This team had made so many inroads to putting Oklahoma State at the highest level. Unlike past teams that spent a week or two in the BCS top 10, this team literally camped there for almost a month and likely will still be in the BCS top 14 today when it is released.
They had a chance to make a hurdle Saturday night and subsequently a hurdle next Saturday. Now the hurdles are down to a bowl game, which still could be a hurdle for the program if the Orange Bowl thinks Orange can really help fill up Dolphins Stadium.
Give Oklahoma credit, the Sooners came in with a good plan and handled the ups and downs of the night better, and in the end more completely than OKlahoma State did. In football sometimes teams luck out, Oklahoma did not luck out, it won the game.
Here are, in my opinion, the three major reasons why Oklahoma State did not win Saturday night. The first two contributed 99 percent of the reason, and the lone one percent happened earlier this season at Boone Pickens Stadium when Oklahoma State defeated Texas A&M 38-35. Oklahoma ran 107 plays to the Cowboys 66 snaps.
It is the age of Dana Holgorsen, but this Oklahoma State offense runs on balance. In part, the balance is needed to make both sides go. The threat of the run helps the pass and the threat of Brandon Weeden to Justin Blackmon or Josh Cooper or Bo Bowling allows Kendall Hunter to scoot. Another part of it is to maintain some semblance of ball control and keep your defense off the field.
The Cowboys got neither. Oklahoma used a surprise ploy of an odd-man front, looking a little like the old Okie 5-2 defense. The Sooners played straight up with it, blitzed out of it, and zone blitzed out of it. The Cowboys used Jordan Taormina at right tackle and shifted Levy Adcock over the the left, in replacing Nick Martinez with his broken hand that taped could not grip, but struggled to get the continuity they had all season long. The Cowboys averaged 5.3 yards per run but it was not consistent.
They had their best success on the first series of the second half, a touchdown drive near the goal line with Jeremy Smith, by making an adjustment to splits and using the inside zone, and then again when Hunter popped a big gain in the fourth quarter. They had 23 runs for 122 yards and the season average was 37 runs a game for more than 188 yards. That upset the balance and, in my opinion, kept the passing game from being as productive.
Third downs were critical. Oklahoma was an amazing 16-of-27 on third downs, keeping drives and possessions alive all night and keeping the Cowboys defense on the field for an excruciating 107 plays. The Cowboys, somewhat out of balance, were only able to convert 5-of-15 third downs. There average was third-and-six, not a great number.
The only drive, other than interceptions thrown, where the Cowboys did not face a third down was the opening drive of the second half where they ran the ball well with the splits and inside zone adjustment and covered 80 yards in eight plays for the tying touchdown.
That quarter the defense shut out Oklahoma as it was the only quarter where OSU controlled time of possession. They say that is the most overrated stat in football. Sometimes. Maybe.
While the offense struggled converting third downs, the defense really struggled getting off the field. There were a combination of things at work there from the amount of plays OU had the ball to the struggle in getting pressure on the quarterback. The Cowboys mixed it up and got a few key sacks that helped, mainly blitzing on second down as a surprise ploy. The other option was to blitz in more predictable spots and OU had blitz or pressure calls to its slants and quick curls that did the trick. This shows why in recruiting Oklahoma State is pushing to get defensive tackles.
Smart Decisions Late
This goes strictly to Oklahoma and its offensive staff. In the late scoring flurry, Oklahoma never lost the lead but it never faded into an attempt to run out the clock and that was really intelligent on the part of the coaching staff.
Oklahoma State, with it offense flared and with Justin Gilbert's return ability, was still pressing the issue. The Oklahoma State defense tired but on the bit and emotionally infused was coming hard after the run. The Cowboys desperately wanted the ball and field position and were being very aggressively about it.
All it took was a run look, a receiver or tight end showing a block and the defenders were coming hard. The result was the two plays where Cameron Kinney and James Hanna got behind the secondary for the run out touchdowns. Both great calls, well executed, and the clinching factors in the final outcome.
It's an outcome very difficult to swallow but unfortunately it's pretty simple to dissect.