STILLWATER — Ollie Gordon skipped toward Oklahoma State’s student section.
Or maybe he floated.
The Cowboy running back who had a monster day wasn’t alone. All the Cowboys seemed to be hovering above terra firma after Saturday’s back-and-forth, test-your-mettle, define-your-season victory against Kansas.
OSU 39, Kansas 32.
When Gordon reached the wall in front of the student section, he high-fived. Smiled wide. Shook hands. He didn’t kiss any babies but only because there weren’t any available. Then the chants started.
“Ol-lie! Ol-lie! Ol-lie!”
The vibe was so positive, so fun, so effervescent. Almost made you forget where these Cowboys were only nine days earlier. But don’t forget. Don’t forget how things were before OSU played Kansas State. Don’t lose sight of the uncertainty that surrounded the Cowboys heading into that Friday night game against the Wildcats. Don’t disregard the lack of hope that shrouded this team and this season after a pair of disappointing losses.
Forgetting any of that diminishes what these Cowboys have become: a team to be reckoned with in the Big 12.
“There’s obviously lots of room for improvement,” Cowboy defensive doberman Collin Oliver said, “but as a team, I feel like we’re finding a spark. We’re just gonna keep riding it until the end of the season.”
Who would doubt it?
The turnaround these Cowboys have authored is nothing short of amazing. The way last year’s team fell from the heights of a top-10 rating to the disappointment of losing five of its last six games, this year’s bunch is rallying from the depths. Those losses to South Alabama and Iowa State were bad. Awful. Demoralizing. Now, they seem long ago and far away.
OSU publicist Gavin Lang shared some illuminating numbers after the game comparing OSU’s non-conference stats with its Big 12 ones.
Scoring offense: 20.3 points per game vs. 31.7.
Total offense: 321.7 yards vs. 458.3.
Rushing offense: 118.7 yards vs. 174.3.
Passing offense: 203.0 yards vs. 284.0.
And the defense, which was dominated physically by South Alabama, then gave up big pass plays against Iowa State, hasn’t fixed every problem. But on Saturday, after giving up 32 points in the first 33:47 of the game, OSU didn’t allow Kansas another point the rest of the game.
The Jayhawks’ last five possessions: interception, interception, turnover on downs, turnover on downs, end of game.
So, how have the Cowboys done it?
How have they so turned around this season?
Cowboy coach Mike Gundy believes it started with an admission and a plea after that South Alabama loss.
“You have to be able to look in the mirror and say, ‘Our coaching was awful in that game, which didn’t allow our players to play good because we didn’t even give them a chance. We couldn’t even get them in the starting gate,’” Gundy says. “So we had to identify that and say, ‘OK, we were bad,’ and then tell the players we were bad.
“We apologized: ‘Let’s start over. Give us a chance, and then we’ll start to migrate to the direction we need to be on both sides of the ball.’”
Gundy saw the change of direction happening before the Iowa State game, but players say they felt a big shift during OSU’s bye week.
“I would definitely say our bye week couldn’t have come at a better time,” Cowboy quarterback Alan Bowman told Sellout Crowd. “Obviously, it stinks having to not play after you have two losses.”
But the focus on OSU only was a game changer.
“Let’s just worry about ourselves,” Bowman said. “Let’s just not think about anybody other than working on ourselves and getting better at what we do, become who we are.”
Bowman and other players knew the narrative about them before the K-State game. It wasn’t good at all. It had them headed for the bottom of the Big 12. A losing record. A season without a bowl.
But even as the college football world thought the worst of OSU, Bowman said the feeling inside Cowboy Football Headquarters was different.
“I don’t think there was any second that we were like, ‘Oh, no, this could go downhill,’” he said. “I think that was a testament to our leadership on this team. Obviously when you have a lot of new guys coming in, a lot of transfers coming in, it’s gonna be hard.
“(The bye week) allowed us to take a deep breath and relax and know we’re a good football team, we’re OK, we’ve just got to find our groove. And we did.”
No doubt about that.
With games remaining against the four Big 12 newbies plus West Virginia and OU, it doesn’t seem crazy to think OSU could win five. The Cowboys are likely to be favored in four or five of them.
And Bedlam? Well, the Sooners look like the best in the Big 12, but Bedlam in Stillwater is always a little wild. And the rivalry’s final game for the foreseeable future is bound to be a little more than wild.
OSU winning eight or nine games in the regular season seems totally possible, which again seems completely amazing. Remember, I told you not to forget where this team was a couple weeks ago. Do that, and the way the Cowboys are playing today, the momentum they’re carrying into the final half of the season is even better.
“I mean, it feels really good,” Gordon said of where this team has gotten. “It just shows you how many dogs we have on this team and how none of us are turning on each other. We just keep supporting each other and keep going forward.”