ORLANDO, Fla. — UCF’s Space Game had the Cowboys looking like they were playing on Neptune.
Oklahoma State lost to the Knights 45-3 on Saturday at FBC Mortgage Stadium. It was as ugly as the score line indicated. Here are 10 thoughts on the game.
1. Back Down to Earth
It’s somewhat fitting this performance happened during UCF’s Space Game because the high-flying Cowboys crashed back down to earth not far from the Kennedy Space Center.
All week the talk was about how the Pokes would play the week after the emotional high of “winning their Super Bowl.” The answer: not well.
Mike Gundy and his players said after the game they didn’t feel there was a Bedlam hangover. Whether this was the result of the emotional high of last week or not, it was a firm reminder that — as good as this team has been the past month or so — this group is far from invincible. This team beat OU. This team also — regardless of who was playing — scored seven points against South Alabama at home. This isn’t the Weeden or Rudolph eras of OSU football, where the Cowboys could overcome a handful of mishaps. This team needs proper preparation and performance.
2. Not Much Space for Gordon
Keeping with the space theme — space might be infinite, but Ollie Gordon’s space sure wasn’t.
It felt as if Gordon’s Heisman campaign was just starting to go national before he ran for 25 yards on 12 carries against the Knights, a team that ranked dead last in the Big 12 in run defense entering the day. UCF sold out to start the run, and it certainly worked.
But teams have sold out to stop the run before Saturday — OU did last week. What was different Saturday? It was tough sledding all day. Gordon’s longest run of the day was five yards, a feat he pulled off twice. With OU loading the box last week, he had six runs longer than five yards. The blocking just wasn’t to the standard it had been at the past few weeks. It felt like every time Gordon took a handoff he had to start sidestepping instead of barreling downhill.
Gordon was better as a receiver against UCF than a rusher. He had two receptions Saturday for 27 yards.
I’m not ready to 100% say that Gordon’s Heisman race is over. Who would’ve thought he would’ve been in it after the South Alabama game? But, it’s going to take a Herculean effort to take home that hardware on a three-loss OSU team. Perhaps it’s now time to adjust to the Doak Walker — an award no OSU player has ever won — being the award race everyone focuses on.
3. When It Rains, It Pours
The Cowboys didn’t lose this game because it started pouring rain, but it certainly didn’t help their cause.
Already down 17-0, the Cowboys had limited options offensively in the middle of the rain storm. The Knights were already loading the box in attempt to take away Gordon, and they got to double down on that gameplan with the ball too slippery to put in the air. It got to where the Cowboys needed to throw the ball, but they couldn’t, Mother Nature wouldn’t allow it.
OSU mustered just 29 yards of offense in the second quarter. Thirty-eight of those yards came through the air. If you’re struggling to see how that math works out, OSU ran for -8 yards in the quarter. The Pokes couldn’t find a way around the anti-run assault UCF put on.
With that being said, it was raining when UCF had the ball, too, and the Knights still managed 133 yards and 10 points in the second quarter.
The rain continued off and on in the second half, but that second quarter in particular was incredibly wet.
4. The Big Plays Returned
Big plays had been an issue for this young defense with a new scheme at the beginning of the year. It looked as if things were starting to turn around in that aspect, but they certainly relapsed in Orlando.
The Knights had five pass plays of more than 30 yards — including a 75-yard touchdown. They also had six run plays of at least 15 yards — including a 92-yard touchdown. It was happening both ways. A lot of the year, the issue had been a busted coverage in OSU’s youthful secondary, but Saturday had a lot more than that.
The Knights were faster than I expected them to be, particularly at running back, where RJ Harvey ran 206 yards on 24 carries — going for 8.6 yards a carry. He had the 92-yard touchdown run, but even if you erase that (a score that, by itself, would’ve beaten OSU), Harvey averaged five yards a carry.
Even in the monsoon, UCF produced 592 yards of total offense — the most OSU’s defense has allowed any opponent under Bryan Nardo. The 293 rushing yards were also the most OSU has given up this season.
5. The Turnover Well Ran Dry
Next in the line of everything that could go wrong for OSU did, in fact, go wrong: the Cowboys’ five-game win streak saw them go +8 in turnover margin. The script flipped Saturday.
