Oklahoma State's wild loss to Texas was entertaining, turning Twitter all aflutter with everyone from media members to fans and even Fiesta Bowl folks firing off alerts to the show taking place on Fox.
The game was alternately exhilarating and, for Cowboys followers, exasperating.
And it left us all with questions.
“What if” questions, for sure. But also “why” questions, for the Sunday morning quarterback in all of us.
Let's get to them:
SETTLING FOR 3
The setup: Trailing Texas by a point, 34-33, the Cowboys zipped to a first down at the Longhorns 13 on three straight big plays: a J.W. Walsh-to-Blake Jackson pass of 26 yards and Joseph Randle runs of 14 and 12 yards. From there, the Cowboys ran the tailback three straight times for a combined six yards and called on Quinn Sharp to kick a field goal that provided a 36-34 lead.
The question: In this kind of shoot-out, where the OSU defense hardly seemed reliable, why go ultra conservative when a touchdown (and two-point conversion) almost seemed mandatory?
The back story: Following his rugged 12-yard run, Randle left the field, seemingly gassed but also, according to Mike Gundy, “got dinged up a little bit.” With Jeremy Smith also out with an ankle injury, little-used sophomore Desmond Roland was needed at tailback. Did that affect the Cowboys' play calling? “At first, yes,” Gundy said, “but ultimately no.” OSU had gashed the Horns on the ground all night, averaging 6.9 yards per carry. So there was faith in the run game. Still, Roland isn't Randle, whom Gundy was seen urging to get back in the game on the sideline. The Cowboys bought him time, too, letting the clock run and then calling a timeout before snapping the third-down play, which Randle returned to run.
The setup: After Texas scored to go ahead 41-36 with just 29 seconds remaining, the Cowboys seemed to have one potential magic bullet for a miracle victory: a Justin Gilbert kickoff return for a touchdown. Gilbert had a 43-yard return that he nearly broke for more earlier in the game and had taken one back 100 yards against the Longhorns for a score last year in Austin. Yet when UT kicker Nick Rose booted it to Gilbert deep in the end zone, he was instructed not to bring it out.
The question: With so little time left and the odds stacked heavily against a rally already, why not give the fastest man on the field a shot at finding a crease and doing something special?
The back story: “It was talked about,” Gundy said. “As bad as I hate to admit that, you (media) guys are on target there, we did discuss that, bringing it out no matter what. It's the Tommy Lasorda theory, ‘You steal bases when you think you have the best chance to steal the base.' You play the percentages … It's just not smart, because their cover team would be almost to the 20-yard line. So he's seven deep, and they're at the 20 running. The party is going to start at the 10-yard line. So it's just not smart.”
The setup: In the closing moments of the third quarter, Walsh hit John Goodlett on a 20-yard touchdown pass that had to go to review to be confirmed. That pulled the Cowboys within two, 28-26, and Gundy called for a 2-point conversion to tie.
The question: It's not, ‘Why go for two so soon?' The question is why have Walsh, not necessarily known for his pinpoint passing, try a fade route for Tracy Moore? Walsh's strength is the run-pass aspect of his game, so why not roll out — run or pass — or take your chances with an option, rather than a low-percentage fade, which sailed five yards out of bounds?
The back story: Former Cowboys quarterback Brandon Weeden had the option to switch to a fade route involving Justin Blackmon, whenever one-on-one coverage was obvious. That freedom remains with the new quarterbacks, and is an integral part of their job in this version of the up-tempo spread, to read and react to defenses.
The setup: The Cowboys struck a blow when Walsh hit Josh Stewart with a pass that became a 44-yard TD when Stewart broke a tackle and romped to the end zone. The play came just 36 seconds after Texas had gone ahead 14-7, knotting the score at 14-14 and seizing momentum. It was short lived, as Texas' D.J. Monroe ran through an attempted tackle by Ashton Lampkin and was off to the races.
The question: What went wrong?
The back story: Sharp, already the nation's best at recording touchbacks, had talked just last week about OSU's shift to a strategy aimed at kicking the ball higher and shorter — a move aimed at tempting return men into bringing the ball out at the risk of getting trapped deep in their own end. Was it in play on the fateful return? Sharp's subsequent six kickoffs all were lower drives that either sailed through the end zone or were not returned.
Questions always arise following losses, particularly a game with so many highs and lows on both sides.
Inside the program, however, Gundy said the focus is strictly on finding answers.
“There could be a lot of second guessing on coaching calls on both sides of the ball,” Gundy said, “and there won't be any inside our organization.
“We put it all to rest.”