STILLWATER — Mike Gundy went into the OSU halftime locker room and prepared to gather his team for a pep talk. Offensive coordinator Kasey Dunn had the same idea.
“I was fixing to do the same damn thing,” Dunn said. “I was going to walk in there and start chewing some ass and all that stuff. ‘One-for-the-Gipper’ speech.”
But Rashod Owens had it covered. The veteran receiver has become a team leader. A voice of experience. When Owens talks, the Cowboys listen.
“He has the right to say whatever he wants to say to the team, and he’s earned the right,” said safety Kendal Daniels.
Owens had plenty to say. The Cowboys trailed Brigham Young by 18 points in a golden-opportunity game. Beat an overmatched foe, and OSU would be in the Big 12 Championship Game for the second time in three seasons. The Cowboys would spare the Big 12 the indignity of holding its nose for an OU-Texas title game, while reminding America of the remarkable rise of Gundy’s program over the last 15 years.
Instead, the Cowboys were going splat. Sooner fans broke the internet making hotel reservations for Arlington, and OSU looked very much like the team that lost to South Alabama by 26 and Central Florida by 42.
For the third straight week, the Cowboys were first-half no-shows, being down 24-0 at halftime vs. UCF, 23-9 in the second quarter at Houston and now 24-6 at halftime vs. BYU, the latter at home no less.
Then Owens started talking. All the usual George Gipp and Tim Tebow speeches. If you want it, show it. Prove it.
“Just telling us we’re disrespecting ourselves, basically,” said receiver Leon Johnson. “‘This isn’t Cowboy football. We’re stooping down to a level we shouldn’t be stooping down to.’”
You know the rest. The Cowboys emerged from halftime with pistols firing. The defense limited BYU to two first downs total on its first six possessions of the second half. The offense produced touchdown drives of 64, 86 and 80 yards. OSU survived a last-play, tying field goal and won 40-34 in double overtime.
OSU-Texas in the Big 12 Championship Game, courtesy of the great orator, Rashod Owens.
Maybe it’s time Owens started giving the pregame speeches.
“I’d support him doing any speech,” said OSU linebacker Collin Oliver said. “He’s a great talker. He might take Gundy’s spot. He might have to.”
There’s only one problem with that plan. Owens has been giving the pregame speeches.
“He’s given the pregame speech every game,” quarterback Alan Bowman said.
Wait. What? Owens isn’t the magic elixir? Owens’ voice isn’t a secret weapon the Cowboys spring on the Longhorns next Saturday in JerryWorld?
Do you mean this sudden OSU problem of not being prepared to play against inferior competition must be solved by the old standbys of focus and determination?
Yes. This is nonsense, for a team that took out Kansas State, Kansas, West Virginia and OU in a five-week span, to sleepwalk through most of its subsequent first halves.
Gundy called this another culture win — no finger-pointing at halftime, no complaining, no sour attitudes — which is splendid.
But just because you can dig yourself out of a massive first-half hole doesn’t mean you must dig yourself out of a first-half hole.
“I don’t know why that happens,” Gundy said. “I’d like to get that going the other direction, not make it so hard on ourself. If I knew, I would fix it. I don’t have that answer.”
For now, suffice to say Gundy knows how the Cowboys are getting out of the hole. Saturday, it was a refurbished passing attack. The defense, not bad in the first half against the Big 12’s least-productive offense, went total stingy in the second half.
The Cowboys played aggressively on both sides. Maybe that’s needed against Texas. Absolutely that’s needed against Texas.
“I think it’s becoming a little lackadaisical,” said Johnson, the blossomed receiving star (nine catches, 132 yards vs. BYU). “We’re all thinking not that we have the win or anything. But it’s like we need something to kind of let us know, we need to wake up. We come out of halftime angry.”
BYU came out that way before the game. The Cougars came to play and came to win. Needing the victory for bowl eligibility, BYU in the first half unveiled an onside kick and a fake punt. Both worked, though the former was negated by a penalty. The Cougars brought swords and torches from the mountains. The Cowboys did not match BYU’s first-half will.
The Cougars on the Big 12 road this season lost by 11 at Kansas, by 33 at Texas Christian, by 29 at Texas and by 30 at West Virginia. Yet BYU led OSU 24-6 at halftime.
“They could put all their chips out, no matter what their hand was,” Gundy said. “They tried to win at all costs.”
Hey, why not steal that idea from BYU for the Texas game next week?
This would have been a cataclysmic loss for the Cowboys. Maybe the most debilitating defeat since Bedlam 10 years ago, when OSU squandered a Big 12 title. This was a chance to send the Sooners to the Southeastern Conference with no Big 12 title game appearances in its last three years in the league.
Mission accomplished, but it required much huffing and puffing.
And it was way too close for a team that had come so far. Gundy asked me what odds I would have given, back in September after that loss to South Alabama, for the Cowboys to reach Arlington. I said 1,000-to-1.
“I’d have given you 5,000-to -1 at that point,” Gundy said. “And here’s why. There’s an organization of 140 players and 96 personnel. My math’s not real good, but that’s around 230 something.
“You gotta get everybody moving in the right direction, and there can’t be any finger-point and people bitching and complaining and this and that. It took everybody moving in the right direction. That’s what they did. That’s why the odds are against you. Because human nature goes the other way.”
Nobody was jumping into the Cowboy wagon train back in September. But Gundy — and Owens, and whoever else — kept the team together, and they did something remarkable. Built something special out of the South Alabama ashes.
“I told ‘em that,” Gundy said. “I didn’t use the word remarkable, But I said, just think where we were the month of September. And the reason I told ‘em that was, it’s important as we develop and train young men, they understand there’ll be things in life that don’t work to their favor. And it’s amazing what a group[ of young men and a team can accomplish if they’re willing to ignore the outside circumstances, go to work and grind. Put your head down and grind … and I think this has been about as good an example as ever.
OK. But the hole-digging must stop. Texas beat Texas Tech 57-7 Friday night, and if the Cowboys slumber through the first half in Arlington, they’ll be down 57-7, and there’s no digging out of that hole.
No matter what Rashod Owens might say.