WACO, Texas — Cooper Bassett looked at the ground, clenched his jaw and cleared his throat.
Nothing held back his emotions.
“We didn't finish the way we wanted,” the Oklahoma State defensive lineman said, his eyes welling and his voice wavering. “We know that we're a lot better team than 7-5.”
“Unfortunately, our record doesn't reflect that. I'm proud of the way the guys fought. But ... ”
He sniffled again.
How did things go so bad so fast?
Less than two weeks ago, the Cowboys were in the running for a Big 12 championship. But after a 41-34 loss to Baylor, tears replaced smiles and questions outnumbered answers.
At the top of the list of unknowns — what happened to a Cowboy defense that played lights out only two weeks ago?
Remember that glorious Saturday, Cowboy fans? Texas Tech came to Stillwater with one of the nation's best offenses, and this OSU defense had its way. It got pressure. It got turnovers. It got stops.
Seems like so long ago now. Each of the past two weeks, the Cowboys gave up more than 600 yards. Oklahoma had 618 while Baylor had 615.
That's 1,233 yards in two weeks.
No doubt injuries had a hand in that. While injuries have been the story of this season, most of the notable ones have been on offense. But injuries have thinned the defense, too.
James Castleman was the latest player to go down. The defensive tackle suffered an undisclosed injury during the week and left a huge hole in the middle Saturday.
Brodrick Brown played, but the defensive back was so hurt that he didn't practice at all during the week.
Still, Bill Young and Co. allowing 6.5 yards a play won't cut it.
“We just helped them a little too much,” the Cowboy defense coordinator said.
He admitted what everyone could see — the pass coverage was too forgiving.
He and his coaches decided to give the Bears plenty of cushion after watching them on video running by so many defenders. Young didn't want to let the Baylor speedsters get behind his injury-thinned secondary.
“We went in there really trying to protect and not give up a cheap one,” he said. “Maybe played a little too soft.
“If we'd have had a great pass rush, maybe we wouldn't have had to worry about it.”
That might be the thing that changed the most in the past two weeks. In that big win against Texas Tech, OSU sacked and hurried Seth Doege into his worst day of the season.
Saturday against Baylor, the Cowboys had no sacks and only three quarterback hurries.
Of course, you can't pin all of Saturday on the defense. Everyone knew this was going to be a shootout between two of the best offenses in the country, and the Cowboy offense failed to keep pace.
But again, it's hard to win when your defense gives up 600-plus yards.
Even though the defense allowed only 10 points in the second half, a 76-yard touchdown run by Lache Seastrunk was the dagger.
The twist of that dagger?
Seastrunk pulled a hamstring about 40 yards from the end zone but still managed to beat the Cowboy defenders to the goal line.
“Unfortunately, we didn't make enough plays on defense,” Bassett said.
Now, the Cowboys are left to wonder what would've been. What if they'd managed a fourth-down stop in Norman? What if they'd forced even one turnover in Waco?
This season suddenly feels vastly different that it did even eight days ago. Before that Bedlam game, the possibilities that existed were grand. A Big 12 title. A BCS bowl. A wondrous season.
Now, the Cowboys are hoping the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl finds them desirable enough to invite them back to the desert.
This has been a clunker of an ending.
“It kind of makes it sting a little bit more,” Bassett said.
The senior cleared his throat.
“It just kind of smarts a little bit when you have those opportunities (to play) and they're running down and you want to make the most of every one of them.”
His jaw clenched one last time.
“We're not ending it the way we wanted to.”
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.