This is not to cheapen the Cowboys’ turnaround. This is simply to recognize that over a series of close games contested in a tight conference, a team goes 6-1 over those games and is a win away from the Big 12 title game doesn’t just have the nation’s leading rusher on its side. It has fortune.
STILLWATER — In the spirit of the week I asked Mike Gundy what he was thankful for Monday. And while I was hoping he’d reply that he can recite lines from “Animal House” – Gundy’s least appreciated, most endearing skill – he gave a straight, smart answer.
“For me to be 56 years old and to have my health and the energy to still do this job and have fun doing it,” he said, “I’m very thankful.“
Gundy added one more thing: “That we figured out how to run block. That’s made it a much funner year.”
He should mention his offensive line at Thanksgiving dinner, too, along with Ollie Gordon, Brennan Presley, Alan Bowman, Nick Martin, Collin Oliver and the OSU fans who outdrew Houston’s in the Cougars’ stadium Saturday.
I suggest a last-but-not-least idea before Gundy digs into his sweet potato casserole: the breaks that have helped turn a 2-2 season going nowhere into 8-3 potentially headed to Arlington depending on Saturday’s outcome against BYU.
“Sometimes we get help,” Gundy admitted Monday, “and we’ve been in a fortunate situation this year.”
This is not to cheapen the Cowboys’ turnaround. Players and coaches should be lauded for sitting one win away, very likely, from a Big 12 Championship berth.
This is simply to recognize that over a series of close games contested in a tight conference, a team that goes on a 6-1 run over those games doesn’t just have the nation’s leading rusher on its side. It has fortune.
Gordon totaled 164 yards and three touchdowns at Houston. He also dropped a handoff at midfield during OSU’s game-clinching drive, only to retake possession before the Cougars could take advantage.
“I was a little shocked. We were very fortunate. The ball jumped right back in his hands,” Gundy said. “Those are things as a coach… When you lay in bed at night trying to go to sleep or I’m driving to work or driving somewhere, those things never get out of your head.”
Bowman passed for 348 yards and two touchdowns at Houston. He also started 9-of-15 for 57 yards and an interception which was returned for a touchdown.
Then Cougars defender Jamal Morris taunted Gordon after a short third-and-19 completion deep in OSU territory near the end of the first quarter. The Cowboys kept the ball, Bowman found a rhythm, and the complexion of the offense changed.
The game changed when leading 23-9 near midfield in the second quarter, Houston quarterback Donovan Smith threw a pass straight to OSU safety Trey Rucker. It was a good coverage call that confused Smith, but what if the QB had a better response? What if he threw the ball into the ground? What if he tucked it away and took off?
What if back on Oct. 6, Kansas State quarterback Will Howard didn’t miscommunicate with intended receiver Phillip Brooks late in the first half? The play where Howard threw right to OSU safety Cameron Epps for a pick-6 and 20-7 halftime deficit?
What if Oct. 21, West Virginia’s Andrew Wilson-Lamp didn’t run into teammate Preston Fox to foul up Fox’s punt catch late in the third quarter, the Mountaineers leading 24-20? The play that allowed OSU’s Parker Robertson a fumble recovery deep in West Virginia territory, and set up Gordon’s go-ahead touchdown?
What if on Nov. 4, Oklahoma didn’t screw up two center snaps that led to two OSU fumble recoveries and a total of 10 points off those turnovers? Two plays more decisive than the Dylan Smith vs. Drake Stoops pass interference non-call during OSU’s 27-24 victory?
The Cowboys made the aforementioned breaks count for a lot. Without the persistence of players and coaches, they aren’t playing for Jerry World on Saturday afternoon.
But it’s also OK to acknowledge that without the aforementioned questions, the Cowboys aren’t in the Big 12 hunt either. Not with the conference so balanced.
“If you took the teams at the top of our league and you gave them one more loss, and took those teams in the middle and gave them one more win, you would almost flip spots,” Gundy said Monday. “That’s how close this league is. There’s not much room for error now.”
Certainly not for a team vulnerable enough to lose to South Alabama 33-7 and UCF 45-3. Sometimes a season comes down to the mistakes you don’t make, and the ones opponents do.
“If another team plays better and gets a few breaks and beats us, that’s easier to live with than if we have a number of unforced errors and don’t play smart and give them the game,” Gundy said. “We try to stress that to the team constantly. I talk about it every day with them in meetings and after practices. Be a smart football team, make them earn what they get, let’s not help them.”
This year Gundy can add: “They helped us.”
With Thanksgiving dinner just a few meals away, and a potential Big 12 title shot a delicious dessert, that’s as obvious a source of gratitude as Gordon’s brilliance, the Cowboys’ resilience, their fans’ loyalty and their head coach’s health.