Analysis: It's Still A Win

My wife told me there was booing in Boone Pickens Stadium late Saturday night in Oklahoma State's 41-24 victory over Rice. Maybe it was a group of Cowboy fans that made a wager with their local bookmaker. The lesson for those booing that did not have a monetary investment on the game is to look around the country. There were plenty of teams, good teams, that would have liked to have won Saturday.

Third-ranked Southern Cal lost to Washington, a team with a new coach that went 0-12 last season and had lost 15 conference games in a row. Nebraska kicked five field goals and hoped it would be enough at Virginia Tech, and outplayed the hometown Hokies but were beaten late 16-15.

There was Baylor, who after opening on the road with a win at Wake Forest, lost in front of the home fans to UConn. Kansas State lost to UCLA, and Texas Tech, despite an impressive performance, has a conference loss to Texas in Austin. Purdue lost to Northern Illinois and that is a black eye in the Big Ten.

Ok, now do you feel a little better?

Good, because the next thing I tell you is going to hurt. It may cut deep to the heart, but it's the truth and it will help you move on over the next few weeks of the football season without booing and hopefully with a little more understanding.

This Oklahoma State football team is not close right now to what you thought it was, especially if you were on the Sports Illustrated and preseason bowl hype. If after the win over Georgia, who by the way continues to help by winning games in the SEC, you were really impressed then heed this warning. The Cowboys are trying to find themselves and get to the level you want them to be, but they are far from there.

They are beat up. Running back Kendall Hunter, who has the most "make them miss" ability on the team is out and could be out until Texas A&M with an ankle. Defensive end Jeremiah Price is out with a thumb injury that required surgery. He could be back soon but will wear a softcast all season.

There are other players that are playing with significant nicks, bumps, and bruises. Dez Bryant had a hamstring tweak against Rice that he said is not serious, and Perrish Cox had a shoulder injury that head coach Mike Gundy said he hopes is not serious.

The Cowboys need to practice hard and beat Grambling next Saturday and then get to the open week for some healing time.

"We've got another game (Grambling) to play, but we are a little beat up," said Gundy. "Where it really hurts is it makes it hard to practice. We need to get those guys out there, get in a good week of practice, and win the game and then get into the open week. It will help us. There is no doubt about that."

Besides the physical toll the season, including season-ending knee surgeries to running back Kye Staley and starting linebacker Orie Lemon, there are the developing areas of the team, mainly at the line of scrimmage.

The Cowboys only rushed for 124 yards on 36 carries against Rice, just 3.4 yards per rush. Both Keith Toston and Beau Johnson had to fight off tacklers and carry those defenders for some very hard earned yards.

Toston had 75 yards on 18 carries and Johnson, who is also banged up some, had 28 yards on 12 carries. Lane Taylor got the start and became the third player to occupy the right guard position this season. It appeared he did okay, but okay is not good enough for this offensive line. Mr. Accountable and starting left tackle Russell Okung is making no excuses and is not mincing his words.

"We have a long way to go," said Okung. "I thought that Lane did well. From what I could tell for his first start he did well. I just know that we make way too many mistakes as a group and we are nowhere near where we need to be.

"We have to get back out there and keep practicing and improving. I know I had guys helping me when I first started playing and I am going to be that kind of leader for Lane and the rest of this line. We are going to get better."

The offensive line does need to perform better, although they did not allow a sack for the second of three games this season. Zac Robinson threw for 227 yards and an OSU career record 55th and 56th touchdown passes. The line and injuries appear to be the major hurdles in trying to get the offensive "mojo" back.

Defensively, the results were mixed. Rice had 377 yards, but allowed just 96 in the first half when OSU took control with a 21-3 lead. They also came on strong at the end with a pair of key three-and-out stops in the fourth quarter.

There were a number of heroes on the defense with linebacker Donal Booker playing much better with a team-leading 10 tackles and a 51-yard touchdown return of a field goal snap gone awry. The Cowboys also had two sacks and might have had three. The pass rush was keyed early by defensive end Richetti Jones. The celebrated Jones has been waiting for this day.

"Oh yes, I have to give credit to the Lord and to my teammates or it would not have happened," said the affable Jones. "It is just like you said, I could have had a sack earlier but I tried to punch the ball out. I saw it and took a shot at it because I know Coach (Bill) Young would like the turnover more than the sack. That first sack was great and it was a good night for the defensive line."

"I think we got a little more pressure on the quarterback and we reduced the number of penalties we got last week a little bit, although we still had a few," said defensive coordinator Bill Young. "I think from a scheme standpoint I think we probably played a little better than we did last week. In the second half, I think I probably made some bad calls. I blame myself more than anybody on that."

That said, the Cowboys sacked Rice quarterbacks twice and forced one interception. Last week Texas Tech sacked the Owls six times. The defense and the defensive line pressuring quarterbacks still needs to get better.

What is right? Plenty. Dez Bryant with nine catches for 161 yards and two touchdowns is a nice stat line.

"Zac did a great job of getting me the ball," said Bryant, who did not play in the fourth quarter after getting body slammed on his last catch of the game, a catch that set up a short touchdown run by Beau Johnson. "It (the injury) was a little hamstring. I'm going to be good. I just am really happy to help my team and be able to catch some passes. I hadn't had that many so far and I know I dropped a few, but I felt really good tonight."

Fellow receiver Josh Cooper continues to come along with two catches for 36 yards. Quinn Sharp is out of this world punting the football. He punted three times for a 52.7 average. He had a 61-yarder in the first half and a sky shot late in the game that looked to go higher than Gallagher-Iba (200 feet) and would have surely hit Jerry Jones' video board at the Cowboys new stadium in Arlington.

"I think it went higher than Gallagher-Iba," said Sharp. "I'm just happy to be doing my job and helping the team. It is really nice when so many people say good things about you and what you are doing. I just feel really good about everything and want to keep it going."

Good, bad, ugly it is all there right now and the hope is that after the open week there will be a lot more good with very little, if any, bad, and absolutely no ugly. Than in October and November maybe these Cowboys can more closely resemble the team you were expecting.

In the end, be glad with a win. Always be glad with a win.

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