STILLWATER — Finally, Saturday night, the Oklahoma State defense got off the field.
Of course, the Cowboys needed some help from the clock.
And they needed some luck with a time-pressed Kansas State offense that couldn't utilize its best weapon, the legs of quarterback Collin Klein, who danced and darted through the Cowboys all night, but was forced to throw with time not on his side at the end.
Still, the celebration and jubilation was very real when time expired and the defense was still standing and their team was still unbeaten and alive in the national title chase, once time ran out with the Wildcats at the Cowboys 5-yard line.
“It's almost like I'm in shock about it,” said OSU defensive end Jamie Blatnick, “because when the game was over, I was like, ‘Whew.' Just let the air out.
“We pushed through it and we did it.”
For a good while Saturday night, it looked like the Cowboys defense couldn't do it. K-State controlled the ball for a staggering 40:49, producing 507 total yards on 90 plays.
'Cats quarterback Collin Klein, billed as a one-dimensional running quarterback, posted career highs for completions (22), attempts (38) and yards (231), while also running a career-high 29 times for 144 yards and three touchdowns.
“Unbelievable player,” said Cowboys defensive coordinator Bill Young. “He had a tremendous ball game. We knew he was a tremendous runner, didn't think he could throw that well.”
Klein hadn't thrown that well, or been trusted to throw that much, with his previous high for completions 13, against Eastern Kentucky and Baylor.
Against OSU, Klein was a constant source of frustration, slipping through the grasp of defenders on runs both designed and out of desperation. It was similar with his throws, too, as he improvised enough to keep the chains moving.
During the week, the Cowboys were at a disadvantage preparing for Klein, with no one providing a reasonable facsimile.
“We didn't have a guy who could even get close to imitating him,” Blatnick said. “We don't have a big quarterback who can make plays with his feet.
“He came in doing what we knew he was going to do. We should have stopped it better. But at the same time, he's going to make plays.”
That, Blatnick said, was the most frustrating thing, knowing what was coming – Klein – and not being able to stop him.
“Klein is a big, physical quarterback and it's hard to bring him down,” said OSU cornerback Brodrick Brown. “We have to wrap up.”
The good news: the Cowboys aren't likely to see a quarterback remotely resembling Klein the rest of the way.
The bad news: on the down side of the turnover battle for a change, the OSU defense struggled to get stops. Right down to the final play.
The Cowboys seemed to finally be ending the Saturday night suspense when they went up 34-24 in the third quarter.
But soon enough, K-State led 38-37.
The Cowboys struck back to go ahead 45-38, only to see the 'Cats tie it 45-45.
The OSU offense, again, responded, with a touchdown to make it 52-45 with 2:16 to play.
Too much time to play.
K-State marched from its own 37 to the OSU 5, with a first-and-goal from there. Fortunately for the Cowboys, the clock was a factor, all but forcing Klein to throw.
On first down, his pass for Tyler Lockett in the end zone was broken up by Markelle Martin. And the Cats called their final time out with :05 showing.
On second down, Klein lobbed a throw to Chris Harper, with Brown making the play, but with a single second still showing on the clock.
With one final shot, Klein fired for Tramaine Thompson, a Jenks product, who had Justin Gilbert cut in front of him and was unable to adjust to the ball in the air.
“The first thing I thought when the clock hit zero was, ‘Thank God, it's over,'” Brown said. “We did it again. We made a stop when we needed it.”
“It gets scary there at the 5,” Blatnick said. “But that's good, fear is a good motivator.
“I'm exhausted. I'm dead dog tired. We've got to make plays. We had them in third-and-long and let Klein slip out. Those are the plays that kill you.
We'll get it fixed.
“But I'm still happy.”