STILLWATER — It felt as if the Cowboys have been playing with fire in the early parts of this season. Well, they got burned Saturday.
Oklahoma State fell to South Alabama 33-7 in Boone Pickens Stadium in a game where the Pokes’ Group of Five foe nearly doubled OSU’s total yards. Here are 10 thoughts from the game.
1. It’s Unacceptable
This wasn’t Central Michigan in 2016 where OSU bottled a game it should have won when a lot of bounces (and a blown call) went the Chippewas’ way. This was a team from the Sun Belt dominating Oklahoma State in Boone Pickens Stadium from start to finish.
This isn’t solely the fault of a three-man quarterback rotation, nor is it solely the fault of a struggling offensive line, nor the transfer portal’s, nor OSU integrating a new defensive scheme. It’s a little bit of all of those things — which might be more scary than one blaring issue.
This program has been built to a point where this shouldn’t happen. It did happen. An odd upset loss is acceptable — it’s college football. Getting ran out of Boone Pickens Stadium by a team that started football in 2012 isn’t.
2. The First Nonconference Loss Since CMU
Not to make a bad day worse for OSU fans, but this is the Cowboys’ first regular season nonconference loss since that infamous Fail Mary against Central Michigan in 2016.
It ends a streak of 19 regular season nonconference wins for the Pokes. Considering Oklahoma State has beaten Pitt (twice), Boise State (twice), Oregon State, and Arizona State (twice) since then, losing to South Alabama in Stillwater is certainly an odd way to end that streak. But here we are.
3. Presley, Gordon Used Sparingly
The Cowboys went into the locker room down 23-0. In the first half, Brennan Presley didn’t have an offensive touch, while Ollie Gordon had one carry and two catches.
Entering Saturday, those two players had accounted for four of Oklahoma State’s six touchdowns this season — not to mention coming into the year, those two were thought to be two of the most talented players on Oklahoma State’s team.
Presley finished with two catches for eight yards. He also muffed a punt in the fourth quarter that set up a South Alabama field goal.
Gordon had three carries for 12 yards and the two catches for 18 yards. Gundy said after the game it was hard to hand the ball to anybody when the Cowboys needed to come back from down three scores.
They did get a little more involved in the second half, but not a ton for a team trying to battle back in a game.
Not getting the ball to your best players is befuddling no matter who is in at quarterback.
3. Quarterback Rotation Differs Slightly
Following the four series per quarterback trend put forth, Garret Rangel should have entered the game with 3:23 left in the third — he didn’t.
Oklahoma State trailed 23-0 at that point before Gunnar Gundy played a fifth series in which he led OSU on a 17-play, 84-yard touchdown drive. But then after OSU finally, mercifully scored, the third quarterback came in.
Gundy said after the game that “they” didn’t want to count Gunnar’s final series of the first half, where he got the ball with 1:03 to play before going three-and-out and punting it back with 18 seconds to play.
Gundy also mentioned that Rangel missed a day of practice this week as he was under the weather.
For the third straight game, no quarterback stood out from the rest. Bowman should’ve had an opening drive touchdown pass, but Jaden Bray dropped the ball. Drops have all of a sudden become an issue for the Pokes this season.
Here are the quarterbacks’ final stats:
Alan Bowman: 6-for-12 (50%), 42 yards, one interception
Gunnar Gundy: 9-for-18 (50%), 64 yards, 27 rushing yards
Garret Rangel: 1-for-5 (20%), eight yards, one rushing yard
4. Passing Stats Through the Noncon
Gundy has said a few times throughout this three-quarterback experiment that he looks at their stats collectively.
Through the nonconference slate of games, here is what OSU’s passing numbers look like: 68-for-115 (59%), 609 yards, three touchdowns, two interceptions.
Here is how that compares to OSU’s passing stats through the nonconference going back to 2012 (sorted by average points per game) on a per game average for each season. Why 2012? I wanted to include the three-quarterback tango of Wes Lunt, Clint Chelf and J.W. Walsh.
So, outside of the one-game nonconference slate of 2020, OSU’s points per game is lowest now than it has been since 2012. The 2023 edition of the Cowboys also ranks bottom three on this chart in passing yards per game and passing touchdowns per game while ranking fourth in pass attempts per game.
There are, of course, different circumstances for each season: opponent, the new clock rule, etc.
5. Rushing Stats Through the Noncon
Likewise, Gundy this week stressed the importance of yards per carry, hoping to stay somewhere in the 4.0-4.5 yards per carry range.
Through three nonconference games, OSU has averaged 3.9 yards per rush, taking a strange route to that number. The Cowboys had a strong fourth quarter against Central Arkansas just to run for no yards in the first half in Tempe before again finishing strong.
