STILLWATER — Mike Gundy has some advice for the Oklahoma State faithful who are less than enamored with the offense struggling and the defense needing hero mode and the Cowboys having to win close games.
Get used to it.
Oh, the Oklahoma State coach didn't exactly say it that way Saturday, but in various ways, that was his message after this season's latest drama.
OSU 33, Kansas State 29.
This is the new normal.
“We play a little different this year than we have the last few years,” Gundy said.
No doubt about that.
These aren't the blow-you-out-early, win-going-away Cowboys of seasons past. In those days, reserves got to play a bunch in the second half and the fans got to hit the tailgates early.
Those days are gone.
These past two weeks have made that obvious. Even in a weakened Big 12, OSU has found itself in dogfights with teams that are expected to finish in the bottom half of the league. It was a nail-biting loss at West Virginia a week ago, and Saturday, it was a nail-biting win against K-State.
Better get used to the nail biting, Cowboy fans.
The main reason: this OSU team doesn't have an offense that is consistent enough to win regularly by blowout.
The up-and-down nature of this bunch was on full display Saturday.
The Cowboys managed no points on their first two possessions, then scored on three of their next four, then went dry on the next two. Even when they got back on the board with field goals on their next two possessions, they were sputtering possessions. On both, the Cowboys had extremely short fields after the defense snagged interceptions, but the offense couldn't punch it into the end zone.
The first of those two drives started at the K-State 22, and when Jeremy Smith managed nothing on third and 5, a flock of boo birds came out at Boone Pickens Stadium.
It was hard to argue that displeasure.
Even the Cowboy coaches were left scratching their heads as to what ailed the offense.
“I don't have a clue,” Gundy said. “I wish I could give you a good answer so it would sound good on the news tonight.”
The truth is it's a lot of things. A receiving corps that hasn't lived up to extremely high expectations. A run game that misses Joe Randle. An offensive line that lost its starting left tackle and has yet to find an answer. A new offensive coordinator who is still adjusting to big-time football.
And, of course, there's the inconsistent arm of J.W. Walsh. Sometimes, it's great. Sometimes, it's not. And you just never know which it's going to be.
“I think we're getting better,” Gundy said of the offense, “but you know, the comparison ... to the offense that's been around here six or seven years is at some point a little unfair.
“I mean, it's not like you can continue to do it forever.”
That's what's happened before. Personnel changed. Coaches changed. And still, the Cowboys clicked right along.
That's what Cowboy fans figured would happen this season, but it just hasn't been that way.
And there's little reason to believe the Cowboys are going to find a magic fix.
Oh, they will continue to improve because that's what good teams do, and regardless of what's happened these past couple weeks, this is still a good team. But it looks more and more like inconsistent is what this offense is going to be because that's what Walsh is going to be when it comes to throwing the ball.
That means the defense is going to have to win some games for the Cowboys.
Good news for OSU: this defense is capable of doing that.
“And we want that,” Cowboy linebacker Shaun Lewis said. “It's never been like that before.”
Lewis made big play after big play Saturday. A fumble forced. A fumble recovered. A pass intercepted. A late tackle that kept the clock running on K-State.
But he wasn't alone. Caleb Lavey made seven tackles. Tyler Johnson sacked the quarterback twice. Daytawion Lowe intercepted a pass.
This is a defense that has playmakers, a defense that can smooth over bumps in the road.
Now, a team that relies on defense isn't going to win many games by blowout. But hey, aren't close wins better than losses, Cowboy fans?
“I love close games,” Walsh said. “You win by 35 points, it's fun, but you give the fans, what? A half of football? You win like this, you give ‘em 60 minutes and a win at that.”
Gundy said, “For the most part in this league, you're going to see a lot of games like today. It should be an exciting run from here on out.”
You say exciting, Coach.
Cowboy fans would call it something else. Excruciating seems about right.
But everyone probably better just get used to it.
Jenni Carlson: Jenni can be reached at (405) 475-4125. Like her at facebook.com/JenniCarlsonOK, follow her at twitter.com/jennicarlson_ok or view her personality page at newsok.com/jennicarlson.