Cowboys Football: Down But Not Out

The Oklahoma State-Texas game could have been made into a novel. It is also the kind of game that can end up defining a team or converting a team ... that goes for the winner and the loser. Texas won 41-36 and the Longhorns could use the road win over the Cowboys as a springboard to a huge season. Or, it could just become the highlight win of a less than desired season. We'll know in a few months.

Oklahoma State, now coming off a rare home loss, the first since the end of the 2010 season, could at 2-2 chuck it and finish with an average season. Or the Cowboys could come back with a tremendous resolve to stay engaged in the conference race. There is still a lot of football to be played this season, and there are still decisions to be made and acted on.

Head coach Mike Gundy stood in the middle of his players and assistant coaches in the Oklahoma State dressing room after the game and did not offer up excuses, did not blame officials, did not criticize his coach's calls or preparation, and did not criticize his player's efforts.

Instead, Gundy said he was proud of the way they played, and that the final score and outcome does not always reflect how much the losing team put into the game. The scoreboard is so defining as far as a winner and loser, but not as far as how good a team is or can be.

Gundy acknowledged mistakes and corrections that are needed, but he also said that if players will stay the course that they are a good football team and one that can be very accomplished by the end of the season.

The last play of the game, a wild attempt to pull out the win with J.W. Walsh throwing to Tracy Moore, who pitches to Josh Stewart, who tosses to Joseph Randle, who then gets it back to Walsh and he throws it across the field backwards to Charlie Moore, who then ran it 42 yards.

"It's a play that we've had around here for at least 10 years," Gundy admitted. "We had that back when I was calling plays and Les (Miles) was the head coach.

"It was very well executed, and it is kind of ironic, when we ran the play I had a lot of confidence in it but my concern was we were 70 yards away, and they (Texas) are so fast. It kind of panned out in my mind and you kind of have a deja vu.

"I thought that Charlie is going to get a chance to run this thing, but I was concerned that even if it works they are so fast they are going to cut you off, and that is exactly what happened."

However, the execution of the play which allowed and Moore to be rolling down the sideline in front of the Texas bench and the team giving itself a chance is reason to think this team can pull off a lot of opportunities down the line.

This was not like the Arizona game where the Cowboys looked sloppy. This was a strong effort against a good team that add a couple of minutes and it likely becomes a win.

Walsh relished the opportunity and would have loved to have had any number of extra seconds, not to mention a minute or two.

"That's what football players live for," Walsh said of the big smile he had on his face as he went out for that last possession with 27 seconds left. "It's fun to win big, but the chance to make a late drive to win a game is what is really fun about playing football.

"You just have to keep your composure at the end of the game and you have to fight as long as you have a chance," Walsh added. "Whenever we draw a play up you have to execute it, and it almost worked."

"The last play is an example of what I am trying to impart on the players," Gundy preached. "You are 70 yards away, and it is easy to check it in but they played their tails off and made great effort and laterals and gave us a chance. There is something to be said for that."

There is also something to be said for running back Joseph Randle rushing for 199 yards on 25 carries with Jeremy Smith gutting it out with an ankle injury. A lot can also be said for center Evan Epstein, who played the entire game on a pretty painful ankle.

This team is not perfect, but it is well worth the effort of backing the Cowboys up. They will need that support as home field could make the difference against the likes of Iowa State, TCU, West Virginia, and Texas Tech. On the road, the Cowboys will have to battle with a smaller band.

As for Saturday night's loss to Texas, two other pressing issues to discuss were the final Texas touchdown and the play of the defense overall, especially on third and fourth downs.

As for the winning Texas touchdown, the linesman from the Texas side of the field was the lone official to signal a touchdown. Replays show the ball came loose and the Cowboys Daytawion Lowe came out with it and handed it to the official. Touchdown or not? Fumble and recovery or not?

The play was reviewed and, honestly, as much as I would like to say the call needed to be reversed, I have not seen a replay that conclusively shows me where Texas running back Joe Bergeron was when he fumbled and where Lowe recovered the ball and if it was clean recovery.

I wish there was a more conclusive angle of a replay. However, I do like the way linebacker Alex Elkins and safety Daytawion lowe handled themselves in talking about the play.

"I saw a pulling guard (going away from him) and I hit my opposite A (gap) and he (Bergeron) was coming right at me and I tried to get my head down and pop the ball out and that is what I thought I did," Elkins described.

"They came up with a touchdown, and I am kind of unsure of what happened. I looked over and saw D. Lowe holding the ball calling fumble, and that is what I suspected (happened). They reviewed it and the officials saw differently and the play stood as a Texas touchdown."

"I was right there on the goal line and one of the offensive linemen tried to grab it and I grabbed it and stayed on the ground and then after that I picked it up and took it to the official," Lowe contributed.

