suspended safety Jordan Whitehead back next week.
Pitt: Begins Atlantic Coast Conference play at Georgia Tech next Saturday. The teams have split four meetings since the Panthers joined the ACC in 2012.
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