GLENDALE, Ariz. — Over the Oklahoma State headsets, Mike Gundy heard the advice loud and clear.
Punt. Punt the ball away. Three minutes, 20 seconds left in the Fiesta Bowl, the Cowboys down seven points to Stanford, fourth down, three yards to go, OSU's 40-yard line, and Gundy's lieutenants wanted him to play safe.
“Nope,” Gundy said.
“You crazy?” they asked.
Gundy can neither confirm nor deny the validity of that accusation. But here's what Gundy decided in the pivotal moment of the biggest stage Oklahoma State ever has found itself in.
If the game's on the line, Gundy wanted the ball in his quarterback's hand. Not Stanford's. Gundy wanted to rely on Brandon Weeden making a play, not on keeping Andrew Luck from doing the same.
The coach who has his Yankees job put all his faith in the rocket arm of a guy who has had a real Yankees job.
Gundy said go for it. So offensive coordinator Todd Monken called the play. If Stanford was in man-to-man coverage, throw a slant pattern to Justin Blackmon, maybe the most reliable play in college football these last two seasons.
You know the rest. Weeden rifled a pass to Blackmon, who caught it and dragged Stanford defenders for a 21-yard gain. Lots of drama remained before the Cowboys had a 41-38 overtime victory. But an incompletion there, or the wrong decision by the head coach, would have negated all the following intrigue.
That play saved the Cowboys.
“I'm not punting the ball to the No. 1 pick,” Gundy said of Luck. “Listen, I don't make a lot of calls. But I'm not punting it to him.”
Luck was sensational. He completed 27 of 31 passes for 347 yards. The last eight possessions of regulation, Stanford scored four touchdowns, kicked a field goal, missed a moderate-length field goal, punted once and fumbled once.
Gundy surveyed the game and decided to ask his best players to win it. Win it they did.
“He takes pride in his one-on-one matchups,” Weeden said of Blackmon. “He likes catching the ball with his hands. He is not a guy that lets it come to him. If I know it is one-on-one, there is nobody really I throw it to other than Blackmon … I'm going to Blackmon 100 percent of the time.”
Give Weeden credit, too. A guy who 10 years ago was the Yankees' first pick in the baseball draft was trying to put a stamp on a storybook career in another sport.
“It has been unbelievable,” Weeden said. He went on to say if he was told “this situation would arose six or seven years ago, I would have thought you were crazy. But like I said, this has kind of been my dream since I was a little kid, this ride.”
What an incredible OSU story. The Cowboys played the biggest bowl game in their history, against a quarterback who is regarded as the most polished pro prospect in either 10 or 30 years, depending on whether you go back to Peyton Manning or John Elway, and yet OSU wasn't outclassed at quarterback. Amazing.
“There is a lot of talk about Andrew Luck, and I don't question anything that people say about him,” Gundy said. “He played as good as he could have played tonight. But we had a guy playing for us that was tremendous also. Started a little slow, but once he got going, boy, he can let it loose and make a lot of plays.”
Weeden completed 29 of 42 passes for 399 yards and three touchdowns. It would have been 400 yards and four TDs had his last completion, the overtime strike to Colton Chelf, stood as a touchdown instead of brought back to the 1-yard line.
So Gundy absolutely made the right call in putting the game in Weeden's hands. And here's the ultimate test. If Stanford could make the decision for OSU, which would the Cardinal prefer? Punt, no doubt about it.
Now, Gundy has his brain-lock moments, too. He told me after the game that if OSU hadn't scored so quickly on that last drive – the TD came with 2:35 left, three plays after the fourth down conversion – he would have ordered a two-point conversion.
“Overtime plays into their hands, with their offense,” Gundy said. “Our offense is based on tempo and the spread. We get a lot of our plays on big strikes.” And the compressed field of overtime limits big strikes.
That's all true. And why you don't go for two. The field is more compressed at the 3-yard line, for a two-point conversion, than at the 25 in overtime. The Cowboys had dented the Stanford 10-yard line three times and scored only one touchdown without trickery. Had to settle for a field goal once, had to resort to the first quarterback draw of Weeden's career for a TD.
Plus, the Cowboys had a clear kicking advantage. Jordan Williamson had only pulled one field goal at that point, but OSU's Quinn Sharp clearly had the game's best foot. No reason to disable that advantage.
Fortunately, Gundy went for the tie. Even more fortunately, moments earlier, he asked his best players to go for the win.
Berry Tramel: Berry can be reached at (405) 760-8080 or at firstname.lastname@example.org. He can be heard Monday through Friday from 4:40-5:20 p.m. on The Sports Animal radio network, including AM-640 and FM-98.1. You can also view his personality page at newsok.com/berrytramel.