ORLANDO — Thirty-nine air miles from FBC Mortgage Stadium, quite visible from the press box, stand the launch towers of Cape Canaveral.
America launches its spaceships from the coast, so they can return safely into the Atlantic. And speaking of leaving orbit, make way for the Oklahoma State Cowboys.
Five weeks of glorious OSU football ended Saturday, on the campus of Space U. Central Florida pounded the 15th-ranked Cowboys 45-3, in a game not as close as the final score indicated.
OSU gave up 299 passing yards and 293 rushing yards in a game that was crippled by a second-quarter monsoon and reduced to fourth-quarter get-it-over-quick tactics. Yet the Cowboy offense might have been worse — four turnovers, 52 yards rushing.
Splashdown? Crash landing was more like it. The team that beat Kansas State, Kansas, West Virginia and OU since October arrived, was no match for the Knights, who came into the game with a 1-5 Big 12 record.
This game was quickly over and long boring.
And I blame Bedlam. Nobody in orange and black would cop to a Bedlam hangover, but this game had all the trappings of an emotional letdown.
Terrible start. No response. Dispirited performance.
Mike Gundy, who on Monday expressed concern about getting his celebrating Cowboys back to Earth, took pressure off his squad by saying UCF outcoached and outschemed OSU’s staff.
Maybe so. Probably so. Definitely so.
But still, the Cowboys seemed listless from the start. Poor tackling. Loose with the ball. No fire. It’s not that the Cowboys were without fight. They seemed to be willing to scrap, they just didn’t seem to have the energy to do so.
Gundy countered by asking about the early Ollie Gordon fumble and the Alan Bowman pass that went off a helmet and was intercepted.
“I don’t think it would be fair to say we weren’t ready,” Gundy said. “We were ready up until those things happened. As far as the emotional side of it, all I can go off of is what I know from practice, and then watching them at the hotel yesterday. I just don’t think there was an emotional hangover.”
To a man, the Cowboys in the interview room agreed with Gundy. Virtually repeated him.
“There was no hangover,” linebacker Collin Oliver said. “It was a great team win for them. Great coaching job for them. We practiced this week the same as we have the past six weeks since Iowa State, bringing energy, bringing juice to our team. It was just a tough day for us.”
Tough day indeed. This felt like that 48-0 thrashing at Kansas State last season. Or the 41-23 loss at Troy in 2007, when the Cowboys got down 41-10. Or any number of trips to Lubbock, when Mike Leach’s Texas Tech teams would torch the Cowboys early and often a generation ago.
Except those were wayward OSU teams. These Cowboys had stamped themselves as rejuvenated from a September disaster. Stamped themselves as a Big 12 contender. Then all of a sudden, they played like this was South Alabama all over again.
Gundy blamed the schemes and the 50-50 plays consistently won by UCF.
Gallery: OSU’s 45-3 loss at UCF in pictures
The Knights’ R.J. Harvey consistently broke tackles en route to 206 yards on 24 carries, while Gordon, the national rushing leader, shirked no one in baby blue. And UCF turned deep passes into frequent home runs, averaging 27.2 yards per completion.
But anyone who saw Bedlam a week ago, one of the most emotional victories in OSU history, and then watched the Cowboys on Saturday, would be hard-pressed to diagnose anything but that the Cowboys left their game in Theta Pond.
“I don’t think there was any hangover,” said flanker Brennan Presley. “I mean, energy before the game, everybody was talking. Honestly, the (Bedlam) game was behind us on like Monday. It was onto UCF. The coach told us they’re a great team. Their record didn’t show it, 4-5 I think, but he said they were a great team. It was just a matter of watching the film and getting prepared, you see like, ‘Oh crap, this team has some ballers. They have some players. We gotta get ready.’”
UCF does have ballers. John Rhys Plumlee might be the Big 12’s best quarterback, though he missed a good chunk of the season with an injury. The Knights’ defensive backs are talented and rarely lost a one-on-one battle. Remember, UCF dang near won in Norman, losing to the Sooners 31-29.
But UCF still came in 1-5 in the Big 12, with a porous defense. And OSU’s vaunted running game was stuffed.
The Cowboys soared on Gordon’s shoulders in recent weeks. But when he got stuffed, OSU had no answer.
And the Cowboy defense was a sieve. Never once did you get the feeling the Cowboys had a beat on the Central Florida offense.
Nothing was good about this game for OSU. Absolutely nothing.
“We had some mistakes on our side that we needed to fix,” said linebacker Nick Martin. “I felt like they just kept piling up, and the game got away from us. The result was the result of that. We gotta stop beating ourselves. We gotta execute better. We gotta prepare better. Practice better. Ultimately, we gotta be better.”
This game was terribly timed for the Cowboys. Coming off Bedlam, UCF in desperation mode and the Space Game to boot.
Space U., they call the school that opened its doors 55 years ago to fuel talent for the space industry. In recent years, UCF markets one game a year as the Space Game, complete with alternate uniforms, students dressed as aliens, the UCF band playing the science-fiction themes at halftime and space-themed entertainment during timeouts.
It’s a big deal on this campus, which has produced 30% of NASA employees.
And the Cowboys played along, flying to Florida with a Bedlam hangover, then playing like they were most definitely lost in space.