Berry Tramel: Mike Gundy likes to call Gordon a downhill runner, and as anyone who’s ever driven down West Virginia mountaintops knows, you pick up speed going downhill.
MORGANTOWN, West Virginia — OSU was two yards from victory formation Saturday as the clock wound down and the sun set down behind the art-museum autumn landscape.
So naturally, Cowboy quarterback Alan Bowman handed off to tailback Ollie Gordon, wearing the vintage black helmet/white jersey/orange pants uniforms and running like a vintage OSU tailback. Gordon promptly sidestepped two penetrating Mountaineers and dashed through the mountain mist.
Gordon sensed he was in the clear — he senses a lot about defenders’ gridiron activities — and glanced back. West Virginia safety Anthony Wilson was pursuing Gordon but was not in any shape to catch him.
So Gordon veered sideways as he neared paydirt. It’s fashionable, these days, for tailbacks on the verge of victory to fall down short of the end zone, to put the game on ice. But that was not Gordon’s intent.
“I was trying to kill a little clock,” Gordon said with a smile. But rest assured, “I was going in either way.”
Not even new-age strategy was going to keep Gordon out of the fourth-quarter end zone at Milan Puskar Stadium. Gordon’s second straight historic game lifted OSU to a 48-34 victory over the Mountaineers.
“I don’t know if we tackled him in the fourth quarter,” said WVU coach Neal Brown.
That’s silly. Of course the Mountaineers tackled Gordon in the fourth quarter. Six times, if you count once by out of bounds and once by facemask. Out of nine carries. Gordon scored three touchdowns and gained 149 yards in the 14 minutes. His monster final numbers: 282 yards on 29 carries.
And Gordon had Mike Gundy in messaging mode.
Gundy’s in-game message: Feed Gordon the ball.
Gundy’s post-game message: Stay thirsty, my friend.
“I’m not the smartest coach in the world, but I said, ‘Guys, we gotta lean on Ollie,’” Gundy said of his coaches. “We gotta make ’em stop Ollie. We gotta pound him. Which we did.”
Gundy was right all the way around. Including not being the smartest coach in the world, else Gundy would have ordered that reliance in non-conference, when Gordon had 19 carries total in three games. But better late than never, and now the 5-2 Cowboys have a three-game winning streak and life in the Big 12 race, considering the Sooners and Longhorns were fortunate home winners over second-division teams Saturday.
Gordon is the main reason for the OSU renaissance, and everybody knows it. Remember when we kept asking what happened to the OSU running game? Now it’s the passing game that can’t get much done — 5.8 yards per pass Saturday — but Gordon is a broncin’ buck of a tailback who has given these Cowboys identity.
Gundy likes to call Gordon a downhill runner, and as anyone who’s ever driven down West Virginia mountaintops knows, you pick up speed going downhill. Gordon’s carries and yards by quarter: 6-53, 5-33, 9-47, 9-149.
Gordon never seemed to get tired. The Cowboys went to a quick-power game — sharp, decisive handoffs up the middle, letting Gordon hit the line, then make a cut. Often to the backside, where the Mountaineers were inadequately staffed.
“Sometimes you gotta run through the smoke,” Gordon said assistant coach John Wozniak tells him. “Whenever you run through the smoke real hard, nobody really wants to tackle you.”
Gordon is big and strong; 6-foot-1, 211 pounds. He seems to pick up steam the longer he runs on a play and the longer he runs during a game.
“He didn’t get fatigued,” Brown said with a sense of marvel. “It’s a lot harder to run the ball 29 times than it is to stand back and tackle him.”
The fourth quarter contained so many Gordon fireworks, it’s hard to remember how precarious was the game. The Cowboys trailed 24-20 before OSU took the lead with 13:16, courtesy of back-to-back 11- and 16-yard Gordon runs in which he hit the hole then bounced to the outside.
Then the 46- and 53-yard TD runs in the final 4:15; the former should have sealed the game and the latter finally did.
Gordon said his vision to find the cracks in defenses often come before the ball is snapped. From his tailback spot, he watches how the defense is moving and shifting and figures which way he can cut. Quite the cerebral method for someone with so much obvious ability.
Which leads us to Gundy’s second message, this one to Gordon himself: stay humble. He gave that advice after Gordon dented Kansas for 168 rushing yards and 116 receiving yards, becoming the first Cowboy since Gerald Hudson, Gundy’s final tailback as the OSU quarterback, in 1989 to hit triple digits in both scrimmage-yards categories.
“He’s been hungry for a month and a half, and he’s playing good,” Gundy said. “I was concerned about it last week. I said, ‘Ollie, you need to stay humble. You’re only as good as tomorrow. You’re only as good as your next practice. You’re only as good as your next game.’”
Gundy said Cincinnati, which visits OSU next weekend, doesn’t care what Gordon did Saturday. But Gundy also said West Virginia didn’t care what Gordon did against Kansas, and little good that did the Mountaineers.