"Things are so cyclical that it is hard to stay at the elite level of football whether it is offense, defense, or special teams," Washington head coach Chris Petersen said earlier in the week of the Oklahoma State coaching staff. "I know when I watch them the firepower that they do have and they do execute at a high level.
"They can move the ball with the best of them and when they go fast they are tough to defend. We knew that when they are doing really, really well (on offense and defense) they are hard to stop. There was a lot of offense there and they are game planners."
One of the things the Cowboys offensive staff thought would make things just right was tempo. We've all seen Oklahoma State go fast. A season ago in the 56-35 win over UTSA in San Antonio the Cowboys on several series went at break-neck speed and as fast as an Oklahoma State offense has ever operated in a real game. We clocked it as fast as 15 seconds between plays on one second quarter scoring drive.
The Cowboys weren't that fast in the win over Washington, but in the first half radio play-by-play voice Dave Hunziker was never out of breath like when he is in basketball mode. But analyst John Holcomb and yours truly weren't getting any talking chances in between OSU offensive plays.
I knew the Cowboys would be going faster as they had worked on tempo throughout the bowl practices. Offensive coordinator Mike Yurcich, who seemingly always went fast in his stint calling plays at Shippensburg State, has been slowed down intentionally in Stillwater.
The Cowboys have flashed tempo but the situations and opponents, especially the high-tempo, high-scoring teams in the Big 12 such as TCU, West Virginia, Baylor, and Oklahoma this season called for a more methodical pace. Then when the Cowboys broke the redshirt on freshman quarterback Mason Rudolph both Yurcich and head coach Mike Gundy agreed that going to the extreme of huddling on offense would help Rudolph and potentially slow the game down against Baylor and Oklahoma.
You have to say it worked on both counts. Rudolph, instead of having a negative start to his career in two tough games, had a bright beginning and while making a few mistakes inspired his teammates and Oklahoma State fans into believing he was a big part of a bright future.
The truth be known, at Rock Hill Northwestern High School where Rudolph led the Trojans to a 15-0 season and threw for 4,377 yards with 64 touchdown passes and just eight interceptions as a senior, he was more then used to going fast on offense. It is the strong belief of Northwestern coach Kyle Richardson to go fast.
Yurcich thought it was time to take the governor off the engine and let Rudolph operate in full speed. You could see either in person or on television that the young quarterback had no problem doing just that. He was more than in control with his checks and in going 17-of-26 passing for 299 yards with two touchdowns and just one interception.
Like "coach on the field" J.W. Walsh did in the first game, Rudolph is also going to be equipped to call his own protections just like the big boy quarterbacks do in the NFL. It takes the pressure off of young centers like the Cowboys Brad Lundblade and Paul Lewis.
"I thought the coaches were terrific and that we had a good game plan in all three phases, offense, defense, and special teams," Gundy said following the game. "We didn't throw as much in the second half and our offensive line got better with their pass rush.
"We were ahead 24 (at half) and you start thinking it's a number games and if we get a couple of stops on defense and take care of the football on offense it is going to be hard for them to win. The flip side of that is people say, 'why do you slow down?' If you watched the bowl games over the last few days and if you aren't smart with the clock then you can be way ahead and still lose."
The Cowboys coaching staff at halftime had just a couple of adjustments. As Gundy alluded to, on offense the only discussion was not on anymore trick plays where Rudolph would get a throwback or Castleman would be the ball carrier. The discussion was on how to adjust and execute just one run play that would become a staple in the second half as Yurcich and Gundy had discussed with the offensive staff that leaning on the run and evaporating the clock would be crucial.
At halftime the Cowboys had snapped the ball 44 times with 26 running plays and 18 passes. They were on pace for a near 90-play offensive effort. In the second half the Cowboys ran the ball 23 times and threw it only 9 times. They possessed the ball less than they did in the first half, but they still had it for 16:03 of the second half and won the game.
"We didn't have that many plays going into the game," Yurcich said. "Our players could have been bored sometimes in practice because we just kept going over plays again and again. They weren't (bored) and we had really good practices. They prepared really well."
The Cowboys rushed the ball for 79 yards in the second half versus 73 in the first. Not much of a difference, but those yards were harder to come by in the second half as Washington knew the Cowboys would run it more and they got a lot of that same play but they made it work.
"We had a lot of fun and we actually had about three more plays that we couldn't get them called," Gundy said afterwards in the dressing room of the more creative part of the game plan.
However, like Gundy had said earlier going fast and going crazy was just the recipe that cost a number of other teams bowl wins, including Big 12 champion in Baylor. Knowing when to get conservative and run the ball and burn the clock is as much a part of coaching as coming up with plays where defensive tackles catch passes and rumble 48 yards.
"The one thing that jumps out at you is that these are good coaches," Petersen added. "They obviously know what they are doing."