STILLWATER — The Cowboys pride themselves on being tough. Always have. Good seasons or bad. Mike Gundy teams or Floyd Gass teams. World War II era or 21st century. Doesn’t matter. Oklahoma State football brands itself as tough.
But last December, in a frou-frou city against a team from the soft Pac-10, the Cowboys wilted. Oregon beat up the Cowboys 42-31 in the Holiday Bowl, and the Cowboys have been beating themselves up ever since. "They really did take over and beat us,” said OSU defensive tackle Derek Burton. "Flat-out beat us. I hate to say that, but that’s how it happened. I don’t want it to happen again.” Neither does Gundy. The Cowboy coach blames himself for the loss in San Diego. Believes he took it too easy on OSU in the bowl practices. Vows it won’t happen again. "We’ve been a tough football team,” Gundy said. "But we weren’t in that game. It’s up to us to get back on track.” Oregon out-hit OSU. Out-toughed the Cowboys, particularly in the fourth quarter. The Ducks trailed 17-7 at halftime but won going away. Gundy was worried about his team’s health last December. Worried about its depth. So Gundy lightened up on practice, then sensed something was wrong. "I thought, ‘maybe it’ll be all right,’ ” Gundy said. "But it wasn’t.” Oregon pushed around the Cowboys. Ran the ball at will: 194 yards rushing in the second half. Popped the OSU offense with a series of vicious hits; Zac Robinson and Dez Bryant were the fife-and-bugle corps by game’s end. "The first quarter, we go out, hit ’em in the mouth,” receiver DeMarcus Conner said. "We let that go away. You gotta practice like you’re going to play the game.” Which is why there will be nothing soft about OSU’s August workouts. The Cowboys don’t go full pads until today, but already practices are a tough-man contest. "The first two days, it was physical,” Conner said.