Cowboys Finding Ways To Win Close Games

Oklahoma State head coach Mike Gundy did his regular day after the game teleconference Friday with the beat reporters and reviewed the team's 38-35 scintillating win over the Aggies punctuated by a final play 40-yard field goal by kicker Dan Bailey in getting the win.

The kick was set up by a second down interception by freshman linebacker Shaun Lewis off the arm of Aggies quarterback Jerrod Johnson. It was a crazy finish that gave Oklahoma State a 2-0 record this season in close calls (games decided by a touchdown or less).

"There's a considerable difference now in the attitude of these players," said Gundy in really referring to the progress of the program. "The guys that are competing here have been on winning teams. They understand winning. They've found a way to win a couple of games (three-point victories over Troy and Texas A&M), and I think that's important."

"There were times in (the A&M game) that were very emotional, where guys got down just a little bit, but the other players or coaches got them back up and they went out and played well," continued Gundy, who now as a head coach has a 9-8 record in those close call outcomes.

"I think that's very important. As we progress through the season, we're going to play teams that are very good. There will be challenges for us. I think winning a game like last night can benefit you more than winning (in a blowout)."

Three players we spoke with after the game agreed with their head coach.

Linebacker Tolu Moala, thrust into playing most of the game when Justin Gent suffered a head injury on a helmet-to-helmet collision, spent much of Wednesday night awake in the Stillwater Medical Center with his infant daughter. She is okay after suffering a breathing problem, but he was playing on little sleep and a lot of emotion.

Moala spoke of playing for his family. "My team is my family, but then there is my wife, my daughter, and my son," said an emotional Moala. "I play to make all of them proud and that is why I will do anything and play as hard as I can to help the team and make my family proud."

Senior defensive tackle Shane Jarka plays on a big foot and was fresh off minor knee surgery. Gundy will tell you he sacrifices every day to play the game, but Jarka said this win was one of his best memories as a Cowboy.

James Thomas has battled for playing time and sat behind Andre Sexton for the better part of three seasons. He has worked hard to fight off competition like Lewis, the freshman hero with the interception, to be the starter at "star" linebacker. Getting a chance to scoop and score to the tune of 63 yards on the Jerrod Johnson fourth quarter fumble was his moment in the sun.

"I was hoping Darius (Hart) would get it, but then I was glad he didn't," said Thomas. "I picked it up and ran like I was being chased by a dog. I ran hard and I was so blessed by the Lord to make a play like that."

Good things happened to good people and that was the good of the win over Texas A&M.But Gundy was well aware that there are a lot of mistakes and corrections to be made.

The team practice and conditioned Friday afternoon. During the game Gundy said quarterback Brandon Weeden was fine. He had the right attitude in working through problems.

"When I visited with him, his demeanor was fine," said Gundy of Weeden. "He's so low-key. I said, ‘Let's go,' and he said, ‘I'm fine. We're good.' I don't think he felt great. I think he may have been somewhat concerned, but I didn't see any signs that would affect his play in the second half.

"You guys have heard me say this a lot, he's still going to learn on the run. He saw some things in that game that he hadn't seen. (The Aggies) did a good job with different looks and things, and it took a while for him to see it."

Defensively, third downs and fourth downs were a problem. Texas A&M snapped the ball a school-record 106 times because the Aggies were 11-of-21 on third downs and 4-of-5 on fourth-down conversions. A&M additionally was 7-of-12 on third downs of five yards to go or longer.

"The reason it happened was the high percentage (A&M) had on converting third downs," stated Gundy. "How many fourth downs did they convert? Four, right? That's a lot of plays. And offensively, we didn't play with them because we were either three-and-out or, in the second half, we scored really quick on big plays.

"We've got to better at rushing the quarterback," said Gundy. "That's really what it comes down to. When the quarterback sits back there for four seconds, he's got a great chance to have success."

One guy that did rush the quarterback was Ugo Chinasa, who continued his amazing history of being an Aggie killer. Two years ago he picked off a Johnson pass and returned it for a short touchdown. He also recovered a fumble and returned that to also set up a score and OSU won 56-28. Last year he was very active in the Cowboys 36-31 win in College Station.

"I think he played really well," responded Gundy. "It's going to be important that we get a pass rush from Ugo and Jamie (Blatnick) and Richetti (Jones). They are experienced guys. They need to be more effective in distracting the quarterback."

The secondary experienced problems in the form of players dropping out with cramps, a product of the Aggies running 106 plays.

""We either scored really fast or we were three-and-out. We didn't maintain many drives... I noticed there were more (Cowboy defenders) cramping than ever before. After the game, I realized why that was happening," said Gundy,

Gundy confirmed that Gent had a head injury and will be examined again on Monday in context for next Friday at Louisiana-Lafayette. He also explained that safety Victor Johnson has a serious knee injury and is likely done for the season.

"You hate to lose a player," said Gundy. "Victor had really practiced hard and performed for us."

The Cowboys need to improve their kickoff coverage, return game on punts and kickoffs, consistency on offense, especially running the football, and pass coverage on defense. Those are all points of concern.

But they are so much easier to address at 4-0, 1-0 in Big 12, than in any other way.

(The MIke Gundy teleconference was conducted at noon Friday while Robert Allen was on the air on radio. Special thanks to Bill Haisten of The Tulsa World for his help.)

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