Predictions of records like 4-8, 5-7, and 6-6 were prevalent. I guess the 5-7 and 6-6 could still happen, but I'll take bets here on both of them. I understood because all these writers, broadcasters and the sort knew were the Cowboys had the least number of returning starters, returning lettermen, and were saying good-bye to Russell Okung, Zac Robinson, Dez Bryant, Perrish Cox, and so many steady performers like Andre Sexton on defense.
I understand some people just have to gripe but it seems like there are more posters calling for changes because kickoff coverage is struggling. The trouble occurs when Quinn Sharp can't kick it out of the end zone or where it is deemed not returnable. No denying. After losing Bryant and Cox, returns have not been as scintillating, but that is coming around and the punt unit and PAT/field goal crews are brilliant. I think the special teams coach will keep his job. He's done a pretty good job over the years.
The defense is giving up a lot of points, 29.2 per game to be exact and that is 87th in the nation. The Cowboys have a very young secondary with four freshmen backing up on the two deep and two veteran safeties (Victor Johnson and Daytawion Lowe) out for the season. The defense is 118th in pass defense. The second half of the Louisiana game may have been a major growth spurt for that part of the defense.
"The defense didn't do a very good job in the first half," said Gundy in Sunday evening's teleconference after reviewing the video. "They didn't do a very good job of pressuring the quarterback, but they did a better job of that in the second half and they came up with turnovers and found a way to win."
The group up front was playing without Shane Jarka at tackle and he makes a huge difference as he is the best at getting off blocks inside and creating push to help generate pass rush. The defense also played without starter Justin Gent at linebacker. So that was, add them up, three starters out from the A&M game to Louisiana.
Jarka and Gent should be back for Texas Tech on Saturday. Excuses, OK. However, this defense is defending more snaps, in some cases because of the offensive style and in other cases because they haven't got off the field on third downs. That has been a struggle that they need to improve on. In the second half at Louisiana they did.
There are a lot of teams this year, good teams and bad teams, that have lost to lower Division I teams and FCS teams. Nobody will deny that Oklahoma State struggled in the first half, trailing 21-17 at halftime, but kept their MO of having a strong third quarter and went a perfect five-for-five this season on scoring touchdowns on the first drive of the second half.
I've seen what goes on at halftime and the Oklahoma State staff is nothing short of brilliant in making good adjustments at halftime. The players are outstanding at paying attention and going out and executing those changes.
"You have to play better throughout the game," said Gundy, acknowledging that those third quarter takeovers are rewarding for coaches. "There has to be some balance and you have to play a four quarter game.
"In the first half we have played a good first quarter or a good second quarter but not a great first half (except Tulsa). We have made some mistakes and not taken advantage of other team's mistakes. We have to get to where this is balance throughout the game."
The bottom line is that with a team that was rebuilding, changing offensive coordinators and it personality on offense, breaking in a mature but inexperienced quarterback, playing more freshmen than any season in recent memory, this team is 5-0.
Some will say they expected them to be at 5-0. I did, but I will admit that I didn't expect it in quite the fashion it has come with three huge blowouts and ranked in the top two or three in the nation in a number of offensive categories including averaging 52.6 points, 526.2 total yards, and 362 yards passing per game.
The defense has regressed in some numbers but part of that is playing along with a defense that at times can be dysfunctional. Successful, but dysfunctional.
It is a team game and Oklahoma State is finding ways to win. They understand that better competition is coming and they must get better, even in the areas where they are really good. Gundy understands that in this day and age wins are valuable and never guaranteed.
"I've said this the last four years," started Gundy. "There is more parity than ever before in college football. There are a lot of teams that can score points fast. If you don't come out and play well you can be vulnerable almost every week. You have to work hard and prepare your players to play well each week and then hope you get your share of the breaks. There are more teams than ever before out there that can win football games."
Just ask Alabama, Michigan, Arizona, Texas, USC, if you don't believe it. Sure, they all played good competition, but Virginia Tech lost to James Madison and Mississippi lost to Jacksonville State. These things happen.
I'm going to guarantee you that this team will lose a game this season, probably several of them. I'm also going to predict that they won't do it without a fight. This team is still a work in progress, but it is a team that never cheats itself, each other, their coaches, and you the fans, the ticket-buying public, and the TV networks.
Emerging stars like wide receiver Justin Blackmon, quarterback Brandon Weeden, safety Markelle Martin, kicker Dan Bailey, freshman running back Joseph Randle, along with older stalwarts like linebacker Orie Lemon, running back Kendall Hunter, and defensive tackles Jarka and Chris Donaldson, along with a ton of other young players willing to go out every day and work hard to improve and they do it with smiles on their faces. This team likes practice more than any other that we've seen in awhile.
My message, enjoy the Cowboys. I'm not telling you what to do. It is a free country but while I see the warts I am so much enjoying the attributes and the success stories being written five games into the season. I guess that is my nature. I just know I am having a heckuva lot of fun so far in the 2010 football season.
By the way, looking for an All-American, the Cowboys have some candidates on this team that didn't get the preseason publicity. One has to be kicker Dan Bailey, who had the game-winning, 40-yard field goal on the last play against Texas A&M and two 52-yard field goals along with two others at Louisiana. He is now 11-of-11 on field goals overall, and 32-of-32 on PATs this season.
"At this stage of the season with all that he has done I would think he would have to be on your list (for All-American)," said Gundy.
How about that, an All-American kicker. This really is a good season. I'm ready to head to Lubbock, but can't rush things as this team gets tonight (Sunday) and three more days this week to practice and get better.