STILLWATER, Okla. -- Just seconds after the ball was kicked off, Oklahoma State cornerback Justin Gilbert was streaking down the sideline, poised to put the Cowboys up by one touchdown and help his squad send another message to the rest of the Big 12 with a statement win.
Well, 1-for-2 isn’t bad.
No. 14 Oklahoma State hammered Kansas, 42-6, at Boone Pickens Stadium on Saturday, but it was far from the same impressive effort that had become commonplace in the previous few weeks by the team from Stillwater. The Cowboys offense ran 70 plays for 359 yards, averaging 5.1 yards per play against the Jayhawks just days after looking like it had finally found its rhythm with Clint Chelf under center against Texas Tech and Iowa State.
“I hope not,” OSU coach Mike Gundy said when asked if his squad had lost any momentum with the offensive performance against the Jayhawks.
The Cowboys’ hopes of a Big 12 title could be counting on it. With Texas in Austin and Baylor at Boone Pickens Stadium looming in the next two weeks, OSU’s offense will have to look much more like the squad that put up 55 points per game, 456 yards per game and 5.6 yards per play in back-to-back wins over Texas Tech and Iowa State than the group that punted on six of eight possessions during a mid-game stretch against the Jayhawks.
Yet the Cowboys could have a valid reason for the up-and-down nature of their offense Saturday. Gilbert’s 100-yard kick return for touchdown to start the game coupled with a Kevin Peterson interception helped OSU take a 21-0 lead early in the second quarter. The Pokes, quite frankly, didn’t need an explosive offense against the Jayhawks so they didn’t strive to have one, particularly when KU started stacking the box to stop the run.
“We were pretty vanilla,” Gundy said. “We felt comfortable with our defense and their ability to play well today. We weren’t as wide open as we would normally be on other Saturdays.”
They'd better hope so.
The Longhorns, even though they stumbled around against West Virginia on Saturday night, won’t be easy to beat in Austin, and the Bears, well, they’re looking like legit BCS title game contenders after their 41-12 thrashing of Oklahoma on Thursday.
“We were pretty vanilla, there wasn’t anything too exotic,” offensive coordinator Mike Yurcich said. “We knew we just had to secure the ball and do what we do.”
The result? Chelf was 19-of-37 for 265 yards and three touchdowns as the Cowboys focused on maintaining control of the game and not committing turnovers to let the Jayhawks back into it.
“You’d like to really explode and be better,” Yurcich said. “You’re never really satisfied with those numbers, but we did what we had to do to win the football game.”
With KU aimed at stopping the run, Oklahoma State’s running game took a clear step backward. The Cowboys’ 2.7 yards-per-carry average and 85 total rushing yards will raise eyebrows, as main ball carrier Desmond Roland could only manage 44 yards on 16 carries (2.8 yards per) after combining for 57 carries for 315 yards and seven touchdowns against the Cyclones and Red Raiders.
That type of ground game won’t get it done against Texas, Baylor or Oklahoma in the final three games of the season as OSU tries to secure its second Big 12 title in three seasons.
“We just have to take one game at time,” said receiver David Glidden, who stepped in for an injured Josh Stewart to record six receptions for 73 yards. “This is the biggest part of the season, we’ve started to get it rolling the past few weeks and Coach Gundy says all the time we’re coming together as a team.”
Stewart, one of the Big 12’s most explosive players, suffered an leg injury early in the contest. While it didn't appear to be serious, his status is unclear, according to Gundy. Getting him healthy and productive would help, as will a Ben-and-Jerry’s-type approach on offense instead of the vanilla flavor that reigned Saturday.
“We feel like we still have our rhythm and confidence,” Roland said. “As a team, we’re playing hard and relentless, and that’s what we’ll have to do in this last stretch.”