STILLWATER – Mike Gundy kept rotating three quarterbacks, changing the order to keep us mesmerized at the novelty, and we all took our eyes off the ball. All took our eyes off the truth.
OSU doesn’t have a quarterback problem. OSU has a team problem.
South Alabama laid bare that cold, hard reality. The Jaguars routed OSU 33-7 Saturday night in a game that was not as close as the score indicated. A Sun Belt Conference school that 15 years ago didn’t have a football team, that 12 years ago was playing Division I-AA and that one year ago never had produced a winning record, dominated the Cowboys.
South Alabama? The Jaguars looked like Saban Alabama in Stillwater.
And OSU’s rapid descent is cause for concern. This is a three-alarm fire.
The Cowboys’ quality has cratered. The 27-13 struggle to beat Central Arkansas was not a mirage. The 27-15 victory at Arizona State was a mirage – the hapless Sun Devils were blanked 29-0 at home by Fresno State on Saturday night.
This is a problem that is Gundy’s job to fix, but it seems unrepairable for 2023. The transfer portal is many things. It does not allow for a mid-season roster makeover.
Is Gundy willing and/or able to fix it in the off-season? Does he have the stomach for the new world order and what is needed to succeed? Is his staff equipped to play the portal game? Is OSU’s support structure?
Remember a year ago, when the Cowboys were riding high, only to get squashed by the Kansas schools 48-0 and 37-16 on successive Saturdays, and I asked Gundy what the hell was going on?
He understandably fell back on the injury excuse and said “there’s nothing spiraling out of control.”
OK. But after a squeaker to beat Iowa State came a three-game losing streak to end the season, a bunch of good ballplayers traffic-jamming the transfer portal, and now a start to the 2023 season that suggests the Cowboys are among the bottom third of Big 12 teams.
Spiraling out of control seems quite the accurate description of the situation.
“I don’t think we have majors,” Gundy said Monday of OSU’s problems. “I’m just being honest. What we did out there Saturday was ugly. I’m not saying anything other than that. But I’m saying, I don’t see it as a major issue.
“When I watched the tape, I felt a lot better than I did when I went home, let’s put it that way. I think everything we’re doing, we can improve in enough to play and compete and give ourselves a chance to win games.”
Really? South Alabama is a solid mid-major. Probably a really good mid-major. But good mid-majors should be threats to come to Stillwater and win, not threats to come to Stillwater and pistol-whip the home squad. Which even Gundy agrees happened.
“Y’all kicked our ass,” he said he told South Alabama coach Kane Wommack.
Forget the quarterbacking. QB is not the least of OSU’s problems, but nobody will excel — not Spencer Sanders, not Mason Rudolph, not Brandon Weeden, not Zac Robinson — with the caliber of blocking the Cowboys have displayed the last couple of years. Might as well play three. If you can’t beat ‘em, confuse ‘em.
And make no mistake, OSU was outclassed by the Mobile crew. Pushed around. Dominated.
“That was probably the one thing, just looking at it, we knew we were a more physical team coming in, but we had to establish it early,” Wommack said. “And certainly we did. That was a physically dominating win from the word go.”
I don’t know Wommack, but I chatted with him last week via phone. He’s a coach’s kid. Didn’t strike me as brash or arrogant. He was exuberant and personable. But no trash talker. So it’s startling to hear Wommack confirm what we saw with our eyes. The Jaguars figured they could push around the Cowboys. And did.
Gundy said the physicality difference wasn’t as much as he thought (what?) and said running the ball is tougher now than ever.
But if that explains OSU’s 94 rushing yards, it doesn’t explain South Alabama’s 243 rushing yards. Somebody has figured out how to run the ball.
South Alabama linebacker Trey Kiser said he realized early that the Jaguars would win.
“Probably say the second or third series when they couldn’t even pass the 50-yard line,” Kiser said. “It was ridiculous seeing our defense. The plays we saw in practice we saw tonight, and it was like slow motion when they ran them.”
That’s an indictment of everything Cowboy. The coaching. The gameplan. The talent. The conditioning. The physicality. All in favor of South Alabama, a team that opened the season with a 37-17 loss at Tulane and ended last season with a 44-23 loss to Western Kentucky in the New Orleans Bowl.
“We got exposed,” Gundy said. “What happened to us (a 16-0 deficit 16 seconds into the second quarter) is what we have to avoid happening to us, because we’re not far enough along, or explosive enough…”
This OSU team isn’t a lot of things enough. It’s a disappointing start to the 2023 season after a disappointing finish to the 2022 season, with no discernible reasons to believe that anything soon will change.