STILLWATER — It was another wild night in Stillwater.
Oklahoma State beat Baylor 24-14 on Saturday in Boone Pickens Stadium to advance to 5-0. It’s the second straight week the Cowboys knocked off an unbeaten, ranked Big 12 foe. Here are 10 thoughts from the game.
1. Justin Blackmon Comes Home
We’ll get to the football game in a bit. The most important thing that happened Saturday night was that (arguably) the best receiver in college football history came home.
Justin Blackmon’s struggles are well-documented. It’s been a sad tale since he left Stillwater after the 2011 season, but this mild-weathered October night showed that family can forgive your flaws and celebrate your triumphs.
Rocking a Barry Sanders jersey, some sunglasses and dreadlocks, Blackmon was able to soak in past glory with a building and a fanbase he helped build. It had been too long.
“It’s awesome to see Justin back,” OSU coach Mike Gundy said. “I know Coach Dunn talked to him. He said he was coming back, and he needs to come back. He was arguably the best receiver to ever play here.”
Two of Spencer Sanders’ trio of interceptions gave Baylor the ball in OSU’s territory.
One saw the Bears start on the Cowboys’ 36-yard line. Baylor went backward eight yards in three plays and was forced to punt.
The other saw Baylor start on OSU’s 31, where the Bears went backward five yards and had to punt.
I usually hate the argument that if you take out plays X, Y and Z things look way different, but it was true in this game. Baylor’s only offense was on big plays.
The Bears had 99 total yards in the first half, 77 of which came on two plays. Then the Bears’ first score came on a 55-yard sprint on 4th-and-2.
It was another dominant defensive performance that onlookers have become accustomed to this season. Sans a few 50/50 chunks and a long run against a goal-line defense, this was an elite defensive performance.
3. Gundy Makes Right Fourth-Down Call, Aranda Doesn’t
The fourth quarter of this game some two crucial fourth-down calls. Mike Gundy got his right, and Dave Aranda didn’t.
Hindsight is definitely 20/20, as Baylor failed to convert on its decision, and OSU scored a touchdown. But, from the offset Aranda made the wrong decision and Gundy made the correct one.
For some forsaken reason, Baylor elected to go for it on 4th-and-4 from its own 36 down 17-14 with about eight minutes to play. A punt ensures the Bears put the pressure on OSU with field position, and, at that point, OSU had only scored 3 second-half points in its past three games.
The Bears went for it and didn’t get it. OSU was forced into a three-and-out during its ensuing possession, but Tom Hutton was able to pin the Bears on their 6-yard line — the advantage in field position had been transferred.
OSU met its decision with two minutes to play on Baylor’s 4-yard line. The lead was still 17-14, and it was 4th-and-2. This was an obvious spot to go for it. A field goal would’ve meant Baylor could still win with a touchdown and extra point. Even if OSU failed on the fourth-down attempt, Baylor would be stuck inside its 5-yard line with the length of the field to go for even a chance to tie.
Gundy went for it, Jaylen Warren scored.
4. Tay Martin Worthy of the Cowboys’ Highly Coveted WR1 Spot
Tay Martin met Justin Blackmon ahead of Saturday’s game, and Martin joked afterward that he wasn’t going to wash the hand he shook with for a month to try to get some of Blackmon’s super powers.
Martin now mans the spot that Blackmon once held. More recently James Washington and Tylan Wallace were the Cowboys’ top pass catcher. Blackmon, Washington and Wallace alone combine for three (should be four) Biletnikoff Awards. Martin has proved a worthy successor since taking the reigns.
Aside from playing two snaps against Tulsa, Martin has had at least 100 receiving yards in every game he has played in as OSU’s WR1.
He had 108 yards on seven catches Saturday, including a twisting toe-tap for 26 yards in the fourth quarter.
On the year, Martin is up to 22 receptions for 315 yards and a pair of scores.
“Pressure, nah, nah,” Martin said of stepping into the coveted role. “No offense, but I live under pressure. I’ve been ready for this my whole life. I just continue to try to work hard and just take advantage of the moments I get.”
5. Warren a Workhorse Again
OSU handed Jaylen Warren the ball 37 times, and he caught a pass.
