STILLWATER – Justin Gilbert knows something about Barry Sanders.
And Gilbert wanted Sanders to know something about him.
So with Oklahoma State's only Heisman Trophy winner in the house Saturday, back for a 25th anniversary celebration of the 1988 season, Gilbert introduced himself in fitting fashion, taking the opening kickoff 100 yards for a touchdown, ala Sanders, to set off the Cowboys' 42-6 rout of Kansas.
“I had that in mind,” Gilbert said. “I wanted to show him how it was done in the new school – I respect his game a lot – but I wanted to show him what we do here nowadays.”
On this day, Gilbert's timing was impeccable.
In reference to Sanders, who returned the opening kickoff of that '88 season 100 yards for a touchdown, it was a fitting matching moment by Gilbert.
“That was a great feeling, opening up the game with a kickoff return, especially with him being there,” the Cowboys senior said of Sanders.
In reference to Kansas, a 32-point underdog with no appeal, it was a fine way to create some energy, both on the sideline and in the crowd.
“It's good to get started at home, get the crowd into the game,” said OSU coach Mike Gundy. “He certainly did that.”
Getting started had been an emphasis, too, coming off an emotional win at Texas Tech and with the Jayhawks sandwiched in between a telling trip to Texas next week.
“Coming into the game, Coach Gundy said we had to start fast, just like the last two games,” said Cowboys running back Desmond Roland. “That's the quickest way to start. Just take it right from the gate.
“It gave us momentum and it carried on throughout the game.”
With his sixth career kickoff return for a touchdown, Gilbert is the Big 12 record holder and the active NCAA leader.
For his latest, Gilbert hauled in KU kicker Ron Doherty's initial boot at his goal line, bolted toward the left sideline and raced the distance, needing only to dodge mild traffic along the way.
The Cowboys had noticed a weakness in the Jayhawks coverage team and figured an opportunity might exist to take one all the way.
“Watching film, we said we had to take one to the house,” Roland said. “They were big and physical and they didn't know how to avoid blocks. We knew it was going to be one block away. And Justin made a good play.”
Said Gilbert: “Everybody was coming up to me saying, ‘Hey, we've got to take this back! We've got to take this back!' I didn't say anything, I was just shaking my head like, ‘OK, we're going to do it.' Those guys up front blocked for me well up front and I was able to just hit it.”
And he hit the reeling Jayhawks with an opening blow that factored large in extending KU's conference losing streak to 27 games.
“It hurts a little bit,” Kansas coach Charlie Weis said of Gilbert's return. “We've been a little slow in the offensive area with scoring points this year, so when you're playing the game, you want to keep the score within a certain range.
“When we started the game off like that, it was a little deflating. It's still just one play, but can you pick a worse way to start a game?”
For the Cowboys, there was no better way.
And it took all of 13 seconds, confirming Gilbert's reputation as a speedster.
“It's not my best 100-meter time, but it'll do,” he said. “I got in the end zone, so I'm good with it.”