Cowboys Should Thank Dana Holgorsen

Dana Holgorsen quit helping Oklahoma State win football games when he left the Alamodome as the Cowboys 2010 Alamo Bowl win over Arizona was wrapping up. Holgorsen had already taken the job as coach-in-waiting at West Virginia, and he left the field with less than a minute to play saying his goodbyes to several players, including quarterback Brandon Weeden and wide receiver Justin Blackmon.

Holgorsen told Weeden that he would be gone before they were back in the locker room knowing there would be a lengthy trophy ceremony and celebration. True to his word, Holgorsen's locker was cleaned out and he was long gone. It was similar to the way that he appeared at OSU; suddenly he was there and then he was gone.

Holgorsen was back in Stillwater on Saturday, and he served a very valuable purpose for the Cowboys. It was most appropriate that Weeden and Blackmon found breaks in their NFL schedule to be at Boone Pickens Stadium to witness his return.

Oklahoma State head coach Mike Gundy has a lot of faith that his players share his feelings about loving the game of football. He feels he and his staff have established a tradition and an atmosphere of playing for the right reasons, and as much as any reason, "playing for the man next to you." It's a Gundy staple.

However, after the loss at Kansas State a week earlier and with the Wildcats way out in front in the Big 12 race, the Cowboys were left playing at this stage in November for the first time since 2007 without a Big 12 Championship or at least a Big 12 South Division title on the line.

It was this same weekend in 2008 that had the Cowboys into playing for the best bowl bid they could obtain. In so many of the previous seasons that was enough at Oklahoma State. Heck, playing for a bowl was better than some 88 seasons of the 110 seasons previously conducted on the Stillwater campus.

But now the bar has been raised, and the Cowboys and their fans have become used to playing for higher stakes and championships.

So Gundy believed his team would come with the same gritty effort and determination that he has been seen the previous 96 games of his head coaching career. There is still that hesitation when the stakes have dropped, and that is where Dana Holgorsen and West Virginia came in.

Holgorsen provided the perfect target for the Cowboys to focus on in their first week following the loss to the Wildcats. Holgorsen was not only back, but in tow on his staff were longtime OSU associate head coach Joe DeForest, running backs coach Robert Gillespie, former OSU graduate assistants Jake Spavital (now a fulltime assistant at WVU) and Jeff Horocks, and former OSU player and now WVU graduate assistant Andrew McGee.

You've heard the old saying that it is more fun to beat your friends than your enemies. Well, this was a little of both.

Holgorsen was an either "love him or not" kind of personality, and that went for players, fellow coaches, and staffers when he was at Okahoma State. He qualified on both counts.

DeForest and the others were in the friend category for sure. DeForest gave a great clue as to the feeling on the other side when he told The Oklahoman after the game that he enjoyed seeing all of his friends back at OSU. But as much fun as it was to greet them, it would have been more fun to beat them.

All of the pregame greetings were cordial, if not in some cases very heartfelt. But when Gundy and Holgorsen chatted for the multitude of cameras it was plenty of "Hollywood." After the game started both coaches were periodically on the field battling the officials and exhorting their players to play hard and finish plays.

"Nothing was said during the week, but you could tell the coaches really wanted this game bad," said Cowboys receiver Josh Stewart, who should receive national praise for his play with 13 receptions for 172 yards and two touchdown catches along with a 46-yard reverse for a score.

"The players too. It was a game where everybody wanted to win really bad," said Stewart. "We wanted it!"

Clint Chelf was a backup to Weeden under Holgorsen as a redshirt freshman, and he completed 14 of 19 passes that season for 213 yards and two touchdowns.

Chelf, no doubt, wanted to show Holgorsen what he was made of. But the West Virginia head coach was just one of thousands that he was wanting to prove something to as he has battled from third-team status into the starting role. Chelf gets a lot of credit and should with 22-of-31 passing for 292 yards and four touchdowns along with a solid block on Stewart's reverse touchdown run.

Cowboys wide receiver Charlie Moore, who was less than excited about being nicknamed "Chuck" on days Holgorsen deemed he practiced well and "Charlie" on days he didn't, was another who wanted to win. You name it, OSU's coaches and players either wanted to win with gusto for the "better to beat your friends" line or for something else to do with past relationships.

You want more examples of added emotion spilling out on the floor of Boone Pickens Stadium, try 11 Oklahoma State penalties for 108 yards. That's not quite the Arizona standard from earlier this season but it is up there, and the Big 12 officials eight personal foul penalties, two by West Virginia and six by the Cowboys.

Gundy wouldn't contest some of those calls but he had several extended conversations with the officials, including one after the end of the first half concerning the tackle out of bounds on the kickoff by Ashton Lampkin, who was called for a personal foul.

Gundy was arguing that Lampkin started his tackle (low, not high near the head) in bounds. A teaching point all week was tackling and not letting up on Mountaineers return man Tavon Austin, who has kind of faked going out of bounds on a couple of returns this season only to cut back off the boundary when a tackler lets up thinking he's going out of bounds.

Both coaches were passionate in their pleas with officials as Holgorsen was seen out around the numbers on several occasions in the game.

The bottom line is this may have been a game between a team that was once projected as a possible Big 12 and even national champion contender and the defending Big 12 champs that just a week ago realized they won't be repeating. But it was played with the fire by two teams that seemed to be playing for much more.

OSU fans can thank Dana Holgorsen, as he came to Stillwater and added some insurance to make sure the Cowboys stayed engaged. With the win and the feeling that comes with it, the Cowboys should now head into their final three games of the regular season with the focus of being the best defending champ they can be. A few less personal fouls the rest of the way would be okay.


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