"I just saw a massive pile of players and was unsure of what was going on," Gundy said. "I was going to call time out because I didn't think he scored, and then they said he scored and I wasn't going to call time out. When I walking off I couldn't figure out what was going on out there and they said they were going to review a play and that is when D. Lowe came running off and said, ‘Coach', and this is in his opionion, ‘I got the ball.'

"That's the first time I asked the official, ‘What are you reviewing because our guy said he got the ball? They fumbled the ball and he picked it up.' He said, ‘They are reviewing something.' That's when I went down there and they told me they were reviewing if it was a fumble. That was the first and how I heard about it."

"It didn't look like it (was a Texas touchdown) to me, but then I didn't get to get under the hood and look at it," Lowe added to the situation. "It didn't look like it to me. I thought I was on the 1 (yard-line)."

Again, a better angle would have added to the argument that every Oklahoma State coach, player, fan, radio broadcast member, and Fox TV network broadcast crew member seemed to have on the play. Again, not just the fumble or not, but whether Bergeron had the ball and crossed the plane of the goal line was the question.

There was no question about the Oklahoma State defense. The offense made mistakes with a turnover that led to a Texas touchdown and the kickoff unit allowed the 100-yard return by D.J. Monroe that gave Texas a 21-14 lead right after the Cowboys had tied the game.

Oklahoma State held the Longhorns vaunted running attack to 136 yards and a per play net of 3.2 yards. But third-and-medium, third-and-long, and in the second half fourth-down situations were a disaster for the Cowboys.

"You have to win the money downs and I don't think it was a deal with effort," Elkins said of the Texas conversions. "Our defense put out as much effort as we could and they just came up with some big plays on third downs, and the biggest play of all on fourth down. It is what it is and we will learn from our mistakes and that is all we can do."

"It really does grind on you, particularly the fourth-down play," defensive coordinator Bill Young said about the fourth-and-six David Ash to D.J. Grant pass for 29 yards on the final drive. "The offense played well enough to keep us in the game, and if we make that stop, we win."

It's easy to point fingers and look to assign blame but there are reasons, sound reasons, as to why coaches make calls and decisions.

In the first half, the Cowboys went with more pressure and also played more man and even played some (I wouldn't call press, but less) cushion coverage. Other than the zone blitz where Tyler Johnson dropped and came up with the interception, Texas was converting against the more aggressive scheme (6-of-9 third-down conversions) in the first half.

The Cowboys played more cushion in the second half on third-and-medium and third-and-long. Gundy said he was in full agreement with the calls. As for the reasons, there is a lack of qualified depth right now at cornerback, and when Justin Gilbert tweaked his ankle in the third quarter (the series where Shipley beat Kevin Peterson in man on the fade for the 28-20 touchdown) you had a gimpy starter that had to play the rest of the way.

Obviously, the decision was to back off. Oddly enough, Texas was 3-of-8 in the second half on the third down conversions for a game total of 9 of 17. The Longhorns were a perfect 3-of-3 on fourth down conversions -- all in the second half -- so they were 6-of-11 on drive continuing conversions.

It goes against my grain because I want to pressure in the worst way, but pressure was also costly on the longest pass and on the play that set up the score on the final drive. After the fourth-down conversion, Ash hit Mike Davis down to the 5 on a play the Cowboys came with a blitz and played man one in coverage.

I think you have to look at all three components: coaching, players, and play-making ability of the competition. I think you have to understand that in a fairly even game, the coaches felt they made the best decisions and the players played hard.

But missed tackles were costly. In the case of plays like the D.J. Monroe kickoff return for a touchdown, freshman Ashton Lampkin threw his body into Monroe but couldn't or didn't use his arms to wrap up. On the critical fourth-down conversion on the final drive, Ash hit pass-catching tight end D.J. Grant with "star" linebacker Joe Mitchell just a step behind for the first down.

Texas is better and made some plays. If the Cowboys had made a couple of plays, or in some cases even one more play, it's an OSU victory. That is very frustrating for everybody. But as we said in the beginning, the Cowboys can use that feeling to create something positive or add to the negative of the result against Texas.

"They aren't happy," Gundy said of his football team. "They've won a lot of games the last four years, two years and last year. They understand the concept of what's acceptable in our organization, and nobody hangs their head.

"The coaches coached well, prepared well and they are probably like me, (and) they will have to take a sleeping pill tonight, get some rest and come back tomorrow and get back to work. What you had, was you had two good football teams playing tonight and they made the play when the clock was running out and we didn't."

Elkins adds, "I think all this has done is create something inside of us that is going to be hard to be stopped. Our team, we're not accustomed to losing and we don't like the feeling. We are going to do whatever it is we have to do to get this team back on track."

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