HOUSTON — Oklahoma State fell behind quickly, surged ahead, then finally held on to beat Houston 43-30. Another wild game in what has been a memorable Cowboys season.
It is the most important outcome yet — the victory means OSU hosts BYU next week with a trip to Arlington for the Big 12 Championship in the balance.
Reason to feel better about the past
The idea after UCF’s 45-3 sandbagging of OSU last week was the Knights had the Cowboys figured out, and future opponents would at least attempt to duplicate that blueprint.
This was worth worrying about until the 4:16 mark of Saturday’s second quarter, at which point Houston led OSU 23-9 with a combination of big plays by the offense and Ollie Gordon-tracking by the defense, UCF’s combo.
Then a couple of things happened – Houston went a long time without making any big plays, and Gordon got loose for a 62-yard burst plus three short touchdown runs.
Those developments, plus Brennan Presley’s game-long excellence, are promising as OSU finishes the regular season next week against BYU.
The Cougars will no doubt try to repeat UCF’s strategy against Gordon, but can’t feel good about making it stand up as effectively as the Knights did. Not after Saturday.
Reason to worry about the future
OSU fell drastically behind at UCF and it only got worse because the Knights were as good as the Cowboys were bad.
OSU trailed 23-9 late in the first half at Houston but rallied because the Cowboys got stronger as the Cougars got weaker.
What if the Cougars don’t pick up a 15-yard taunting penalty after stopping Gordon well short on third-and-long, already leading 14-3? What if Houston quarterback Donovan Smith doesn’t throw the ball right to Trey Rucker with the Cougars leading 23-9 and near midfield late in the first half?
The Cowboys have everything to play for next week against BYU. But it isn’t like the Cougars have no ability and can’t take a lead. Maybe they jump in front after another molasses start for the Pokes, and protect it better than Houston?
I don’t know what faster-starting potion is required here, but Gundy and staff had better hit the market for it between now and next Saturday.
Gallery: OSU’s 43-20 win at Houston in pictures
Coach who can put up his feet and crack a beer: Kasey Dunn
Dunn the offensive coordinator has never been better at devising ways to get Presley the ball. There were motions wide of OSU’s formation and across it. There were out routes and curl routes and seam routes.
The result was a career-defining stat line for one of OSU’s most dangerous players since his 2020 arrival.
Dunn the receivers coach continues not to flinch despite an injury-filled position room. Presley’s 189-yard game arrived after Rashod Owens’ 136-yard Bedlam victory two weeks ago, and after Leon Johnson III’s 149-yard breakout against Cincinnati on Oct. 28.
Coach headed straight back to the film room: Dana Holgorsen
Gundy’s one-time offensive coordinator and longtime industry pal fell to 4-7 with the loss.
Holgorsen threw out all the stops to beat his old boss. One, a handoff to receiver Joseph Manjack IV that resulted in a throwback pass to Smith for a 28-yard touchdown, vaulted Houston ahead 21-9. Smith was having the game of his life at that point.
Alas, the Cowboys caught up to Smith, Holgorsen and the Houston offense in the second half and shut down the Cougars for all but one possession.
When Gordon revved his engine and Bowman kept finding Presley, it was game over.
SportsCenter highlight: Gordon gets loose
The Cougars came in doing what everyone else does against OSU – they loaded up to stop the nation’s leading rusher. It worked for a while; Gordon had 12 carries for 47 yards heading into OSU’s second possession of the third quarter.
Then, on the first play of that possession, Bowman handed off from the Cowboys’ 37-yard line and the dam broke.
Linemen Jake Springfield and Dalton Cooper pulled from the right side and led Gordon past the line of scrimmage with perfectly executed blocks. Gordon did the rest, breaking through the line, veering wide right to the Houston sideline, and speeding to the UH 1-yard line before the Cougars caught him.
Center Joe Michalski false-started from the 1, but Gordon finished the drive on the next snap anyhow, scoring on his feet from the 6 for a 33-23 lead.
Name to remember: Jaden Bray
OSU’s injury-riddled receiving corps got healthier Saturday with the return of Bray, an experienced pass-catcher who can help Alan Bowman the rest of this season, but who hadn’t been available since the Pokes’ win at West Virginia on Oct. 21.
Consider Bray’s fade route to the corner of the end zone early in the second quarter, where he got a step on cornerback Isaiah Hamilton. Bowman lofted a perfect pass into Bray’s hands for OSU’s first touchdown, a 23-yarder that narrowed Houston’s lead to 14-9.
The Cowboys had been in quicksand over their first three drives. Then Bowman got hot on series number four, spraying the ball to Presley, Owens and Josiah Johnson. Then he feathered the touchdown to Bray, a sign that OSU’s offense was going to be OK after all against Houston, a sign that the offense had one of its weapons back for whatever lies ahead.
“This was a good win for us. We have a lot in front of us. If we take care of business, we handle BYU next week, we’ll be all right.” — OSU’s Collin Oliver
Could you repeat that?
“At the end of the game, I was trying to get it set up for him to kick a field goal, and we ended up scoring a touchdown. I wanted him to kick a field goal because it would make it a two-score game… I asked somebody to find the kicker so I could ask him where he wanted the ball… They couldn’t find him. I said ‘We got two more plays until third down and we have to get the ball located, so we need somebody to find the kicker’… Somebody got him and he came walking up like we’re at brunch on Sunday. ‘You’re looking for me, Coach?’ I said, ‘Hell yeah I’m looking for you. I’ve been looking for you for 35 seconds. Where do you want the ball?’” — Gundy on his late-game situation/exchange with kicker Alex Hale