Mike Gundy likes a soft non-conference schedule, and he's not afraid to admit it. Says he wants a schedule that best sets up the Cowboys for Big 12 play.
Right goal. Wrong tact.
For the second straight season, OSU has played a dud game coming off its annual blasting of a Division I-AA opponent. Last year, Arizona cooked the Cowboys 59-38 after OSU toyed with hapless Savannah State 84-0. Saturday, OSU lost to weak West Virginia 30-21; the Cowboys' previous game was a 59-3 shellacking of Lamar.
It's no crime to lose a conference road game. It happens to teams better than OSU. But it's a shame to lose to a team that played no better than did the Mountaineers.
West Virginia's defense was solid, but the Mountaineer offense was meager. Quarterback Clint Trickett threw two interceptions and completed just 48 percent of his passes. West Virginia running backs gained 66 yards on 29 carries.
No way should the Mountaineers win a game with that kind of offensive production.
But they did. Maybe the Cowboys aren't nearly the team we thought they were. Or maybe OSU hasn't made the September progression quality teams should make.
Here are two examples of OSU's schedule doing the Cowboys no favors:
* OSU was all-world in red-zone offense coming into this game, having scored on all 15 possessions inside opponents' 20-yard line.
Saturday, trailing 24-21 but with a second-and-goal from the West Virginia 1-yard line early in the fourth quarter, the Cowboys came away with no points. A pass fell incomplete, Jeremy Smith was stuffed on a run and Ben Grogan missed a 23-yard field goal.
But that red-zone excellence was a mirage. OSU ran three plays total inside the Mississippi State 10-yard line. Three plays. All other goal-line offense was staged against Texas-San Antonio and Lamar.
You don't find out much about yourself playing UTSA, and you find out nothing playing Lamar.
* New offensive coordinator Mike Yurcich was hired away from Shippensburg, which is a lot closer to Lamar's level than Lamar is to West Virginia or Mississippi State.
Maybe the transition will smooth out, but the start is rocky against real teams.
The Mississippi State game was funky because of the early switch in quarterbacks and apparent switch in offensive style.
The West Virginia game was merely awful. If conference games are so danged important, you'd think you'd want Yurcich to get baptized by someone tougher than Lamar and a third-year program.
Gundy likes to say that if you get caught with the wrong game plan, it takes a veteran quarterback to bail you out. And J.W. Walsh, while promising, is not yet a vet.
So were the Cowboys doomed from the start?
“Not really,” Gundy said. “It was more execution. When we have a game like that, what I think is important is for us to identify was it the plan that failed, and the players didn't have a chance? That has happened before. That wasn't the case here.”
OK. But OSU went into Big 12 play with a coordinator who in his entire life had gameplanned exactly one game against major-conference talent.
The Cowboys don't have to play a murderer's row. But playing against teams that can fight back is more than just moral and entertaining. It's the best thing for the OSU football team.
Berry Tramel: Berry can be reached at (405) 760-8080 or at email@example.com. He can be heard Monday through Friday from 4:40-5:20 p.m. on The Sports Animal radio network, including FM-98.1. You can also view his personality page at newsok.com/berrytramel.