SAN ANTONIO — J.W. Walsh let out a big exhale, expressing a mixture of excitement, amazement and exhaustion as the word “golly” came out of his mouth.
Here's the magic word that initiated such a response from the Oklahoma State quarterback: Tempo.
It's a buzzword that swirled around the Cowboys' offseason, with the rumor that new coordinator Mike Yurcich would make an already fast offense go even faster. And Saturday provided the evidence, as OSU put together three consecutive touchdown drives that lasted fewer than two minutes during the decisive second-quarter stretch that propelled the No. 13 Cowboys to a 56-35 victory over Texas-San Antonio at the Alamodome.
The famous “beep beep” call from the Looney Toons Roadrunner rang through the stadium whenever the UTSA Roadrunners recorded a first down. The call could have become the soundtrack for the OSU offense.
And the Cowboys didn't yet even have that extra official to spot the ball.
“When you get the tempo going like that, it makes for a fun and exciting offense for us,” Walsh said. “We have guys everywhere that make plays, and people saw that today.
“Last week, some of the guys had a look in their eyes it was like ‘Oh, we're here (playing in the first game). Today, everyone was just ready to go. I think that's what had a lot to do with it is everyone was just dialed in and the communication was so quick and on time.”
Walsh's sharpness — he completed 24-of-27 passes for 326 yards and four touchdowns — certainly helped the offense hum, using a variety of short passes to allow his receivers to make plays in the open field. Combine that with fewer penalties and mental errors, and the Cowboys (2-0) had used the quick-strike attack to race out to a 35-7 halftime lead.
First, they covered 63 yards in seven plays and 1:40, capping that drive Josh Stewart dancing and spinning and jumping into the end zone. The next possession, they went 80 yards in six plays and 1:38, which included a 56-yard deep ball to Stewart and a four-yard score by Walsh out of the successful three-back set. The drive after that, they capitalized on a Ryan Simmons interception by going 32 yards in four plays and 1:37, with Jeremy Smith pounding into the end zone from a yard away.
“It's helpful to be in a rhythm that we were in,” Yurcich said, “That all starts with good communication and great execution, which I thought we had for the most part today. I think our kids play really well, and it gives yourselves a chance to go fast when you execute.”
Start with communication. In the no-huddle system, the next play quickly goes from Yurcich in the coaches box to his assistants on the sideline to Walsh, who then largely uses hand signals to relay the play to the rest of the offense. Members of position groups, such as the offensive line or the receivers, communicate directly, as well.
Execution of the play itself is fairly self-explanatory. But that also happens in between plays. In other words, the Cowboys must immediately be ready for the next snap.
“Just paying attention,” Stewart said of the biggest key to moving fast. “Even if you make a big play, just looking back (for the next call). We treat every play like it's going fast. Even if you make a big play, we don't have time to celebrate.
“We don't have time to do anything (like) congratulate the receiver for the catch. We've got to get back to the line and run the next play.”
Added offensive lineman Parker Graham: “Most of the time, I don't even know what happened the play before. You just block your guy, and then you run to where the ball's at, and then you block your guy and you run to where the ball's at.”
That chemistry must originally be built during preseason camp. But Walsh said it became even more of a focus this week in practice, with the Cowboys being ordered back to the middle of the field to then sprint back to the sideline if the pace wasn't to Yurcich's liking.
The tempo was decent on Tuesday. By Wednesday, it was a little faster. By Thursday, it was super speedy.
“We just kind of looked up, and practice was over way earlier than we thought it was supposed to be,” Walsh said. “We're practicing that hard, and I think that showed.
“I think that's a good weapon for us, a good tool to be moving fast like that and be successful with it.”
The ultimate result Saturday was an offense that looked way more like the Air Raid attack that has become the Cowboy Way during the last three seasons, rather than the run-heavy attack that out-muscled Mississippi State in Week 1. OSU coach Mike Gundy reaffirmed after the game that the Cowboys were largely taking what the Bulldogs gave them in Houston, even admitting that Mississippi State “showed no inclination for knowing how to defend” Walsh's ability to run the option.
But the Cowboys can agree that it was fun to get back to the up-tempo attack.
Can it hurry up even more?
“I think we can get faster,” receiver Brandon Sheperd said. “But today was really fast.”