STILLWATER — Just like everyone predicted, the struggling team without a starting wide receiver and starting safety knocked off the reigning Big 12 champ.
Oklahoma State beat Kansas State 29-21 on Friday in a classic night in Boone Pickens Stadium. That came about 12 months after Kansas State thumped the Pokes 48-0 and started the program into a streak of seven losses in 10 games played.
Here are 10 thoughts from Friday’s game.
1. There’s Something About a Stillwater Night
The leadup to this game reminded me a lot of the 2018 season.
Oklahoma State was down in 2018 (it was the Taylor Cornelius year) — like it has been thus far this season. But when Texas and West Virginia came to town for night games in Boone Pickens Stadium that season, the Cowboys found a way — just as they did Friday night.
It would’ve said a lot about where the program is had the Cowboys came out and got drilled in front of a blackout crowd in a night game against a Big 12 team.
The credit goes to whatever weird atmosphere gets created in this basin of black, but credit also goes to Mike Gundy and his staff, who have taken it on the shins over the past few weeks with people questioning whether the team cared. Well, Friday showed the Cowboys still have what it takes to compete with any Big 12 team on any given week — especially if it’s in front of a BPS crowd at night.
The most evident example of a weird night in BPS came when K-State went for it on 4th-and-8 from the OSU 13 midway through the third quarter. There was a miscommunication between Will Howard and his center, and the ball squirted back 19 yards before Howard could fall on it.
It looked like Kansas State was stuck in a nightmare and thousands of antagonists were dressed in black.
2. Cameron Epps Must’ve Had One Heck of a Bye Week
Cameron Epps made his first career start in Ames, and it wasn’t quite like a duck to water.
Epps’ most memorable play for that loss against the Cyclones involved him slipping as a receiver made a cut. That receiver went on to score a touchdown on that play.
Well, anytime there is a freshman struggling on film, an offensive coordinator is likely to attack that guy, but Epps was up to the challenge in his second career start. Epps had a pair of picks, a pair of pass breakups and five total tackles against the Wildcats. Add that to his 6-foot-3, 208-pound frame and the Cowboys have a player on their hands.
Epps housed his second interception — one of only two touchdowns the Cowboys scored Friday — and said it was his first pick-six ever, regardless of level.
Bryan Nardo said Epps had seven interceptions the past two weeks at practice, including a three-INT day. So, after a tough first start, Epps got back to work and it was fruitful for the Cowboys.
3. Saint Nickolas Saves the Day
Seventeen tackles (17!) and a crucial interception – have a day Nickolas Martin.
Malcolm Rodriguez and Mason Cobb were both excellent middle linebackers in their time in Stillwater, but Martin is continuing the lineage with performances like the ones he has had to start this season.
His interception came in clutch time with Kansas State on the OSU 35 down a score. Martin said after the game it was a play the Wildcats ran in the third quarter, so he was anticipating it. Nice to know that he isn’t just a freak athlete, but he is also heady.
Gundy gave an excellent quote on him after the game.
“Nick’s got a great future for two reasons – one, he’s tough,” Gundy said. “He’s old-school tough. And two, he loves football. Those are two things that are hard to find nowadays in recruiting – young men that love football, they don’t care about the sideshow, they don’t care about social media, they don’t care about whatever else kids nowadays care about, TikTok or Tic-Tac or whatever that is. He loves football, and he’s tough. That’s why he’s a good football player.”
4. The K-State Staff Made Some … Interesting Decisions
I came to the conclusion Friday night that I’m too close to Oklahoma State to realize that many college teams make boneheaded decisions from time to time.
Chris Klieman still hasn’t won in Stillwater (one of two Big 12 stadiums, not including the four newcomers, he hasn’t won in), and there were some interesting decisions that might’ve changed things – or at least made them more interesting.
For starters, the Wildcats got the ball back down 13-7 with 55 seconds left in the first half. As opposed to sitting on the ball, K-State seemed dead set on giving OSU the ball back, throwing on first and second down before a 3rd-and-10 throw from the K-State 25 ended up in an Epps pick-six.
So, instead of going into the locker room down six, the Wildcats went in down 13.
Then K-State somewhat freely drove down the field in the third quarter before being faced with 4th-and-8 on the OSU 13. Instead of taking the three points, the Wildcats decided they could get eight yards, but as Howard walked toward his O-line to bark marching orders, the snap whizzed past him and K-State lost 19 on the play. With the decent field position, OSU got a field goal out of the ensuing drive – making it a six-point swing.
So those two decisions resulted in a 13-point swing in the Pokes’ favor. And that’s not to mention K-State going for it on its 26 in the fourth quarter after the Wildcat defense just forced an 11-second three-and-out – giving OSU three more points.
I’m all for offensive aggression, but it felt like the Wildcats were playing like underdogs instead of the favorites. It felt like they were giving OSU chances to beat them.
