AUSTIN, Texas — As Kye Staley walked across the Texas Memorial Stadium turf toward the Oklahoma State locker room, he raised a resolute pistols-firing hand signal into the air.
A photographer clicked frames.
Desmond Roland couldn't resist. He made the pistols-firing gesture with both hands, shaking them around and smiling widely.
These Cowboys left Austin on Saturday night feeling good.
OSU 38, Texas 13.
The Cowboys turned what was supposed to be one of the best games of the day into a laugher. They won by four scores on the road. They dominated a team that was unbeaten in conference play. They handed the Longhorns the biggest home loss that they have ever suffered under Mack Brown.
“They won in about every way you can win,” the Longhorn coach said.
It sets the stage for a big ol' ballgame. Baylor comes to OSU next week with its top-five ranking and national-title aspirations. The game will be primetime, national television.
ESPN won't say for certain until Sunday that Game Day is coming to Stillwater, but the network would be foolish to go anywhere else.
The Cowboys have a chance to stake their claim on the league crown and the Fiesta Bowl.
“I certainly think we've got as good a chance as anybody,” Cowboy coach Mike Gundy said.
“If you'd have asked me that six weeks ago and I would have said we had as good a chance as anybody, you guys probably would've got up and walked out. Justifiably so.”
That was about the time that the Cowboys were leaving another Big 12 outpost feeling oh so different than they do now. Even though it seems like a million years ago, it wasn't that long ago that OSU lost at West Virginia and seemed like a dead team walking. They had an offense that couldn't run the ball and a quarterback who couldn't pass it. They had special teams that were anything but. And they had a defense that was just holding on for dear life.
So, how have the Cowboys gone from that to this?
It starts with a couple of significant personnel switches — Clint Chelf for J.W. Walsh at quarterback and Desmond Roland for Jeremy Smith at running back. Those two showed their value again Saturday; Chelf passed for 197 yards and two touchdowns and rushed for 95 yards and two more touchdowns while Roland had 102 hard-earned all-purpose yards.
Other differences in the Cowboys from Morgantown to Austin have to do with continuing to work and improve. The offensive line, for example, got abused by West Virginia. Blitzes and stunts and shifts had it scrambling.
It wasn't long after that Joe Wickline found a mix that seemed to work, and slowly but surely, the offensive line meshed.
Saturday against a Texas defensive front that is formidable, the OSU offensive line allowed no sacks and even more impressive, no quarterback hurries.
The Cowboys, even without their best player Josh Stewart, made beating the Longhorns look easy.
No way anyone thought they would be capable of that in the days after that loss to the Mountaineers.
“Morgantown was a wakeup call,” Cowboy receiver Charlie Moore said. “We knew that's not who we were.”
And while everyone else was giving them up for dead, the Cowboys were focusing on what they needed to do that day. What film they needed to watch. What game plan they needed to learn. What kind of effort they needed to give.
The coaches were smart to pound that approach, and the players were mature enough to buy in.
Now, six wins later, the Cowboys control their destiny. Go home to Stillwater, win these next two games, and they will raise another Big 12 banner.
“Couldn't draw it up any better,” Moore said.
The Cowboys were in good spirits Saturday night, but win out and nothing will feel better than that.
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.