STILLWATER (AP) – Tyreek Hill entered the season as one of college football’s most anticipated players, being voted the Big 12 Conference’s preseason newcomer of the year.
While Hill has flashed his elite-level speed on occasion and had a huge impact on No. 16 Oklahoma State’s 37-20 victory last weekend over Iowa State with a 97-yard kickoff return for a touchdown, he has not been as productive as expected on offense for the Cowboys (4-1, 2-0 Big 12).
He was dominant against Iowa State on special teams, gaining 194 return yards, including a touchdown on the second half’s opening kickoff that made it 20-6 and transformed a close, tense game into an Oklahoma State rout. He also came close to bringing back two punt returns, finishing the day with 221 all-purpose yards.
Hill is second in the Big 12 and 10th in the nation with an average of 161.4 all-purpose yards per game.
“He’s getting 200 yards in a game, but he needs to get more on offense,” said coach Mike Gundy. “We need to find more ways to get him the ball, but (other teams) can stop him from getting the ball if they want, which most teams are attracted to him when he’s on the field.”
Hill, a transfer from Garden City Community College, has still been productive as the squad’s second running back, earning 196 yards rushing on 38 carries (an average of 5.2 yards per rush). He’s also added 131 yards on 14 receptions, including a 50-yard touchdown on Sept. 25 against Texas Tech.
Hill’s potential was tantalizing, especially after his sprinting helped OSU win its first Big 12 indoor track and field championship last spring. He claimed the conference title in the 200 meters and placed second in the 60. He finished fifth in the 200 at the NCAA national championships.
Expectations elevated further following his explosive debut in Oklahoma State’s season-opening loss to No. 1 Florida State, when he racked up 278 yards, including 44 rushing and 62 receiving.
But, as Gundy noted, his impact on offense has been blunted by opposing teams keying on him defensively – a tactic that has limited Hill’s game-breaking abilities, but also opened up other options for Oklahoma State.
“We’ve tried to get him in space a number of ways, but they’re so zoned into him when he’s on the field, he attracts so much attention, he’s almost better for us lately as a decoy,” Gundy said. “In the second half (against Iowa State), when we put him over there stacked, they moved so many people over there that we just started playing the other side of the field.”
Offensive coordinator Mike Yurcich vowed that if defenses continued to double-team Hill, the Cowboys will just move the ball by other means.
“When they’re going to double-team one guy, somebody’s drawing single coverage,” Yurcich said. “You don’t prefer to throw the ball into double coverage, so you’re looking to go elsewhere with the ball.”
Gundy said that utilizing Hill simply as a decoy, though, was not in the game plan.
“We’ve often thought about that, but we would prefer for him to touch the ball more,” Gundy said.
Hill changed the Iowa State game with his speed, accelerating away from everyone on the field after he broke his last tackle at about the OSU 40 on the kickoff return. Upon crossing the goal line, Hill made a motion as if he was breaking through the finish line tape on the track.
“That was just waiting to happen,” said freshman safety Tre Flowers, a key special teams player. “We know he’s the fastest, so finally people got to see him open up. It’s bound to happen again.”