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Sunday Review: Turnovers Were The Difference

The Oklahoma State defense forced three turnovers and the Cowboys offense played efficiently – not turning the ball over a single time – in the upset of No. 10 West Virginia.

If you had chosen to isolate your eyes and watch just one person in Boone Pickens Stadium on Homecoming Saturday and you wanted to get a really good feel for what was going on in the game between the Cowboys and unbeaten and top-10 ranked West Virginia then Oklahoma State head coach Mike Gundy was not your guy.

Sure, it was Gundy that got a Gatorade bath late and a huge hug from his oldest son Gavin, but Gundy was his usual primarily poker-faced self during the game – a 37-20 Oklahoma State victory that became the 100th win in his head coaching career, all at his alma mater. It was the former Gundy offensive coordinator and WVU head coach Dana Holgorsen that would have revealed so much more in an isolated monitor.

Holgorsen was gyrating and scowling, sometimes laughing, and often times screaming. In the end there was a lot more frustration on the face of the Mountaineers coach that doesn't really hide his emotions. A lot of frustration having to do with one aspect of the game, turnovers. It truly was the main story.

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"Well, this one is pretty simple," Holgorsen started after the game. "Two pretty evenly matched teams. They made three plays that flat out affected the game. It's as simple as that. They forced three turnovers. They took all three of them down into the red zone. Basically gave them 17 points and we lose by 17 points. That's the difference in the game. They're as good as anybody in the country at converting on turnovers. Congratulations to Coach Gundy on his 100th win. He's doing a great job with this program. You guys see this place. It's spectacular. They've got good players and coaches. They were better than us today."

The first turnover was one of those plays where the quarterback, always feeling the pressure to make something good happen, probably should have gone down or thrown the ball away as soon as Vincent Taylor got the first hand on him. Skylar Howard tried hard and the result was a fumble and a scoop recovery by defense end Cole Walterscheid at the Mountaineers 8-yard line.
"I was trying to get him down, so I didn't know how loose the ball was," Taylor said. "I could hear the crowd when it came loose."

Cowboys quarterback Mason Rudolph, just as Holgorsen said, made the Mountaineers pay finding the one-on-one coverage on wide receiver Chris Lacy for the short touchdown pass.

"His plays were huge, I call them money plays," offensive coordinator Mike Yurcich said of Lacy's first of two touchdown catches. "I'm a big fan of that kid and he came through big time today." 

The next turnover was a make good play as Cowboys part-time corner and part-time nickel back and safety Ramon Richards had an interception opportunity in the first quarter that he flat out dropped. His second chance, a well-timed make good came in the third quarter and allowed Oklahoma State to put real scoreboard pressure on the 6-0 West Virginia squad. 

Richards caught the deflection that should have been caught by White and then went on a cross Boone Pickens trip that took him a few feet from the WVU sidelines and then all the way back across and winding up down at the 9-yard line in the southwest corner of the stadium.

"Well, I dropped my first one so I just kept thinking, it has to come back to me, and it came back," Richards said after the game saying he knew he could pitch the ball after the coaches got miffed last week and he selfishly was excited to run with the ball the most he has had a chance since quarterbacking in high school in the San Antionio area at Brackenridge. "When I got the ball, I thought about high school. I played quarterback so I thought to myself, I have to score. I feel great. Coach Spencer and coach Duffy set us up for greatness and success. We just do what we're coached to do." 

The third interception was the one that sealed the day as an injury to starting "star" linebacker Jordan Burton had Kevin Henry getting more playing time and freshman Calvin Bundage playing a lot. Henry was in late in the fourth quarter and had the call to drop deep (linebacker responsibility) in Tampa coverage and he was right there to pick off another Howard pass and return it to the Mountaineers 10-yard line. It led to the final points, the third Ben Grogan field goal of the day. 

"What they've done is they've practiced, with fumble recoveries and interceptions, blocking in front of the returner, not away from the play, because that's an automatic 15-yard penalty even if it's legal, and not blocking below the waist. The time that we've put into it and the players' ability to focus and absorb that information has paid great dividends for us, and today was a good example," Gundy said of the return on the plays, which added up to 90 yards.

"You guys have watched a lot of football at this level. Most interceptions or fumble recoveries where a player runs down one sideline for 40 yards, cuts all the way back across the field and goes down the sideline for another 30, you're gonna get a flag. I told them that the work that they've put in and the understanding of what we can and can't do made a huge difference today. We started on the nine-yard line, when in most cases you get an illegal block in the back and start on your own 30. It's been really important that our coaches coach it and our players understand it and are able to execute it."

The other major aspect of the win on the Cowboys side was the way the offense took advantage of what the West Virginia defense and Mountaineers outstanding defensive coordinator Tony Gibson was willing to allow.

The Cowboys worked in the spring on WVU. Rudolph watched extra video in the off-season and the summer. He had an obsession with this game, so did Yurcich and so did Gundy. They worked on WVU 15 minutes a day in fall camp and spent many hours studying extra this week, sometimes together. Gundy agreed that it helped.

"I think so. We don't talk a lot about that in detail, but I kind of watched from a distance and I agree with that," said the Cowboys head coach. "I think it instigated both sides of the ball. The last three times we've played them, we've had one good game plan offensively. We just weren't good enough to execute it. The other two times, we've won games, but our game plan wasn't that good. We forced turnovers and we were better on special teams.

"Our offensive staff and our players took it personally, and our defense did exactly what (it needed to do). That's not something I talk about directly, but I do see it from afar."

No excuses from the West Virginia side.

"I think we played with effort, we just couldn't get them off the field on third down early. We finally got some things going in the second half," West Virginia defensive coordinator Tony Gibson, said. "We had a couple of good series right in a row and just couldn't make a play when we needed to. We're down seven, had a little more momentum on offense, and we let them drive the field on us.

"Obviously we have to go back to work. I don't think we were overconfident, at least I would hope we weren't. It just wasn't clicking today. We had no energy, and we were sluggish. It wasn't us. It wasn't our team that we've had the first six weeks. We just couldn't find a way to make a play."

Oklahoma State is now 4-1 in the Big 12 and in a three-way tie for second place with every opportunity to go and win the conference. If they prepare and play with the same purpose in the next four games that they did on Saturday then they have a darn good chance.

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