OSU report card: Strong Texas Bowl for Kasey Dunn, not for the Cowboy defense

OSU report card: Strong Texas Bowl for Kasey Dunn, not for the Cowboy defense

The victory did not go according to script offensively. For example, less Ollie Gordon (118 yards rushing on 27 carries) and more Alan Bowman (402 yards passing). But OSU’s defense did follow its season-long script (burned in the secondary).

Berry Tramel

By Berry Tramel

| Dec 28, 2023, 1:00pm CST

Berry Tramel

By Berry Tramel

Dec 28, 2023, 1:00pm CST

HOUSTON — OSU had the manpower advantage over short-handed Texas A&M in the Texas Bowl, and the Cowboys finally took advantage of it Wednesday night and won 31-23.

The victory did not go according to script offensively. For example, less Ollie Gordon (118 yards rushing on 27 carries) and more Alan Bowman (402 yards passing). But OSU’s defense did follow its season-long script (burned in the secondary).

Either way, the Cowboys have a 10-4 record, which gets an A by any grading measure. Here’s the OSU report from the Texas Bowl:

First-down defense: D. In his only snap of the game, A&M starting quarterback Jaylen Henderson scrambled and hit Jahdae Walker for an 11-yard completion. Even when Henderson was injured on the play and didn’t return, that play was a sign of things to come. Henderson and Marcel Reed combined to complete nine of 15 first-down passes, which is not terrible defense, but for 193 yards, which is terrible. By comparison, OSU threw for 436 yards, but only 179 of those yards came on first down, despite 22 passes. Reed, a fourth-string true freshman who spent most of the year as a redshirt, threw for first-down gains of 40, 34, 32, 29 and 20, the latter a touchdown.

Kasey Dunn: A. The OSU offensive coordinator guessed right in figuring that Rashod Owens deep and Brennan Presley in the flat would overwhelmingly win the day. And Dunn had enough wrinkles to get the Cowboys through, even when the Gordon run-game sputtered. Case in point — the shovel pass reverse, with the game on the line. Presley took a second-and-7 shovel pass from Bowman and immediately reversed field, heading back the way he had come. The play produced 10 yards and gave OSU one of the three first downs it needed to virtually run out the clock. For those who like trick plays, Presley flung a deep pass to Rashod Owens for a 34-yard gain in the second quarter, setting up a touchdown. Presley’s decision-making on passes was a lot better than Gordon’s Bedlam disaster.

Fourth-quarter defense: A. For all of the frustration of Bryan Nardo’s defense throughout the game, the Cowboys played stout in the final 15 minutes, holding A&M to three points in four possessions. Linebacker Xavier Benson made the game’s biggest play, running down tailback Amari Daniels on a big-play screen pass and forcing a fumble that linebacker Nick Martin recovered at the OSU 1-yard line. The Cowboy pass rush finally found some steam on the Aggies’ penultimate drive, forcing a field goal. And Kendal Daniels intercepted Reed’s Hail Mary pass on the game’s final play.

Atmosphere: B. The crowd was announced as 55,212 in the 72,220-seat NRG Stadium. But it’s being generous to say 40,000 were there. OSU’s turnout was OK, nothing special compared to other Cowboy bowl crowds. Best guess: 12,000 OSU fans. With A&M’s Kyle Field sitting exactly 100 miles from NRG Stadium, you’d expect more Aggie fans and there were. Best guess: 25,000. Not many neutrals. But no football game is spiritless with the Fightin’ Texas Aggie Band on the premises. The Ags’ continual military tunes, and spectacular military marching precision, always are a hit. The Big 12 has missed A&M’s band much more than A&M’s football team.

Short-yardage: C. Texas A&M’s offense converted six of seven short-yardage situations, but at least the Cowboys mostly prevented the Aggies from getting too many easy-to-convert first downs. For example, OSU’s offense had 13 short-yardage plays. Alas, the Cowboys converted just seven. Bowman completed just three of six short-yardage passes. OSU also had a drive-killing holding penalty on a second-and-1. But the Cowboys did some cool things in short yardage. After Bowman threw incomplete on two straight plays (one a Presley drop), OSU faced fourth-and-2 from the A&M 33-yard line, and Dunn called for a third straight pass. Bowman hit Presley on a slant pattern for an 11-yard gain, and OSU scored a touchdown four plays later. And early in the fourth quarter, with the Cowboys backed up on third-and-3 from their 8-yard line, Leon Johnson made a fabulous catch off a Bowman deep ball for a 33-yard gain.

Kicking game: C. With A&M dealing with a depleted roster and a makeshift coaching staff, its kicking units should have been vulnerable. Kicking games often are simply about organization, and no way could the Aggies be as organized as usual. But A&M won the kicking game. Moose Muhammad had a 15-yard punt return for the Ags, while the Cowboys had no returns of significance. OSU’s Hudson Kaak shanked a 26-yard punt when the Cowboys had fourth-and-1 from its 45-yard line. And while A&M’s Randy Bond was 3-of-3 on field goals, including a 50-yarder, OSU’s Alex Hale was 1-of-2, missing from 47 yards with 17 seconds left in the game.

Containing Reed: C. The Cowboys barely were equipped to game plan for Henderson, who made two starts for A&M. They were not at all equipped to gameplan for Reed, who according to Mike Gundy was a much more mobile quarterback. But OSU did an OK job containing the Aggie freshman. Reed 11 times scrambled or rolled out. He hit the Cowboys with a 40-yard completion off a throwback pass and scrambled into an easy, 20-yard touchdown run. But he twice was sacked, including Anthony Goodlow’s takedown with 5½ minutes left that forced an A&M field goal. Reed was 2-of-4 passing on the move, and his seven sack/scrambles totaled 23 net yards.

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Berry Tramel is a 45-year veteran of Oklahoma journalism, having spent 13 years at the Norman Transcript and 32 years at The Oklahoman. He has been named Oklahoma Sportswriter of the Year by the National Sports Media Association. Born and raised in Norman, Tramel grew up reading four newspapers a day and began his career at age 17. His first assignment was the Lexington-Elmore City high school football game, and he’s enjoyed the journey ever since, having covered NBA Finals and Rose Bowls and everything in between. Tramel and his wife, Tricia, were married in 1980 and live in Norman near their daughter, son-in-law and three granddaughters. Tramel can be reached at 405-760-8080 or at [email protected].

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