STILLWATER – If a team ever badly needed its fifth game of the season, here it was for Oklahoma State Friday night. The Cowboys came in off back-to-back losses, and after four less-than-inspiring performances to open their season.
That rendered the details from OSU’s 29-21 upset of Kansas State less important than what ultimately mattered – winning a game few figured they could.
That and the fact that the Cowboys are now 1-1 in the Big 12 Conference, 3-2 overall and with sudden momentum headed into next week’s game against Kansas.
Reason to feel better about the past
This is officially Alan Bowman’s offense.
We figured it might be after Bowman played all of OSU’s 34-27 loss at Iowa State two weeks ago. He did OK, throwing 2 touchdown passes and 2 interceptions.
Watching Bowman stake the Cowboys to a 20-7 halftime lead on Kansas State, there is no more question.
He went 13-of-22 for 199 yards in the decisive first half, unlocking OSU’s downfield passing game most notably with 45-yard strikes to Jaden Bray and Rashod Owens.
Bowman’s numbers would have been even better had it not been for drops by Bray, Brennan Presley and Josiah Johnson. He outgunned counterpart Will Howard as it was over that first half, and made the biggest difference in OSU’s best 30 minutes of the season.
Howard came on late as the Cowboys’ offense stalled, but Bowman still out-threw him by 83 yards. The biggest statistical difference: Bowman’s 0 interceptions vs. Howard’s 3.
Reason to worry about the future
The Cowboys are hardly the picture of health.
Linebacker Justin Wright shared news of his season-ending surgery before Friday’s kickoff. He announced he was taking a medical redshirt and will return next year.
Wide receiver De’Zhaun Stribling appeared out of uniform and in a cast. The O’Colly cited sources that Stribling sustained a season-ending injury at practice last week.
OSU did fine without both cogs Friday night, but it’s a big ask to run through the rest of the Big 12 schedule without them. Depth is about to be a very big deal for the Pokes.
Coach who can put up his feet and crack a beer: OSU defensive coordinator Bryan Nardo
This could have been Cowboys offensive coordinator Kasey Dunn, given Bowman’s effectiveness and OSU’s atypical imagination out of the gate. Nardo, though, was even more impressive. Last time we saw the Pokes, they surrendered 348 passing yards to Iowa State’s Rocco Becht. The time before that, they allowed 243 rushing yards to South Alabama.
This was an OSU defense Friday night facing as many questions as the Cowboys’ offense. Here were the answers…
* Two interceptions by safety Cameron Epps, one of which came back for 6, and a clincher by linebacker Nick Martin
* Sacks by Martin and defensive end Jaleel Johnson and TFLs by Martin and safety Tre Rucker
* Consistent tracking and tackling of K-State weapons Howard and DJ Giddens
* 181 total yards and 8 first downs for the K-State offense well into the third quarter, when OSU opened a 26-7 lead
Howard got going starting late in the third quarter, and tried to carry K-State’s rally into the fourth. That’s when the Cowboys slammed the door shut with three defensive stops over K-State’s final four possessions
Coach headed straight back to the film room: K-State head man Chris Klieman
The Wildcats had the same extra week of practice the Cowboys did. The difference is the Cowboys used it much more effectively, and not just by their performance.
Howard threw two interceptions to Epps and neither was anywhere near being completed.
Howard lined up to take a fourth-and-8 snap early in the third quarter, only to see it zip by him for a loss of 19 yards and a turnover on downs.
Defensive backs Keenan Garber and Kobe Savage took each other out of a tackle to allow Bray to stretch out his 45-yard reception.
And these were the obvious K-State mistakes.
SportsCenter highlight: Epps’ pick-6
Another K-State mishap — trying to mount a drive with less than a minute to play in the first half. That backfired when Howard and intended receiver Philip Brooks mixed signals; Brooks kept going on a ball Howard threw short.
Epps had an easy path not just to his second interception of the night, but to the end zone on a 35-yard return which made the score 20-7 at halftime.
The Cowboys played well enough to be up decisively, owning a 287-133 yardage edge. Thanks to Epps, they were.
Name to remember: OSU wide receiver Rashod Owens
Someone needed to emerge and help Bowman without Stribling Friday. Enter Owens, a receiver who entered the game with 4 catches for 37 yards.
His first catch on an opening-drive slant put OSU on the K-State 2-yard line. Ollie Gordon scored two snaps later for a 7-0 lead.
Owens’ second grab picked up 9 on third-and-4. That helped OSU to a first-quarter field goal and 10-0 advantage.
Owens’ 45-yarder came off a route underneath Bray’s deep post. Bowman hit him in stride and that set up another field goal for a 13-7 second-quarter lead.
Alex Hale kicked a third field goal to cap OSU’s opening drive of the second half. Hale’s 53-yarder was preceded by Owens’ 8-yard inside screen catch on third-and-7.
Mike Gundy on the message to his players the Monday after losing to Iowa State: “We’re playing a team that whipped your ass last year. You have two choices. You can practice hard and play with great energy and go fight and see what happens. Or you can sit around and pout because we lost a couple games.”
Could you repeat that?
OSU linebacker Nick Martin after his 17-tackle effort: “Shoot, I don’t think I’ve ever had 17, not even in high school. Pee Wee maybe. Although I don’t remember much about those Pee Wee days.”