Notebook: Homecoming Hero Leon Johnson, Mindset of Physicality and the Bowl Streak Lives

STILLWATER — The Cowboys put together perhaps their most complete performance of the season Saturday as the Pokes continue to roll.

Oklahoma State beat Cincinnati 45-13 in Boone Pickens Stadium. Here are three storylines that spawned in the media scrums of the Oklahoma State team room after the game.

Johnson Goes from Redshirt Candidate to Homecoming Hero

In his first game playing meaningful snaps at the Division-I level, Leon Johnson III might’ve been Saturday’s MVP (not named Ollie Gordon).

Johnson had his first five catches of the season, going for 149 yards. He provided the Cowboys with a vertical threat, catching passes of 67 yards, 23 yards and 43 yards.

A 6-foot-5 senior from Bothell, Washington, Johnson was on track to redshirt, but injuries to Jaden Bray, Blaine Green and Talyn Shettron in Morgantown pushed Johnson into action. Saturday’s win against Cincinnati was the fourth game Johnson has played in this year, meaning if he plays one more, he burns his redshirt and this will be his final season of college football.

Johnson said after the game that he isn’t sure what is going to happen with his redshirt but that he is going to trust that the coaching staff will do the best thing for him.

“I’ve been wanting to play the entire time,” Johnson said. “It was never like, ‘Dang, I don’t get to play.’ Once they offered the redshirt up to me, I was like, ‘OK, I’m redshirting. I’ll get to have all next season.’ But I’ve been preparing every week just in case what happened tonight happened — or last week happened. It wasn’t too much of a shock or anything, but it was like, ‘OK, time to actually suit up and be ready to play the game.’”

The Mindset of Physicality

The early rushing attempts from both teams Saturday were physical.

Ball carriers were storming downhill and trying to set the tone for the night. But in the crushing game of chicken, the Cowboys didn’t flinch.

The first half saw Cincy run for 194 yards to OSU’s 79. But the Cowboys continued to answer the bell and ran for 236 yards in the second half to the Bearcats’ 83 yards.

You could argue Cincinnati was forced to throw the ball after falling behind, but another way to look at that is the Bearcats went from 7.5 yards a carry in the first half to 3.5 in the second. Meanwhile, OSU went from 4.6 yards in the first to a Gordon-boosted 11.8 in the second.

“At the beginning, they were really physical, but as you look at it, toward the end of games, we get even stronger together,” Gordon said. “And teams get really tired. So I feel like if we just keep working together like that, teams won’t be able to hang with us toward the end of the game.

“I think it is a mindset thing.”

On the other side of the ball, Nickolas Martin had his fourth double-digit tackling day of the season, finishing with 12 tackles, a sack and a pair of tackles for loss.

He woke up Saturday as the Big 12’s leader in tackles with 83 on the year. That’s 10 tackles ahead of second-place Danny Stutsman. And he gave perhaps the most middle linebacker quote ever when speaking of the game’s physicality.

“It definitely comes down to who wants it more,” Martin said. “This is a violent game played with aggression. It’s based on war, so you’ve got to batten down the hatches and just take it to them.”

Bowl Streak Doesn’t End with Bowman, Nardo

When South Alabama drummed the Pokes in Stillwater in Week 3, the Cowboys’ 17-year bowl streak looked to be in as much jeopardy as it had been in since at least 2014.

Fast-forward about a month and the Pokes are on a four-game winning streak and bowl eligible for the 18th straight year.

Keeping that streak alive has to be a lot of pressure on the program’s newcomers with perhaps none as high-profile as quarterback Alan Bowman and defensive coordinator Bryan Nardo.

Nardo’s defense allowed just 13 points in the streak-extending win.

“I’m happy that we were able to get it done,” Nardo said. “I know how much this program prides itself on being in the postseason and doing that every year and standing on the tradition that Coach Gundy has built here, and I’m glad that I was able to be a small part in upholding that.”

Bowman threw for 286 yards and a pair of touchdowns to keep the streak alive.

“I think there’s a tradition of winning here, right?” Bowman said. “I think that was tested in the first four weeks. To kind of come together and [18] years straight going to a bowl game, that’s extremely hard to do, especially nowadays. So to say I’ve been a part of that, it’s really special.”

The post Notebook: Homecoming Hero Leon Johnson, Mindset of Physicality and the Bowl Streak Lives first appeared on Pistols Firing.