By Wendell Barnhouse | email@example.com
COLUMBIA, Mo. -
There were reasons why Oklahoma State could have lost Saturday.
The Cowboys brought an eight-game road winning streak into the game. "It's just not easy to win on the road these days," coach Mike Gundy said. Winning another road game was tempting fate and the football gods.
Two of Oklahoma State's top three receivers didn't play in the second half. Justin Blackmon was "dinged up and a little dizzy" and Gundy kept him on the sideline. Hubert Anyiam suffered broken bone in his left foot and is out for the season. Despite an early deficit, Missouri closed to within a touchdown at halftime and had momentum.
"We've got a good football team," Oklahoma State quarterback Brandon Weeden said. "That sums it up. We've got a lot of guys who can make plays and a lot of guys who have experience. There's a fine line between arrogance and confidence. We're confident and that shows. We're playing as a team. Look at our defense, they made some big plays, they adjusted to Missouri's option plays at halftime.
"We're just playing with confidence."
In this case, confidence is breeding victories. Oklahoma State overcame the obstacles and put away Missouri, 45-24.
This isn't your father's, not even your oldest child's Oklahoma State team. These Cowboys (7-0, 4-0) have won a middle-of-the-night game delayed three hours by weather, overcame a 17-point deficit to win at Texas A&M, won for the second consecutive season at Texas after having not won in Austin since 1944.
"We've got guys who have been part of nearly 40 wins during their careers and knock on wood that's all they know," Gundy said. "The mental approach we have is so much different than what it was when I first took over as coach. Our guys expect to win."
"We knew we were gonna come in here and win. We planned to win," said defensive end Jamie Blatnick who had a sack, a forced fumble and deflected two passes.
The Missouri game ended a stretch that had the Cowboys on the road four out of five games. They emerged with an undefeated record and their lofty status in the BCS standings intact. "I don't want to do that again," Gundy said. "I was aware of the challenge. We played some good teams on the road. I knew we had a shot because we've got good players."
Oklahoma State entered the game ranked 100th in total defense and that statistic spawned skeptics. The Tigers finished with 463 yards in total offense and gained 248 yards on the ground. Numbers, schmumbers.
"The 'w' that's the only stat we care about," Blatnick said, holding up three fingers to form the letter to which he referred. "You can't shut down the offenses that are in the Big 12. They're gonna get their yards and their points. The key is getting the turnovers and making the plays when they matter."
Ah, yes, turnovers. The great equalizer. While the Cowboys allow lots of yards, they balance that with a Gordon Gecko philosophy - greed is good. They entered the game ranked third nationally with 20 turnovers. Oklahoma State changed the game by forcing four Missouri turnovers.
"You have to look at the turnovers," Missouri coach Gary Pinkel said. "We had four today and you just can't do that. You're going to put yourself in a difficult situation."
Missouri compounded its degree of difficulty by failing to slow Weeden in the first half. At the end of the first quarter, two fire trucks roared down Stadium Drive past the North end of Faurot Field. They could have been called to douse Weeden. In the first half he was 25-of-37 for 279 yards and three touchdowns. At least seven of the incompletions were on-target throws that the Cowboys dropped.
"We could have scored 40 in the first half if we had held on to the dang football," Gundy said.
The Tigers (3-4, 1-3) closed to within 24-17 at halftime thanks to an 18-yard touchdown run by Kendial Lawrence and a 34-yard James Franklin to T.J. Moe scoring pass. After forcing the Cowboys to punt away their first possession of the second half, Missouri's running game started gashing Oklahoma State on the ground.
"Going into halftime, the momentum was on their side," Blatnick said. "Turnovers in that situation can really kill a team. At halftime we were talkin' about getting some turnovers."
Blatnick sacked Franklin for an eight-yard loss on first down from the Missouri 39. On the next play, Blatnick batted Franklin's pass and linebacker Shaun Lewis came up with the interception. Three plays later Joseph Randle scored on a 16-yard run - his first of three rushing TDs - to give Oklahoma State a 31-17 lead. Randle, who had a 13-yard touchdown reception early in the second quarter, gained with 138 yards rushing on 14 carries.
Franklin finished 14-of-27 for 184 yards and threw three interceptions. He fumbled at the OSU 4-yard line (forced by Wilson Youman, recovered by Lewis) late in the third quarter with Missouri trailing 31-17 and caused a fast exit of most of the 64,202 black-and-gold clad fans.
The critics might still chirp about Missouri's total yards, they might say the turnovers were bad luck for the Tigers and good luck for the Cowboys. If that's what gets said or written, that's only noise to the team from Stillwater.
"The only people who matter are the guys in our locker room," Lewis said. "If we can play for each other, we can do a good job. Today we just went out there trying to be 7-0."
As the Cowboys made their way to the locker room underneath the East stands at Faurot Field, senior safety Markelle Martin was talking to anybody and nobody. "Seven and oh, seven and oh."