STILLWATER — Mike Gundy hammered on the point this week. South Alabama is the best team the Cowboys faced this season.
Minutes after the South Alabama’s stunning 33-7 victory Saturday night in Boone Pickens Stadium, Gundy said it again.
The Cowboys head coach insisted that Nobody on his sideline was surprised when the Jaguars of the Sun Belt Conference came out slugging. The lopsided result wasn’t a result of underestimation, he said.
“We didn’t do a very good job of coaching, and certainly didn’t do a good job of executing,” Gundy said
Four plays showed exactly where the Cowboys (2-1) got outcoached and executed.
A mix up equals interception
The play: OSU quarterback Alan Bowman is intercepted on the first play of the second quarter by junior cornerback Marquise Robinson, who returned it to the OSU 17.
What happened: Bowman threw toward receiver Talyn Shettron, who wasn’t looking for the ball until after the interception. OSU offensive coordinator Kasey Dunn said it was a mix up on an in-route. Shettron saw the Jaguar coverage and adjusted to take his route, normally eight-to-10 yards downfield, a little deeper.
“So if you roll into it at eight-to-10 (yards), it’s too early for the quarterback nine times out of ten, so (Shettron) tried to reset it,” Dunn said. “I don’t know exactly the depth he was at, maybe he was a little bit long and that’s what caused the problem. Maybe Bowman was a little bit quick getting back to the in (route) and that might have caused the problem. But they were definitely on different pages there.”
Why it mattered: On the next play, running back La’Damian Webb bounced outside for a 17-yard touchdown run and a 16-0 South Alabama lead.
Rucker burned deep
The play: 1:13 left in the second quarter. Carter Bradley throws a 57-yard touchdown pass to junior receiver Caullin Lacy.
What happened: Cowboy safety Trey Rucker showed plenty of respect for Lacy before the snap. Rucker gave Lacy, South Alabama’s leading receiver in yards and touchdowns, nine yards of cushion.
The cushion wasn’t big enough. Lacy accelerated past Rucker, who didn’t turn his hips to run until Lacy was right up on him.
“It was a little frustrating,” OSU defensive coordinator Bryan Nardo said. “Rucker is a good football player. They threw a slot fade to their best receiver and we were trying to close the middle because we thought they were going to attack the middle. They had 1:13 to go, third and medium and the thought process we had was, ‘They’re not afraid to run the ball here, so let’s close the middle to make sure we’re in a good position to fit the run’ and their kid made a play and their quarterback made a throw.”
Why it mattered: South Alabama pushed its lead to 23-0 right before the half. It was OSU’s largest halftime deficit since trailing Oklahoma 28-3 on the way to a 28-13 loss on Nov. 19
Presley’s muffed punt
The play: 10:37 left in the fourth quarter. OSU senior Brennan Presley muffs a punt, Jaguars get the ball at the 24.
What happened: Standing at his own 18 yard-line, South Alabama punter Jack Martin faced no pressure and unleashed a booming kick.
Martin’s average distance per punt this season entering the game was 42.7 yards, so Presley positioned himself at his own 30 yard-line. Martin’s punt traveled 57 yards in the air, forcing Presley to backpedal six yards diagonally while signaling for a fair catch.
Presley couldn’t catch the ball cleanly. The three nearest Cowboys had slowed when the sure-handed Presley waved his arm, so the first three players to the loose ball were wearing Jaguar white. Presley, 5-foot-8 and 174 pounds couldn’t out-wrestle South Alabama long snapper Travis Drosos, 6-foot and 222 pounds, who emerged from the pile with the football.
Why it mattered: Just as the Cowboys had finally strung together positive sequences, an 84-yard touchdown drive on offense and three-and-out on defense, they gave the ball right back. South Alabama kicked a field goal and went back up by three scores.
The play: 13:21 left in the first quarter. Jaden Bray drops a potential touchdown pass.
What happened: Drops, a problem the Cowboys have dealt with this season, cropped up again on the game’s first drive.
The Cowboy offense actually moved the ball well on its first drive. Bowman passed for gains of eight, five and 14 yards, setting up a first down at the USA 48. Bowman faked a handoff, dropped back and delivered a pass in stride to sophomore Jaden Bray, who was turning downfield.
Bray couldn’t squeeze the pass, and it led to a punt. It was the fourth pass Bowman has thrown this season that has been dropped, which frustrates Dunn.
“Damn right it is (frustrating), no question,” Dunn said. “And I know it kills (Bray), too. But we’ve got to get through it. I’ve got to figure out a way to convert the third down and move on from there. In the situation we were in, playing a good football team.”
Why it mattered: Bray likely would have reached the end zone on OSU’s opening drive. Instead, the Cowboys didn’t score until the fourth quarter with South Alabama in control.