The OSU-West Virginia game Saturday reminded me of Les Miles and one of his favorite phrases. After a Cowboy game a decade ago, he said, “I like my team! I like its resolve!”
Nobody much uses resolve as a noun, but Miles did. And the Cowboys have over the years. But not Saturday.
For my Monday column in The Oklahoman, I wrote about the Cowboys’ disappointing performance in losing 30-21 to the Mountaineers. You can read that here.
Something I thought about, but didn’t get in to, was the Cowboys’ lack of resolve against West Virginia. The Cowboys’ lack of fighting through an obviously terrible game.
All teams have Saturdays in which they just don’t have it. If you’re playing a team of virtually equal ability, you’re probably doomed. But if you’re playing an inferior team, you still can win by just working past all the problems and just finding a way. Hence, resolve.
Who knows if West Virginia will prove to be inferior to OSU. The early returns clearly show the Cowboys were superior. Both teams blew out fledgling I-A foes who only recently started programs (OSU, Texas-San Antonio; West Virginia, Georgia State). OSU blew out a I-AA foe (Lamar), while West Virginia struggled with a I-AA foe (William & Mary). OSU beat a middling Southeastern Conference foe (Mississippi State 21-3); West Virginia was blown out by a middling Atlantic Coast Conference foe (Maryland 37-0). West Virginia had an extra game, and that was the 16-7 loss in Norman in which the Mountaineers showed they had some defensive fight, though they got to go largely against Trevor Knight, not Blake Bell.
Those resume’s clearly stamped OSU as the superior team. And some past OSU teams would have fought through bad Saturdays. Would have and have.
Kansas and TCU last year. OSU beat KU 20-14 last season despite a horrible performance. The Cowboys trailed TCU 14-0 and still were behind 14-9 at halftime before finding their footing for a 36-14 victory.
The 2011 Cowboys faced such a game that Friday night in Ames, Iowa, but those were extenuating circumstances with the news of the plane crash.
The 2010 Cowboys trailed Troy 27-20 at halftime and never did put away the Trojans, yet won 41-38. OSU that season also trailed Louisiana-Lafayette 21-170 at halftime before finding its bearings and winnings 54-28. And in a game that perhaps most closely resembles West Virginia 2013, OSU was tied 7-7 at Kansas State before breaking away for a 24-14 victory. That Wildcat team was mediocre; it finished 7-6, which is somewhere in the neighborhood of where WVU will finish this season.
I asked Mike Gundy on Sunday about the disappointment of that kind of resolve never appearing in Morgantown.
“We started to,” he said. “We opened the second half where we kicked off and downed them at the three. We held them. We drove down and scored a touchdown and then both teams kind of sputtered and we got down to the 1-yard line on 2nd-and-goal with a chance to score. If we score there, we just punch the ball in and we are up by four points at that time with seven minutes to go or something.
“Then as a coach looks at it, you would like to think you are going to put them in a situation where they are really going to have to press on offense and maybe get a turnover or so on or so forth. It got to that point and then we just never really finished it. And then you miss the field goal and the momentum changed again on us. It was a tough day at the office for everybody.”
Truly that goal-line failure sunk the Cowboys. You’ve got to score from the 1-yard line, with three downs to do it. But the Cowboys didn’t score, and they went home losers from Morgantown.
OSU showed that it’s not good enough to just show up and win without its A game. Without its A game or at least some resolve.