WACO, Texas – Clint Chelf's final numbers weren't bad.
The Cowboys quarterback completed 30 of 51 passes for a career-high 333 yards and two touchdowns.
And still, Chelf stood shaking his head and regretting several throws following a 41-34 loss at Baylor.
None bigger than a first-quarter interception-turned-touchdown that sent the Bears surging to a big early lead from which Oklahoma State never recovered.
“A tough play,” Chelf said. “Their linebacker made a good play, I underthrew it, just didn't get it out far enough for Josh (Stewart).”
Just not enough – a description of the day for OSU's offense, which never carried its weight in an anticipated shootout that saw Las Vegas oddsmakers establish an all-time high of 87 points for the over/under (total points by both teams).
Just not enough from Chelf, either, as the triggerman of that offense.
Credit the Bears – yes, the Bears and their 119th-ranked defense – for their role in slowing the Cowboys. Taking a cue from Oklahoma's fourth-quarter approach the week before, Baylor dialed up frequent blitz pressure, leaving the secondary in man-to-man coverage with no help, or “cover zero.”
Chelf, frequently hurried, failed to take advantage of the single-coverage matchups.
“I'm sure their coaches watched last week,” Chelf said, referring to Bedlam. “They went cover zero against us a lot and brought a lot of guys. They had a good plan. I didn't make enough plays when they brought a lot of people, so they kept doing it.
“You've got to stand in there and take some shots and get the ball to your playmakers. I didn't do a good enough job of that.”
The Bears kept bringing the pressure, with a variety of blitzes.
“This team can put up a lot of points on you if you sit back and let them,” said Baylor defensive back Ahmad Dixon.
The Bears weren't willing to do that. And it was pressure that led to the critical early interception.
The game was tied 3-3 after each team managed field goals on their initial drives, when OSU had the ball again, first down at its own 25.
That's when Baylor defensive tackle Gary Mason Jr. broke through the middle and barreled in on Chelf, who read the play right, but threw off his back foot and without zip toward Josh Stewart. Bears linebacker Eddie Lackey stepped in front, made a difficult catch and romped 26-yards for a score.
That made it 10-3. And soon it was 17-3. And 24-3.
Oh what Chelf wouldn't give for a simple incompletion, a sack even, on that one misguided throw.
“Gosh, you wish he'd have gotten hit harder and the ball ended up on the ground incomplete,” said offensive coordinator Todd Monken.
“It just happened at the wrong time.”
Said Cowboys coach Mike Gundy: “You can take away any plays, but if you take away the one pick-6, you have a 560-yard day (offensively) and you score 34 points and you probably feel different. But when you give them a free one like we did, it makes it difficult to overcome.”
The final score suggests a rally, and there was the appearance of one. But there was never a sense that the Cowboys could climb all the way back. Even with the defense showing some teeth for the first time, holding Baylor to 10 second-half points, there just weren't enough explosive plays or drive-extending conversions.
“Yeah, we got a couple scores late and it kind of got us back in it,” Monken said. “But when it mattered, we were just choppy. We had some calls we could have made, some plays we could have made. And it starts with me. I just didn't do a good enough job.”
Chelf tossed a second interception that wasn't at all his fault, glancing off the hands of Stewart before the pick. Blake Jackson dropped two would-be touchdowns in the end zone. And there were other drops, too, so plenty of blame to be shared.
Still, the spotlight always finds the quarterback.
Chelf's feel-good ride from third-team guy to successful starter has suddenly hit some bumps. Not in the road, but on the road, with back-to-back losses at OU and Baylor, following a 2-0 beginning as a starter at home against West Virginia and Texas Tech.
“The last two weeks on the road, it's taught me a lot about momentum swings and playing to the crowd and not having your crowd,” Chelf said, “and just being with the group of guys on the team and relying on them.
“At home sometimes, you can feed off the crowd. On the road, you've got to feed off each other. A big learning experience for me.”