STILLWATER, Okla. - This is about where you would expect Oklahoma State to be but this is not where they've always been.
In 2009, the Cowboys started the season ranked in the top 10. High expectations were bolstered when OSU opened the season with a solid victory over Georgia. But in Game Two, they lost at home to Houston and a season of promise ended with a disappointing 9-4 record.
Like its 27-year-old quarterback, Oklahoma State is mature. With Arizona in town looking to avenge a 26-point loss in last year's Alamo Bowl, the ninth-ranked Cowboys (2-0) took care of bidness with an impressive 37-14 victory Thursday night.
Coaches say a team makes its biggest improvement from Game One to Game Two. For the Cowboys, the second game of the season displayed that they improved but there's still plenty of room to get better. Mike Gundy had little trouble acknowledging a victory before listing his team's shortcomings.
"In the opener, our decision making wasn't good and we got better tonight," he said. "But our kicking game was terrible, we set ourselves back with penalties in the return game and we had too many penalties on offense. We had way too many penalties to have success and be a good football team."
The offense continues to play fast forward. Quarterback Brandon Weeden, who had two interceptions returned for touchdowns in the season opener Saturday, stewed for four days. He completed his first 13 passes and was 23 for his first 25. Weeden finished 42-of-53 - shattering his own school record (34) for completions - for 397 yards and two touchdowns.
"I was dialed in early," said Weeden, whose 53 attempts also set a school record. "I had a long four days. I let my offense down in the opener. The decisions I made, the mistakes, were inexcusable."
Weeden's sizzling start helped Oklahoma State jump to a 21-0 lead. The Wildcats closed to 21-7 midway through the third quarter and appeared to be seizing momentum. However, on a fourth-and-five from the Oklahoma State 34, Quinn Sharp turned a fake punt into a 23-yard gain. While the drive ended with Weeden's only interception, a series later the Cowboys scored to take a 27-7 lead.
Weeden connected with Justin Blackmon for two touchdowns on perfectly thrown fade routes. Blackmon, who had his streak of consecutive games with a TD catch end in the opener, had 12 catches for 128 yards. That extended his string of consecutive games with 100 yards receiving to 14.
Weeden and Blackmon are a feared combo. But around, the Oklahoma State offense is famed for its triple-threat triplets. So far, sophomore running back Joseph Randle is proving he's capable of being the third man in the three-man act.
Against Arizona, he had 121 yards rushing and two touchdowns on 15 carries. He also had a career-high nine receptions for 66 yards. One of those catches came when he was split out as a wide receiver. Another came when he beat a linebacker and the Wildcats' zone blitz for a 63-yard reception.
"He's playing pretty good," Gundy said. "I'm glad he's on our team. He makes plays in crucial situations. He's very versitile, we can split him out as a receiver."
In two games, Randle has 250 yards rushing on 37 carries.
Perhaps the most promising aspect thus far is Oklahoma State's defense. The Cowboys' first-team defense held Louisiana Lafayette 61-34 in the opener. Arizona senior quarterback Nick Foles was 37 of 51 for 398 yards but the Wildcats managed just 41 yards rushing on 21 attempts. Oklahoma State didn't have a sack but its pass rush kept Foles from settling into a rhythm.
"We wanted to keep him out of his comfort zone," said defensive coordinator Bill Young, whose unit had two fourth down stops and also forced a fumble to end a promising Arizona drive. "He is an outstanding quarterback, he shook us off a few times, got away from tackles and made some throws. We were able to bother him a little bit.
Both Gundy and Young praised the Cowboys' tackling. The eyes don't lie. When Arizona players carried the ball or caught a pass, they almost always went down when confronted by Oklahoma State's first tackler. The Wildcats, though, had trouble getting the Cowboys on the ground.
Randle's second touchdown, a four-yard run, was the product of tackle breaking at the goal line. Reserve running back Jeremy Smith scored on a six-yard run that featured two broken tackles. Blackmon turned a five-yard reception into 27 yards when he spun away from a grasping Arizona defender.
Oklahoma State plays at Tulsa - a team top-ranked Oklahoma defeated 47-14 - on Sept. 17 and then opens Big 12 Conference play
at Texas A&M on Sept. 24. The schedule maker did the Cowboys no favors but they didn't ask for any. But in their first two games, they proved that this year should be different.
"The mistakes we made tonight, it gives you that drive to keep going, get better," Gundy said. "We have to play better than that."
The ESPN viewing audience got a chance to view a team that is in position to have a special season.
"We wanted to prove a point," Weeden said. "We're still flying under the radar and that's fine. I'm good with that. Nationally, we're not getting a lot of credit. You can see where we're getting better, it's the second week. Last year, we got better every week."