Gundy and Co. counterpunched K-State’s aggressiveness all night. It was more of a Floyd Mayweather death by 1,000 cuts than a Mike Tyson knock out.
5. Hale for Groza
With all the little fires the first four games provided, Alex Hale has been underappreciated. He has been incredible.
Hale hit another 53-yard field goal Friday night and went 5-for-6 on the day with his only miss coming because it was blocked. The five makes ties the program record for makes in a game. Now, OSU fans probably hope he never attempts six field goals in a game again (OSU scored one offensive touchdown Friday).
On the year, he is 2-for-3 on field goals 29 yards and in. He is 4-for-4 from 30 to 39 yards. He is 2-for-3 from 40 to 49 yards and 3-for-3 from 50-plus.
He was a Groza semifinalist before his freak Bedlam pregame injury in 2020. If he isn’t on that list again this season, it’ll be as big a disservice as Chuba Hubbard not winning the 2019 Doak Walker or Tylan Wallace winning the 2018 Biletnikoff.
6. Kitchen Sink
Carson Cunningham called for the kitchen sink on the PFB pod this week — he got the kitchen sink.
In the first quarter, OSU whipped out a reverse, a reverse pass and a throwback pass. Then in the second quarter, they faked a punt. Shoot, even their fourth-quarter fourth-down attempt was creative with tight end Jeremiah Johnson taking a snap under center.
The fake punt was nearly comical. OSU ran the punt team on the field to a chorus of boos on a fourth-and-inches from the OSU 44. It was so believable because that felt like a scenario OSU would punt in given recent history. Then all a sudden Elijah Collins takes a snap and pushes pass the line to gain.
7. I’m Choosing to Not Be Frustrated
As Ollie Gordon was high stepping past defenders in the third quarter, I thought to myself for a split moment: “Why didn’t they just do this from the beginning of the year? Why three quarterbacks? Why three running backs?”
If OSU just starts this year with Bowman at quarterback and Gordon at running back (like most assumed coming into the year) does OSU enter this game 4-0? Probably. Then all of a sudden this win against a one-loss defending conference champ feels even better.
Bowman didn’t have a Mason Rudolph-esque outing, but he just looks so much more comfortable now that he is playing full games as opposed to full series.
And in two games as the featured back, Gordon had 121 yards against Iowa State and now 136 yards against Kansas State.
The what-ifs of this year are interesting now, and they’ll probably be interesting five years from now. But, I’m choosing to not go down that rabbit hole … yet.
8. The Bowl Streak Is Back On
Like The Undertaker sitting up after a chairshot to the head, the OSU 17-year bowl streak is undead.
If OSU can beat K-State to the extent it beat K-State on Friday, the Cowboys can find a way to snag three more wins. Games against Kansas, West Virginia, Cincinnati, UCF, Houston and BYU all look competitive again. And someone please put the final Bedlam under the lights.
9. Did OSU Just Ensure the Big 12 Trophy Leaving the League?
Not to keep the professional wrestling references running, but in 1995 reigning WWF women’s champion Alundra Blayze showed up on WCW (the WWF’s rival promotion) television and threw the WWF women’s title in the trash as she made the switch to WCW.
That’s what it would feel like should OU or Texas win the Big 12 this year before bolting to the SEC.
Kansas State was the chosen one to disrupt a Texas-Oklahoma Big 12 title game that would ensure the reigning Big 12 champion to leave the league. K-State could still be that team, but a loss against an Oklahoma State team that has lost to South Alabama and Iowa State doesn’t instill a ton of confidence.
Maybe West Virginia — the team picked last in the preseason poll only to start league play 2-0 — can be the new chosen one. Or maybe the Cowboys themselves can start their comeback arc and be the chosen ones.
10. Shades of 2021 in More Ways Than One
The Cowboys kept throwing their defense on the field, and that defense kept answering the bell. That’s how it was in 2021.
In four fourth-quarter possessions with the game in the balance, K-State’s offense went: turnover on downs, touchdown, interception, turnover on downs. It was an elite performance from a unit that had been shaky the past two games.
Another way this game felt like 2021 — the Cowboys could not get a yard when they needed it. The Cowboys got inside the K-State 5-yard line in the first half before three straight run plays resulted in net negative yardage. Then again in the fourth quarter, the Cowboys had a 4th-and-1 from near midfield that got stuffed. Luckily, the Cowboys’ defense picked the offense up in both of those instances.
And the offensive line play was better Friday night than it had been. Alan Bowman wasn’t sacked, and he was only hurried once. OSU ran for 4.4 yards a carry and Gordon had 6.5 yards a pop. But the Cowboys have to be able to figure out how to get a yard when they need it for the sanity of everybody.
The post 10 Thoughts on Oklahoma State’s 29-21 Victory against Kansas State first appeared on Pistols Firing.