By Wendell Barnhouse | firstname.lastname@example.org
STILLWATER, Okla. – You could say that Baylor was tripped up in what has become the program’s road trip of terror. You could say that Baylor’s reach exceeded its grasp, particularly on a crucial fumble. You could say that Oklahoma State unleashed a secret weapon.
And you would be correct across the board.
No. 10 Oklahoma State, the preseason pick to win the Big 12 Conference, climbed into the driver’s seat with a 49-17 victory over No. 5 Baylor on a frigid Saturday night. The 25-degree wind chill – and the Cowboys’ attacking defense - put the Bears’ usually productive offense in the deep freeze.
A key first-quarter sequence where an apparent Baylor touchdown became a goal-line fumble and then a 99-yard touchdown drive for Oklahoma State was the fulcrum on which the outcome turned.
But what’s it all mean?
From a Big 12 perspective: Oklahoma State now has the head-to-head tiebreaker on Baylor and Texas, the other teams with just one loss. The Cowboys can clinch their second conference title with three seasons by beating Oklahoma in Bedlam here on Dec. 7.
“We felt this was possible,” said sixth-year senior running back Kye Staley, the secret weapon unleashed. “We’re on a roll and our next opportunity is Oklahoma.”
From a national perspective: Baylor can no longer win a national championship but the Big 12 could wind up with two teams in BCS bowls. If Oklahoma State wins the Big 12 title and Baylor finishes 11-1, the Bears would be in the hunt for an at-large invitation. Saturday losses by Oregon and Texas A&M changed the BCS at-large picture considerably.
“We wanted something that’s never been done before and that was to win a national championship,” Baylor senior safety Ahmad Dixon said. “That dream came down.”
At kickoff, Baylor quarterback Bryce Petty was in position to become a factor in the Heisman Trophy race. Instead, his Heisman Moment turned into Petty’s Pratfall, a gif that will be looped on the Internet until Miley Cyrus commits her next stupid act.
The Bears’ second possession came after Oklahoma State failed to convert a fourth-and-one from its own 47. Baylor was poised to take a 7-0 lead as he galloped toward the end zone. But a 28-yard touchdown became a 27-yard gain when he stumbled at the 5 and fell at the 1.
“My feet just left me a little bit,” Petty said. “It was a funky deal.”
The Petty play was magnified when Shock Linwood fumbled two plays later. Stopped short of the goal line, Linwood reached the ball toward the goal line and Oklahoma State’s James Castleman swatted it free and recovered.
“I think every coach coaches their players not to do that (reach the ball out with one hand), that drives us crazy when they do that,” Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy said. “And we tell our players that until they cross the goal line to never give in, don’t stop playing.
“That was a huge turn of events.”
Petty, on Linwood’s fumble: “That’s not his fault, that’s my fault. I have to finish (the run where he tripped), it’s not his to finish.”
In a game decided by 32 points, is debating the significance of the stumble/fumble worthwhile?
“Games are all about momentum,” Bears coach Art Briles said. “You put that first one in, we go up 7-0, you never know.
“That was a huge momentum swing for Baylor not to score and then for us to get a turnover,” Oklahoma State coach linebacker Caleb Lavey said. “But it was a bigger change in momentum when our offense came out and moved the ball and scored.”
The Cowboys turned the turnover into a touchdown thanks to a 99-yard drive. Kye Staley’s two-yard touchdown run made it 7-0. In the third quarter Staley made it 28-3 with a 1-yard run. He finished with 25 yards on seven carries. Staley had one rushing attempt this season and his career totals were two attempts for 11 yards and no touchdowns.
“Kye hasn’t been healthy but he’s gotten better,” Gundy said. “There are some advantages we gain in our read zone plays with him carrying the ball. We were trying to set our formations to keep (Dixon) from making tackles because on film we’d seen him make enough tackles.”
Petty’s season-high for attempts had been 31 but with the deficit and the Bears’ running game stifled (94 yards, 2.6 per carry), he had to fling it 48 times, completing 28 for 359 yards. And he had to endure a final indignity .
Baylor had a 2nd-and-goal from the 5 when a low shotgun snap skipped past. He tried to recover, but the ball skittered away and Tyler Patmon scooped and scored with a 78-yard return that made it 42-10 with 9:58 remaining.
Oklahoma State’s defense locked down a Baylor offense that entered the game averaging 61 points and 685 yards per game. Petty came in averaging 19 yards per completion and Baylor led the country in pass plays of 30 yards or more. The Bears had two completions of 30-plus yards and Petty averaged 13 per completion.
“We knew we had to me more aggressive and play tighter coverage,” said Oklahoma State defensive coordinator Glenn Spencer, whose top cover corner (Justin Gilbert) was limited to handful of plays in obvious passing situations. “They were focused and played with outrageous effort and executed this game plan great.”
The down side of playing aggressive is the potential to miss tackles. Miss a tackle on a five-yard slant reception and it can become a touchdown. For the most part, the Cowboys lassoed Bears receivers after receptions.
“We kept our focus on making the tackle,” said safety Daytawion Lowe, who had a team-high 10 tackles. “Our main goal was limiting their yards after catch.”
Baylor played without starters Lache Seastrunk, Tevin Reese, Spencer Drango, Bryce Hager and top running back reserve Glasco Martin. Not excuses, but reasons; in mid-November, all teams have injuries. But the margin for error is reduced with each backup who becomes a starter.
“A loss does not define this team,” Petty said. “We still have a lot to play for. We have to play and beat TCU and then get ready for Texas.”
Oklahoma State senior quarterback Clint Chelf played like a Heisman Trophy candidate, completing 19 of 25 for 370 yards and three touchdowns. His passes were on target and his receivers abused Baylor’s defensive backs, consistently winning one-on-one battles.
“He was really good throwing the ball and made some good decisions,” Gundy said of Chelf. “I couldn’t be more proud of what he’s accomplished. He’s a good leader. I just want him to keep going.”
No better example of Oklahoma State’s pass-catch success was the capper to the Cowboys’ opening possession of the second half. On a third-and-three, Tracy Moore overpowered Demetri Goodson at the Baylor 30 and housed it for a 21-3 lead. The Bears lined up with no safety, crowding the line of scrimmage to stop the run. Goodson was stranded on Cornerback Island.
Instead of gaining momentum with a stop, the Bears found their deficit deepened.
“Get a stop, get a score and it’s a 14-10 game,” said Briles, whose team has lost its last five visits to Boone Pickens Stadium by the average margin of 32.8 points. “We didn’t get a stop and in their first two possessions they scored and it’s 28-3. Everything you had planned at halftime is thrown by the way side.”
After Linwood’s goal line fumble, Oklahoma State’s first play was a play-action pass from Chelf to Charlie Moore for 28 yards on the sideline in front of the Cowboys’ bench. That jump started the scoring drive to give the Cowboys early juice. The play was reviewed and upheld in the replay booth. If Moore’s left foot was a size bigger, it would have been incomplete.
A toe tripping on the turf, a toe touching green turf instead of white paint. The differences that separate winners and losers can be equal parts infinitesimal and mystical. The mystery surrounding Oklahoma State is that the Cowboys are on a seven-game winning streak that started after an inexplicable loss at West Virginia.
“We tell our players that after a play, a practice, a game, you can’t go back and fix things,” Gundy said. “Life’s about moving on to the next challenge. I was as upset with myself about the West Virginia game as I’ve ever been. You do have thoughts about that as a coach. That plan ride from Morgantown seemed about 12 hours long.
“We’ve made great strides here and people see us differently. I don’t remember the last time we went on the field that our players didn’t think we’d win.”