STILLWATER – Cowboys cornerback Justin Gilbert showed up to cheer on Marcus Smart and Co. Tuesday night.
Any applause, however, was limited to one hand.
Gilbert, as much in the crosshairs as any Oklahoma State player Saturday against Baylor, had his left arm in a sling, due to a shoulder injury suffered late in last weekend's win over Texas.
Could be precautionary.
Could be something more.
And there's still no word on the availability of Cowboys receiver and punt returner Josh Stewart – another key figure in this showdown with the Bears – who missed the Texas win with a foot injury.
Consider them both questionable.
And if both, or particularly Gilbert should be missing, the Cowboys might find their saddles in a sling.
The Bears have their own injury issues, which heightened this week when starting left tackle Spencer Drango was lost to back surgery.
So this savory showdown of No. 4 Baylor vs. No. 10 OSU could involve some missing ingredients on both sides.
Still, the Cowboys are the double-digit underdog, trying to contend with a Bears offense that averages 61.2 points and 684.8 yards per game, both national bests. And Baylor runs it (300.4 ypg) and throws it (384.4 ypg) equally well, applying stress to every aspect of a defense.
Gilbert's value can't be underestimated, as his dominant play at cornerback has been a major factor in OSU's improvement. The Cowboys are tied with Florida State for the national lead with 19 interceptions, six of which have come from Gilbert, who this week gained notice by ESPN NFL Draft analysts Mel Kiper Jr. and Todd McShay.
Kiper vaulted Gilbert to No. 1 in his cornerback ratings. Scouts Inc., another ESPN draft staple, also reflected a rapid rise, now showing Gilbert at No. 15 on their draft board as the first cornerback listed.
McShay, during a Thursday morning SportsCenter segment, called Gilbert the player to watch Saturday.
“To me, he's been the best, most consistent cover corner in college football this year,” McShay said. “The guy's a flat-out playmaker.”
The Cowboys hope he's available to make plays against Baylor.
If not, the secondary takes a hit, against a Bears offense that stretches the field from sideline to sideline and deep downfield. Even without injured standout Tevin Reese, Baylor has Antwan Goodley leading the Big 12 in receiving yards per game, as well as receiving touchdowns, plus another top-10 pass-catcher in Levi Norwood, who has thrived in Reese's absence.
“I feel like we aren't trying to step in and fill his gap,” Norwood said. “We are just stepping in and doing what we are needed to do.”
If Gilbert can't go, or is limited, attention turns to senior Tyler Patmon and sophomores Kevin Peterson and Ashton Lampkin, with limited depth. And the Cowboys also lose one of their best special teams men, including the conference's top kick returner.
Of course, OSU coach Mike Gundy isn't talking about injuries, so Gilbert's true status for Saturday remains uncertain. And it's the same for Stewart, although the Cowboys did OK with a plug-and-play approach to filling his void last week, thanks to a deeper receiving corps, led by Tracy Moore, Charlie Moore, Jhajuan Seales and David Glidden.
The Cowboys had more trouble replacing Stewart on punt returns, which became a bit of an adventure at Texas.
So OSU enters Saturday with two key questionable starters and stars. And trying to keep its saddle out of a sling.