WACO, Texas (AP) — Oklahoma State running back Justice Hill had a breakout performance with his first 100-yard rushing game two years ago as a freshman playing at Baylor.
He also lost two fumbles, including a crucial one late in the loss.
"We knew he was going to be a good player, but we just had discussions with him about the importance of protecting the ball," coach Mike Gundy said this week. "That could very well be the determining factor in most college games when talent is relatively the same. Since then he's done a nice job taking care of the ball. He took it serious."
There haven't been any fumble issues since and Hill returns to Waco this weekend as one of the Big 12's best running backs. Oklahoma State (5-3, 2-3 Big 12), coming off a big home win over Big 12 leader Texas, plays Saturday at Baylor (4-4, 2-3).
In that 2016 game against the Bears, Hill ran for 122 yards and a score. But his second lost fumble, near the goal line in the fourth quarter, came when Oklahoma State had the chance to take the lead. He ran for 117 yards and a touchdown against Baylor last season.
Now a junior, Hill's 3,385 career rushing yards are sixth among active players nationally and the most for a non-senior playing at a Power Five school. He has 18 career 100-yard games. He is third in the Big 12 this season with 97 yards rushing per game after leading the league last season, when he ran for 1,467 yards (112.8 per game) while playing for the nation's top passing team.
"He's a big-time, big-time, bigtime back. He's a pro-style running back," Baylor coach Matt Rhule said. "He is a complete back. He's dynamic. He's got great vision, he's tough, he's physical, but he also can take it the distance."
With quarterback Charlie Brewer in concussion protocol this week, it appears that graduate transfer Jalan McClendon will get his first college start Saturday for Baylor. He has appeared in seven games this season for Baylor, taking over for Brewer in the second quarter of the Oct. 25 loss at West Virginia.
"I have all of the confidence in the world in Jalan," Rhule said. "He is smart, tough and competitive. His teammates respond to him and he has a big-time arm."
McClendon has competed 42 of 61 passes (68.9 percent) for 542 yards with three touchdowns and one interception for Baylor. He played in 19 games without a start at North Carolina State before transferring this summer.
WHERE MASON STARTED
Before Hill in 2016, Oklahoma State had another big freshman introduction at Waco in 2014 when the Cowboys took the redshirt off highly touted freshman Mason Rudolph. Rudolph lost his first start that day, but went on to become the winningest quarterback in school history. Taylor Cornelius, the former walk-on who backed up Rudolph the past three seasons, has thrown for 2,335 yards with 19 touchdowns and eight interceptions in what will be his only season as the Cowboys starter.
Baylor is playing for the first time since their Oct. 25 game at West Virginia, which jumped out to a 41-0 halftime lead on way to a 59-14 victory.
"We are ready to come back from that disappointing loss and disappointing performance," Rhule said. "They players addressed the game (the day after the game) during a player-only meeting where they watched the tape and tried to get some things corrected."
OUT OF THE CFP
Oklahoma State was one of only five teams — including Alabama, Clemson, Oklahoma and Ohio State — that was in every College Football Playoff ranking from the start of 2015 through the end of last season. The Cowboys had their streak in the top 25 CFP ranking end when the first CFP ranking of this season came out this week.
More AP college football: https://apnews.com/tag/Collegefootball and https://twitter.com/AP_Top25