STILLWATER — The majority of the record crowd inside Boone Pickens Stadium had evaporated by the beginning the fourth quarter, departing early to start the postgame victory festivities rather than wait out the final minutes of a blowout Oklahoma State victory over a mismatched opponent.
OSU’s 59-3 win over Football Championship Subdivision opponent Lamar didn’t tell us much, other than that Cowboy Nation can rally under the scrutiny of a week’s worth of Sports Illustrated investigative stories that alleged multiple examples of misconduct inside their program.
But through the nonconference portion of the schedule, OSU has held up the preseason expectation as the favorite to win the league, particularly as other contenders have already sputtered at times.
“How good we are, I’m not sure,” coach Mike Gundy said. “We watch a few games, and I don’t know how many teams in the country are good football teams. I like where we’re at. I like that we’re competing.”
The Cowboys’ quarterback derby is settled, even though J.W. Walsh was not as sharp Saturday night as he was against Texas-San Antonio a week ago. He completed 17 of his 30 passes for 181 yards and one touchdown while getting bailed out by his receivers on occasion, such as a nifty one-handed one-yard touchdown catch by Blake Jackson.
Gundy categorized the overall offensive performance Saturday as “pretty average,” but the Cowboys have shown an ability to run the ball (286 yards against Mississippi State) or throw (518 yards against UTSA). Saturday’s performance was actually the most balanced, with the Cowboys totaling 38 rushing attempts for 155 yards and 36 pass attempts for 271 yards.
The defense has held strong through three games, except for the fourth quarter against UTSA, when a heavy dose of backups allowed 28 points when the game was long decided. Against Lamar, OSU likely would have pitched a shutout if not for an interception thrown by Walsh late in the first half that helped set up the Justin Stout’s 44-yard field goal as the clock expired.
Perhaps the Cowboys have an emerging weapon in special teams, as Josh Stewart racked up 114 punt return yards Saturday, including a 67-yarder for a score. True freshman kicker Ben Grogan also got his first field goal make, a 39-yarder in the second quarter. Kip Smith boomed four of his nine kickoffs for touchbacks.
The Cowboys also appear to have the right mix of veterans performing the way they should — Stewart ended the night with 176 all-purpose yards while Daytawion Lowe and Caleb Lavey tallied eight and six tackles, respectively — and younger players continue to step up, such as receivers Marcell Ateman and Jhjauan Seales combining for six catches for 68 yards Saturday night.
Meanwhile, several other teams that looked capable of challenging for the Big 12 title have already slipped up.
TCU lost at Texas Tech Thursday night and has lost starting quarterback Casey Pachall to a broken arm. Texas fired defensive coordinator Manny Diaz after a disastrous performance against BYU last Saturday and then fell to Mississippi Saturday.
KansasState lost to North DakotaState to open the season, while Baylor’s a soft nonconference schedule of Buffalo and Wofford so far has kept the Bears largely a mystery. Oklahoma put together its best performance of the season against Tulsa and may have found its real quarterback in Blake Bell, while Texas Tech’s win over TCU may propel it into contender status.
So now the Cowboys get a week off before entering the meat of their schedule, beginning Sept. 28 at West Virginia. Gundy wants to see his team get healthy — Justin Gilbert went down with an injury during the game and the offensive line has been banged up in the early season — along with focus on tackling well in the open field and taking care of the football.
Gundy may not yet be sure how good his squad is. But compared to the rest of the league, so far, so good.
“I’ve said this before, their responsibility is to work hard and prepare Sunday through Thursday,” Gundy said. “They’ve done that. They’ve done everything we’ve asked them to do in that area. I think that’s more important that anything else and that they give us everything they’ve got.”