ARLINGTON, Texas — The hits started coming and didn’t stop coming in front of a sellout crowd at Boone Pickens Stadium in Stillwater.
After finishing the first drive with a touchdown catch, Oklahoma State Cowboys wide receiver Tylan Wallace simply kept making plays against the Texas Longhorns, eventually hauling in 10 catches for 222 yards and two touchdowns, torching every defensive back who got in his way.
It was just one of those nights when everything came together.
“I feel like as a team, just the environment that we were in, it was homecoming, Barry Sanders was there, we had the throwback uniforms,” Wallace told Burnt Orange Nation at Big 12 Media Days. “I feel like as a team we came out with a different type of intensity, so it was just a game that we were all ready for.”
Even before the game, Wallace was salivating about the opportunity — on the Thursday before the road matchup, Texas head coach Tom Herman had confirmed the suspensions of both starting cornerbacks, seniors Kris Boyd and Davante Davis. So Wallace knew that he was going to see a backup during the first quarter.
“That was one thing that we knew that they weren’t going to have their starters out there for at least the first quarter, so we knew we had to take advantage of that, for sure,” Wallace said. “That was one thing we kinda gameplanned for, then we went out there and took advantage.”
It started on the first drive, when Wallace found a soft spot in coverage, creating separation from cornerback Kobe Boyce. Then safety Brandon Jones took a bad angle and Wallace did the rest, making the other safety, Caden Sterns, miss in the open field before dragging Boyce the final few steps into the end zone.
By the end of the first quarter, Wallace had 83 receiving yards on four catches.
Late in the second quarter, Wallace made one of the game’s defining plays. Throughout the contest, Oklahoma State head coach Mike Gundy was extremely aggressive and this particular play was representative. Facing a 4th and 1 from the Texas 36-yard line, Cowboys quarterback Taylor Cornelius dropped back to pass, faking a throw to his left and then looking right to Wallace.
Boyd was in coverage on that play, with Jones ranging over the middle. Both seemingly had a chance to make contest the catch, but Boyd jumped too early and Jones arrived too late. Wallace came down with the ball, then raced the final five yards to the end zone.
“During that whole play, I was going down the field and saw the ball in the air and I was like, ‘Okay, I’m ready to jump.’ Then I saw him jump and I feel like, ‘Oh, he jumped a little early.’ So I timed it right and came down with it.”
The catch showcased one of Wallace’s best attributes — his ability to high-point the football and haul in anything that hits his hands.
“That’s kind of a thing that I personally take pride in,” Wallace said of his ball skills. “Catching those balls. Making sure that those 50/50 balls aren’t 50/50 balls — they’re, like, 75/25 balls.”
On Wednesday, Texas defensive coordinator Todd Orlando went even further than Wallace was willing to go himself.
“If you load up the box and go one-on-one outside with Wallace, I mean, it’s not even a 50/50 ball — it’s like 90/10 to him,” Orlando said. “If you put it in the ballpark, he comes down with it.”
For the Cowboys, it’s a consistent point of emphasis from the coaching staff, so Oklahoma State works hard at developing the ability to win contested balls in the air. The specific emphasis is on hand strength, including catching tennis balls and working on grip strength.
In Stillwater, the Cowboys don’t test the vertical leaps of players, but Wallace did have a 34.1-inch vertical leap in high school that Wallace believes is now around 37 or 38 inches. Of course, as Boyd found out, sometimes it’s not as much about the vertical leap as it is the timing of it all. And there’s no question that Wallace has remarkable timing and the strong hands to ensure that he comes down with anything in his vicinity.
“I’m more of a run-and-jump guy, not just sit there and jump,” Wallace said.
Physically, Wallace isn’t particularly remarkable — he’s listed at 6’0 and 185 pounds by Oklahoma State, with a wingspan that he believes is only slightly better than average. However, Wallace is an All-American and one of the best in the country because he’s not just a guy who wins jump balls in the air. He can do it all.
“He’s as complete of a receiver as we’ll see in terms of his route running ability, separation ability, speed, and then the really cool part is when you watch his game, he’s a ferocious blocker, too, which, for a receiver of his talent is rare to see. We certainly respect that about him,” Texas head coach Tom Herman said on Monday.
On Wednesday, Longhorns defensive coordinator echoed Herman’s sentiments.
“I think he’s probably the most complete receiver in the country,” Orlando said. “He runs every route as hard as he can, even when he doesn’t get the ball. If the ball goes up in the air, he’s going to come down with it. He’s been PI’d like nine times this year in three games. And then he likes to block. So it’s a unique challenge for us.”
Wallace is already off to a fast start this season, with 15 catches for 390 yards and six touchdowns — he’s scoring a touchdown every 2.5 touches. The early production by Wallace backs up his preseason assertion of the biggest area in which he’s improved this season.
“This year I feel like I understand the game more as a player,” Wallace said. “I understand what I’m doing and not just going out there and running my route. I understand the concepts now.”
A humble and dedicated approach to the game has helped Wallace vault into the stratosphere, according to Okahoma State head coach Mike Gundy.
“He doesn’t think he’s any different from anyone else,” Gundy said in August. “He’s in every blocking drill. He dives for balls. I see him doing it in practice, and I look over at coach Dunn and I’m like, ‘Really? Does he really need to run down the field and dive for a ball eight times a day?’
“He just does it. It’s what he does. You can’t get him out. He’s going to play hard, he’s going to be humble, he’s never going to look to himself. If there’s any young people out there looking for a mentor, there’s your mentor.”