Cowboys' focus: Eliminating costly errors

Last year, Oklahoma State turned the ball over just 23 times, good for fourth in the Big 12.

It racked up just 656 penalty yards, good for fifth in the Big 12.

So far this season, it's been a totally different look for the Cowboys, and one that's unwelcome under Mike Gundy.

Against Arizona last week, the Cowboys set a school record with 167 penalty yards and 15 flags. They added four turnovers -- including an interception returned for a touchdown -- to the mix and, unsurprisingly, left with a 59-38 loss to the Wildcats, despite being a double-digit favorite.

"That combination on the road pretty much eliminates you having any chance to win a football game," Gundy said.

It got even more frustrating in the second half when Gundy emphasized the need to cut down on the errors and flags at halftime ... and his team was promptly flagged for another 15-yard personal foul on the opening drive of the second half.

"We didn’t play very smart football, and that’s on me. I’ve got to do a better job of keeping us disciplined before we go out there and play," Gundy said. "We had so many personal fouls, we just basically took ourselves out of the game on defense. Then offensively we had three or four holding penalties that backed us up against the wall. We haven’t done that in the past few years, and that’s why we’ve had success."

Two of those personal fouls came on the same play by the same player. Defensive tackle Calvin Barnett was flagged for roughing the passer and drew a flag for unnecessary roughness at the end of the play.

Sunday morning, Gundy sat down and had a chat with a "remorseful" Barnett, a juco transfer playing in just his second game for the Cowboys.

"We were very up front with him," Gundy said. "Anybody that has or gets a penalty that’s in our opinion not a smart football play, we just take them off the field. Sometimes you get penalties being aggressive, and that’s part of the game, but we had several penalties where we were just being not smart football players and not playing like we’re supposed to, and if that happens, we just take them off the field."

Barnett received that message, and Saturday, when Oklahoma State returns to the field against Louisiana-Lafayette, Gundy will found out how will his team as a whole heard it, too.

"We learned that we were pretty good, but we’ve just got to not beat ourselves," running back Joseph Randle said. "People kept up hope. Nobody stopped fighting and everybody kept moving. Minus all the penalties and stuff, we could still have had a chance to win the game. The opportunity was still there."

Through two games, Oklahoma State has already racked up more penalty yards than all but two teams in college football: UCLA and Utah State, who both are coincidentally undefeated. Both earned huge home wins on Saturday. Utah State beat rival Utah for the first time in nearly two decades, while UCLA outran Nebraska in a track meet at the Rose Bowl.

"The penalties can be fixed. Everything that we did on Saturday, as far as mistakes, can be fixed," Randle said.

The Cowboys' turnover margin is minus-4 on the season, three turnovers worse than any Big 12 team, and only four teams in college football have a worse margin so far this year.

"This game was pretty simple. Turnovers and penalties," Gundy said of the loss. "If I knew exactly what caused it, I certainly would have changed it prior to us going out there, but we just didn’t play smart football."

Building on a frustrating loss before Big 12 play starts later this month depends on the Cowboys eliminating those errors.

"Whatever coach decides is what’s going to have to work," Randle said. "Now, that we’ve put our focus on not doing that stuff, it’ll be the main thing. All the stuff that happened is fixable."