LAWRENCE, Kan. — So, Cowboy fans, how are you going to look at this one?
There's no debating that Oklahoma State was lackluster in a 20-14 victory against Kansas on Saturday. The Jayhawks lost to Rice and Northern Illinois earlier this season, and yet, they took the Cowboys to the brink of disaster.
If not for some of the worst late-game management you'll ever see — hard to believe someone actually paid Charlie Weis to be an NFL coach — Kansas would've gotten the ball back and had a chance to win the darn game.
So, yes, OSU was lackluster.
But on the day that OSU plays as uninspired as we've seen in several seasons, madness ruled in the Big 12. League favorite West Virginia got whacked at Texas Tech, frontrunner Kansas State got pushed at Iowa State and suddenly surging Oklahoma got out the whoopin' stick against Texas.
Is all of that cause for optimism, Cowboy fans? Is that reason to think the league is still wide open and that OSU can still make a run?
Or does the close call against Kansas make you wary?
“We're certainly going to have to play better to make a run here at the end,” Cowboy coach Mike Gundy said.
No doubt about that.
It starts with the offense. The Cowboys stumbled around as much as they have all season, struggling to finish drives and failing to have a bunch of those explosive plays for which they've become known. There was just no pizzazz out there.
OSU offensive coordinator Todd Monken largely took the blame for that.
“I thought I did a really poor job of adjusting to what they did,” he said.
He knows this offense has plenty of things to work on and correct.
“Starting with me.”
But let's be honest — Monken doesn't have all of the bullets in his gun. It's becoming more and more obvious that J.W. Walsh doesn't have the arm to throw anything longer than 20 yards with much accuracy. Until Wes Lunt returns from his injury, that deficiency ties Monken's hands.
Compounding the woes Saturday were injuries to veteran wide receivers Tracy Moore and Isaiah Anderson. Neither looked to be of the season-ending variety, but playing most of Saturday's game without both of them put the Cowboys in a tough spot.
Jeremy Smith also played a limited amount after injuring his ankle against Texas.
Do you add all of that up, Cowboy fans, and think that maybe we should consider scoring 20 points an achievement?
Do you at least rest assured that when Lunt and Co. return, things will get better?
But what to make of this defense?
OSU is still struggling to force turnovers, something that became the Cowboys calling card a year ago. They had no turnovers against the Jayhawks.
A year ago, OSU had four of them against Kansas.
But on a positive note, the defense did make five fourth-down stops. Those weren't turnovers in the true sense of the word, and yet, the defense did manage to get the ball back.
Add in the fact that Kansas was 6 of 18 on third down, and OSU held on those late-down situations almost three-fourths of the time.
“That's awesome,” co-defensive coordinator Glenn Spencer said. “Add those two up and you've got a tremendous day on defense, especially for as many times as they were going for it on fourth down.”
Still, the defense gave up two big plays late that led to touchdowns and gave the Jayhawks a chance to win the game. Spencer said there was a mental bust on one and a coverage error on the other.
Definitely correctable problems, but against woeful Kansas, you expect better.
Moving forward, the Cowboys better get more from the offense and the defense.
Season wrecker Iowa State comes to Stillwater next week. League newbie TCU follows. Then comes a murderous stretch to end the season — at Kansas State, West Virginia, Texas Tech, at Oklahoma, at Baylor.
And remember, the Cowboys have nary an off week.
A close call at Kansas doesn't exactly provide a confidence boost going ahead.
“It's definitely not what most fans expected or even what we expected coming in here,” kicker/punter extraordinaire Quinn Sharp said. “It's not the prettiest win that we'll have in the record books, but it's still a W, and we'll take it.”
Where the Cowboys take it from here, though, is anyone's guess. The way the league looks, they could win every time they step onto the field or they could lose six games. Either scenario seems entirely possible.
How are you going to look at this one, OSU fans?
Well, that depends on how the Cowboys finish this season. A close call against the Jayhawks is either going to be a blip on the radar or a sign of bad things to come.