Remember the preseason posturing, propping up Oklahoma State's defense as the leaning post for an in-transition offense?
Seems like so much summer spin now.
Once again, the Cowboys' best bet at success may be to saddle up the offense and stock the Air Raid with ample ammo to win its share of season shootouts.
What else to glean from Saturday night's 59-38 happening in the desert, where Arizona piled up 501 yards and 32 first downs and scored a perfect 8-for-8 in the red zone with five touchdowns?
OK, so it's a bit premature to write off the OSU defense just one real game into this 2012 season. And, yes, Wildcats quarterback Matt Scott looked good, especially in Rich Rodriguez's still lethal system, totaling 375 yards and three touchdowns of run-pass offense.
“I'd say he's pretty danged good,” said defensive tackle James Castleman, one of the few Cowboys defenders to play well. “He's shifty. He knows how to run. And he's smart.”
But the Cowboys D was supposed to be special in spots, too, with supposed lockdown corners in Brod Brown and Justin Gilbert and a trio of returning attackers at linebacker. And this stage of the season figured to be when the OSU offense would lean on its defense most, while breaking in the kid quarterback Wes Lunt.
Instead, it was Lunt offering all hope for a cardiac comeback in Tucson, throwing for a Big 12 freshman record 436 yards and flinging 60 passes, matching Brandon Weeden for the most in program history.
And it was the defense looking lost on the big stage, struggling to locate Arizona's playmakers and revealing its frustration with five personal foul penalties.
Even OSU's one signature strength of recent seasons — collecting turnovers — was absent, with the Cowboys unable to produce a single takeaway.
“That's what we thrive on — turnovers,” said safety Daytawion Lowe. “And we didn't get any.”
Critics of OSU's defense have pinned the luck factor a significant contributor to the impressive turnover totals of the past few seasons. The Cowboys claim they're making their own luck, with an extreme emphasis on takeaways in practices and games.
But so far in 2012, the turnovers haven't materialized the same way they did — seemingly on cue — in big games the past few years. The Cowboys have but two in two games (with both coming against hapless Savannah State), leaving them far off the pace of a year ago, when they led the nation with 44.
Sure, two games is a small sample size, but what if the critics are right? Where does that leave this Cowboys D?
The OSU offense is hardly without blame from Saturday night, turning it over four times, including Lunt's first big learning moment: a back-foot heave that was turned into a backbreaking pick-6, just as the Cowboys held an opportunity to climb back into the lead.
But such missteps are expected of true freshmen quarterbacks.
We expect much more of a veteran defense billed as a budding big-time unit.
Yet this is no time for panic, despite the raging concerns one game can bring.
“It stings,” said linebacker Alex Elkins. “But it's the little things, not big things in general, but little things that can be easily fixed. I ain't too worried about it.
“We're going to be able to bounce back. This doesn't define our defense. It wasn't our best day and we're definitely going to come out looking for revenge on whoever's next.”
Maybe Bill Young's return from a health-related absence will provide some stability and answers that are needed. The Cowboys were also without key injured rotation guys in linebacker Lyndell Johnson and defensive end Tyler Johnson.
To their credit, OSU's defenders seemed not despondent, but determined following their laid egg.
“It's a good thing that it happened early for us,” Gilbert said. “I think we can learn a lot from this tape.”
Lessons that could have been learned from a legitimate season-opening opponent? That's a debate for another day.
But let's be clear, the spotlight is now fixed on the OSU defense, which faces many stiff challenges ahead.
“Tough night,” said co-defensive coordinator Glenn Spencer. “It's a tough pill to swallow. But we've got some great kids. We have a lot of high character kids. There's no doubt in my mind that they're going to respond.
“They'll have plenty of this film to look. And we have to get it right. And we have to get it right quick.”