It’s been 2019 Chuba Hubbard levels of work for Warren the past few weeks with injuries to LD Brown and Dezmon Jackson. Warren was impressive again Saturday, running for 128 yards and a pair of scores, but Gundy said it’s too big a work load. Here’s to hoping he gets some help after the bye week.
In the past three games, Warren has toted the ball 96 times for 469 yards and four touchdowns.
Barry Sanders was also in Stillwater on Saturday. Gundy said he took Sanders in to meet the running backs. Gundy said Jaylen Warren looked as if he just saw Santa Claus.
Barry had 373 rushing attempts in his record-breaking 1988 season. If Warren keeps the pace of his past three games, he’d finish the regular season with 304 carries. That’s still a decent distance from Santa, but it’s also still a lot of carries.
6. Sanders Needs Some Bear Repellent
Saturday was far from Spencer Sanders’ best night, and this makes three times now he has struggled to keep hold of the ball against Baylor.
In three starts against the Bears, Sanders has five total touchdowns, six interceptions and two lost fumbles.
There are a few available excuses for his INTs Saturday. He was knocked down on his first two, but Gundy said Sanders has to get better at being OK with taking the occasional sack instead of tossing up a bad ball. Sanders’ third INT bounced off Rashod Owen’s face.
Regardless of how the picks came, the record books will just remember that they happened.
Sanders’ track record with the Bears has him looking like Squidward Tentacles in the Seabear episode of SpongeBob Squarepants (stay with me on this one).
7. Defense Flexing Its Depth
At OSU’s “Leo” defensive end spot, the Cowboys are missing Trace Ford, Brock Martin and Tyren Irby to injury.
Enter true freshman Collin Oliver and walk-on Ben Kopenski.
A highly touted prospect, Oliver got his first career start Saturday. He had the game-clinching sack, one of two he had on the day
In his young career, Oliver is up to 2.5 sacks. For reference, Trace Ford ended his freshman season with three sacks.
“He’s gonna get to the quarterback a bunch in his career,” Gundy said of Oliver.
8. More Golf Analogies about OSU’s Kicking Situation
There was no sign of OSU kicker Alex Hale on Saturday night, but it sounded like he would be back.
Hale has struggled this season, going 2-for-5 on field-goal attempts. He’s also missed an extra point. UNLV transfer Tanner Brown stepped in for Hale Saturday night, hitting a 20-yarder and going 3-for-3 on PAT attempts.
Gundy likened Hale’s struggles to a golfer’s swing last week. He made another golfing reference after Saturday’s game.
“We wanted to give Alex a break because we had an open date,” Gundy said. “We wanted him to work this week, work next week, work the next week and we’ll see where he’s at. We just took him out, let him go to work on skills, send him to the driving range, let him work. He’s got 20 days to to work on some things. We haven’t lost confidence in him, but we just felt like this would give him 20 days to work on his skill.”
9. Baylor’s Games against Iowa State and OSU Felt Similar
Last week, Iowa State outgained Baylor 216 yards to 123 yards. Yet, the Cyclones couldn’t close the deal, thanks in large part to special teams.
Baylor’s Saturday game against Oklahoma State had a similar feel, with the Cowboys outgaining the Bears 402 to 280, but Baylor remained in striking distance.
Logic would say that Baylor probably got lucky against Iowa State. It would also say that OSU (at least right now) is better than Iowa State. But if this season has taught us anything, it’s to throw logic out the window.
10. For the First time Since 2015
For the first time since 2015, the Cowboys are 5-0.
OSU started that year 10-0 before losing its final three games of the year. The 2015 start also had some tight ones. OSU beat Central Michigan by 11 to start the year. To start Big 12 play, the 2015 Cowboys beat Texas by 3 and Kansas State by 2.
Still, this year has been crazy. A tight game against an FCS team. A tight game against a Tulsa team that is now 1-4. A 1-point win on blue turf. Back-to-back defensive struggles to start Big 12 play.
But, like with some not-so-great stats, the record book isn’t going to remember how the wins came, just that they came. It’s the Al Davis mindset: Just win, baby.
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