OSU had four turnovers to UCF’s one. Alan Bowman had three interceptions, all of which were tipped. Bowman tried to throw into some tight windows. He had gotten away with a few of those throws in recent weeks, but — as was the case about most of this game — little seemed to break the Cowboys’ way. Gundy mentioned in the postgame that next to none of the game’s 50/50 plays went OSU’s way. With the biggest evidence of that probably being the score.
The Knights put up 17 points off the Cowboys’ turnovers, meaning there were still a 25-point difference in OSU’s loss. To me, that highlights the importance of OSU’s success to winning the turnover battle. That sounds obvious, but for this OSU team in particular, it seems immensely important.
6. John Rhys Plumlee Looked Like Johnny Manziel
It’s a shame John Rhys Plumlee missed time this season with injury because it would’ve been interesting to see how different UCF’s first season in the Big 12 would have gone had the Knights had their signal caller all year.
Plumlee did it all for UCF. He was 11-for-18 for 299 yards and three touchdowns. Twenty-seven yards per completion is another piece of evidence of the Cowboys getting big-played all night. He also ran 14 times for another 74 yards. He put balls in buckets. He outran defenders to the edge. His only real mistake was not getting rid of a ball as Collin Oliver closed in on him and sacked him and stripped the ball away.
Plumlee might be one of the better quarterbacks in the Big 12 this year, but because he has missed time with injury and because UCF is near the bottom of the Big 12, he hasn’t gotten as much notoriety.
7. Which Was Worse: Offense or Defense?
This is a conversation we had in the press box after the game. Was OSU’s offense or defense worse Saturday?
The offense scored three points. It marks just the eighth time (by my count) one of Mike Gundy’s teams have been held to single digits. The Cowboys had 277 yards of total offense, which isn’t good, but it’s also not outright horrible. There were times the Pokes would move the ball a little bit before an untimely turnover — I’m not sure if that’s an argument for the offense being better or worse than the defense.
The defense gave up 45 points. It seemed like the Knights were able to do whatever they want whenever they wanted. But UCF entered the game with a solid offense, averaging 32.6 points a game.
I think I’m going to lean that the offense had a worse day based mostly on the fact that UCF was giving up 211.8 rush yards a game and OSU mustered just 52 rush yards Saturday while having the nation’s leader in rushing.
Nothing was particularly pretty, but I’m going to say the defense that gave up 45 points and 592 yards of total offense played better. That sentence tells you all you need to know about how OSU’s trip to Orlando went.
8. Most Befuddling Loss Since?
This isn’t the first time the Cowboys were on the wrong side of a butt-whipping. The Pokes lost 48-0 to Kansas State last season. Shoot, they lost 33-7 to South Alabama this season.
Both of those scores made little sense, but they might’ve made more sense than this.
Shortly after K-State kicked the crud out of OSU last season, we found out that OSU was in a bad spot and perhaps just wasn’t a good football team. The Cowboys lost five of six to finish the year.
When OSU lost to South Alabama at the start of this season, the Pokes were playing three quarterbacks in the funkiest manor imaginable and Gordon carried the ball three times.
Saturday, the Cowboys weren’t all that injured — especially for this point in the year. And they had Gordon. And they were playing only one quarterback. And they lost to an under .500 UCF team by 42. I think there is an argument that this one made less sense than anything else.
9. Burn the Uniforms
OSU has lost four straight games in the orange-white-black uniform combination. The last time before Saturday the Cowboys wore the combination: Kansas State last year.
That means, the past two outings in that combination have resulted in a combined score of 93-3 against the Pokes. That’s enough of a reason to perhaps never wear those colors in that order ever again.
Don’t burn the UCF Space Game uniforms, those things are sick. And UCF hasn’t lost in any iteration of them.
10. UCF Is a Great Addition to the Big 12
This is the first new Big 12 team OSU has traveled to — and thus the first new Big 12 place I’ve been to.
When you think Orlando, you probably think Disney World (I certainly do), but where UCF is located — on the northeast side of the city — is a completely different area. It’s Florida but less touristy than the stereotype of Orlando. So, it’s somewhat the best of both worlds in that way. It’s a fun trip to make. Do Disney or Universal if you want to, then hit the game on Saturday.
The tailgate scene isn’t going to compete for a Big 12 title, but it’s better than some places I’ve seen. FBC Mortgage Stadium has a capacity of about 44,000, which is far from the biggest in college football, but The Bounce House jumped a few times. It being fully enclosed makes for a solid atmosphere.