OSU had 29 carries for 94 yards (3.2 yards per carry) against South Alabama on Saturday night.
Here are the past 10 years of nonconference rushing for OSU, sorted by yards per carry.
|Year||Attempts||Yards||Yards Per Carry|
So, the 2023 Pokes rank seventh in rushing yards per game. That’s a weird spot to be, being below OSU’s disastrous 2014 season and above OSU’s Fiesta Bowl-winning 2021 season. It proves OSU can overcome a below-average rushing attack. All it needs is perhaps the best defense in program history.
6. The Crowd Was Great and Deserved Better
To add to the wackiness that is this season, Oklahoma State not only fell to a Sun Belt team at home — it did so in front of a sold-out crowd.
The crowd was great Saturday night and even when the Cowboys emerged from the locker room after halftime down 23-0, there was still a decent chunk of people in the stands.
The crowd’s frustration was evident. At one point, Boone Pickens Stadium booed as Bowman came back onto the field — something that is somewhat the fault of the three-quarterback dance with fans picking their preferred champion.
Even after a down year last year and a team filled with new faces, OSU sold out its season ticket allotment for the first time since 2013. The fans sold out nonconference games against Central Arkansas and South Alabama.
It shows the phrase “loyal and true” is more than just a line in the alma mater. Hopefully that bunch gets more to cheer about this season.
“We had a heck of a crowd out there,” Gundy said. “We came jogging out to start the game, I mean a packed house. I feel bad for our fans the way that we coached and played, and I apologize to them. Great crowd, great atmosphere.”
7. Stribling Goes Down, Doesn’t Return
With this offense trying to find its identity (and a pulse), De’Zhaun Stribling has been a beam of light in the extraterrestrial darkness. But when it rains, it pours.
Stribling attempted to make a catch on the sideline on OSU’s first drive when he took a hard hit on the OSU sideline and stayed down. He eventually got to his feet, but he didn’t return.
Stribling has 12 catches for 141yards and a touchdown on the year. Here is what Gundy said of Stribling’s injury after the game:
“I think they’re just being cautious,” Gundy said. “I didn’t get an update as far as an injury. I think it’s just being cautious with — not a serious injury.”
Ever since the Discipline and Toughness campaign the Cowboys rolled out a handful of years ago, penalties have — for the most part — been kept to a minimum. That wasn’t the case Saturday.
OSU had seven penalties for 64 yards. The Cowboys were flagged two other times that were declined.
Four flags were for offensive holding (another was declined). Then there was a kick-catch interference, a delay of game (inside the USA 10-yard line) and a defensive holding.
So not only did the Jaguars bully the Cowboys for parts of that game, the Cowboys also had some uncharacteristic self-inflicted wounds.
9. This Would’ve Been a Good Year for OSU to Be Good Because the Big 12 Stinks
Along with OSU dropping a game at home to a Sun Belt on Saturday, Iowa State lost to Ohio (not Ohio State, just Ohio), Cincinnati lost to Miami (not the Florida one, the Ohio one) and Kansas State lost to Missouri (at least it was a Power Five team).
The league is there for the taking, but at this point conference defectors Texas and Oklahoma look far and away to be the best teams while the new Big 12 might have to put its hope in Kansas, UCF and BYU.
It feels cruel OSU had some of its best teams while OU was on a historical run of dominance, and now that the league looks open, OSU is losing at home to South Alabama.
10. Resetting Expectations
When I went down OSU’s schedule at the start of the year, I counted 10 wins — even after a down 2022. I ended up bumping it down to nine wins for my official prediction because that oblong ball bounces funny from time to time, but three games into the season, I’m confident in saying I was wrong.
Even in a down Big 12, it’s going to be hard to pick OSU to win a ton of games moving forward.
Iowa State is bad, but the Cowboys always struggle in Ames.
Although Kansas State fell to Missouri on Saturday, the Wildcats will likely be a big favorite in Oct. 6 in Stillwater.
Kansas is tied with Nevada as of writing, but the Jayhawks have looked better than OSU to this point.
West Virginia was picked to finish last in the league, but the Mountaineers beat Pitt on Saturday and played Penn State closer than expected.
Cincy? That could be a win.
Oklahoma is scoring points for fun.
UCF is scoring points for fun.
Houston? that could be a win.
BYU keeps grinding out wins, beating Arkansas in Fayetteville on Saturday.
The bowl streak feels in as much jeopardy as it has in a long time, and it’s only three games into the season. It’s still early, and it’s still possible. OSU found an immaculate way to bowl eligibility in 2014, and the Cowboys might need another cheetah-like effort in 2023.
The post 10 Thoughts on Oklahoma State’s 33-7 Loss to South Alabama first appeared on Pistols Firing.