ARLINGTON, Texas — The OSU offense wasn’t anything special, by Cowboy standards. The OSU kicking game was just short of disastrous. Heisman Trophy winner Jameis Winston produced a series of big plays.
And not until the final seconds was Cowboy defeat assured against Florida State in a college football showdown opener that was called the Cowboys Classic and dang near was exactly that. The Seminoles beat OSU 37-31 in a gridiron fistfight Saturday that left the Cowboys dejected about the night but should leave them euphoric about the future.
Rebuilding year? The top-ranked Seminoles want no part of Oklahoma State football if this is considered the inferior version.
“They played their tails off,” Winston said.
An OSU squad missing 37 players from 2013’s Cotton Bowl team showed that 2014 does not have to be a dip. The Cowboys stood toe-to-toe with the Seminoles and didn’t back down.
“You don’t ever know what to expect with so many young players on the field, but there was never any fear in their eyes,” Mike Gundy said. “They played hard. They made mistakes, but they made mistakes going full speed. That’s the future of your program. They didn’t have the deer-in-the-headlights look at all.”
Especially on defense. You thought offense would have to carry the Cowboys this season. At least early. But Saturday night, OSU’s defense stood tall. Florida State had 14 possessions and produced just three touchdowns and three field goals. The Seminoles were the nation’s best offense in 2013 and might be again, with Winston.
But Seth Jacobs and Ashton Lampkin came up with interceptions off Winston, OSU’s defense made Florida State punt five times and the Cowboys took the 18-point-favorite Seminoles to the brink.
No coach wants to claim a moral victory, and OSU defensive coordinator Glenn Spencer didn’t. But he should. These Cowboys will have no greater test this season, and in their maiden voyage with seven new starters, played hard and well. Linebackers Jacobs, Ryan Simmons and Josh Furman didn’t come off the field. Cornerbacks Kevin Peterson and Lampkin missed only a play or two. The Cowboys were dragging by game’s end. Dragging, but still fighting.
“You never know anything until you play,” Spencer said. “I’ll watch the film; I’m sure I’m going to be proud of ‘em tomorrow. I am proud of ‘em. Still, it rips your gut out.”
That’s the thing. OSU could have won this game. A play here or there. Two botched punt snaps, one just after a not-called pass interference against Jhajuan Seales that could have put the Cowboys in field goal range. J.W. Walsh’s midfield fumble with less than five minutes to go and OSU down just six points.
This was anybody’s ballgame most of the night, and this season now looks completely different. If the OSU offense — a staple of production for more than a decade now — can find its gear, this team can get things done. The young talent is legit. Tyreek Hill on offense. Lampkin and Jacobs and Emmanuel Ogbah on defense.
“We have high expectations,” Gundy said. “It’s encouraging, and I go back to they had a chance to back down, and nobody really would have said anything. Everybody would have said, ‘That’s OK.’”
But the Cowboys didn’t back down. They came to JerryWorld and played with a fight that will befit them well in this 2014 season. Before September arrives, we already can scrap the idea that this is a rebuilding season in Stillwater.
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 FM-98.1. You can also view his personality page at newsok.com/berrytramel.