Commentary

Cowboys poised to make serious run in Big 12 race

Originally Published: October 11, 2008
By Pat Forde | ESPN.com

COLUMBIA, Mo. -- We know Mike Gundy's sex -- he's a man!

We know Mike Gundy's age -- he's 40 (plus one)!

Now it's time to add this to Gundy's bio -- he has a pretty strong Oklahoma State football team!

Strong enough to come into Faurot Field and shock misfiring Missouri 28-23. Strong enough to triple Chase Daniel's season interception total and cripple his front-running Heisman Trophy campaign. Strong enough that another Cowboys topic is worth talking about besides the Great Gundy Explosion of 2007.

He's more than just a berserk sound bite. He's more than just a YouTube staple. He's the coach of an undefeated team that's staking a serious claim to a top-10 ranking and making a serious run at breaking out of perennial second-tier status in the Big 12.

"This win ranks up there [in school history]," Gundy said. "As big as any of them on the road."

Oklahoma State hadn't beaten a top-three opponent on the road in 41 years -- not since Gundy was 2 months old. But he's lived almost all of the school's recent history.

Gundy has spent 18 of the past 23 years at Oklahoma State -- as a player, as an assistant coach and now as the boss. His team is 6-0, and the fourth-year head coach is two victories away from his most wins in a season during what previously had been a tepidly successful head-coaching tenure (18-19 career record entering 2008).

Suddenly, the Cowboys are clamoring for inclusion in the debate over which team is best in the Big 12. They have the signature win and the rubber bracelets to prove it. Several of the players wear orange bracelets inscribed with the date of the Big 12 championship game.

"We're not wearing these for nothing!" crowed hyperactive hybrid linebacker/safety Andre Sexton.

[+] EnlargeMike Gundy
G. Newman Lowrance/Getty ImagesMike Gundy has led the Cowboys to a 6-0 start.

Nobody seemed to know where the bracelets came from, nor who devised them. Not even the head coach.

"I'm not sure who came up with that," Gundy said. "It would be a good story, though."

The Cowboys in general are a good story right now. They came into this game as a powerful offensive team but were considered highly suspect defensively -- until they held the high-octane Tigers to 30 points and 115 yards below their season averages.

That was enough to put a smile on the face of billionaire Oklahoma State fan Boone Pickens -- and let's face it, Mr. Stock Market hasn't had much to smile about lately. But a huge Cowboys victory coming hours after rival Oklahoma lost its No. 1 ranking? The party may rage for a week in Stillwater.

It put a smile on the face of defensive coordinator Tim Beckman, too.

"I think everyone came in expecting this thing to be a shootout at O.K. Corral," Beckman said. "What you saw was two defenses step up."

Missouri's did its part, holding Oklahoma State well below its season averages of 53 points and 530 yards per game. And when the Tigers made the one stop they absolutely had to have, forcing a shanked punt with 2 minutes and 40 seconds left, the stage was set for a Chase Daniel Heisman moment.

Daniel had been rattled a bit to that point; he'd been sacked twice and picked off twice. (One was a stone-cold drop by receiver Danario Alexander that caromed to the Cowboys.) He'd even presided over his first three-and-out possessions of the season, one in the first half and one to open the second. The first one produced jubilation from the Cowboys, who had heard quite enough about Missouri's unstoppable offense.

"I made sure to let them know the first time we got a three-and-out against them," Sexton said. "I said, 'Hey, it's your first three-and-out of the year. You're going to have a couple more of them.'"

[+] EnlargeChase Daniel
Jonathan Brownfield-US PRESSWIREThe Cowboys picked off three Chase Daniel passes Saturday.

Despite the struggles, everything seemed to be aligning for Daniel and the Missouri offense on the final drive. He quickly guided Missouri to the Oklahoma State 37 before disaster struck. Daniel was flushed from the pocket and tried to jam a throw to his favorite target, Jeremy Maclin, but the pass instead wound up in the arms of linebacker Patrick Lavine for a game-ending interception.

"We didn't play the part," Daniel said. "We made too many turnovers, and I put it all on me."

Actually, you can put a little of the blame on Missouri head coach Gary Pinkel as well. He set the tentative tone for the night on the Tigers' first possession, when on fourth down from the Oklahoma State 1-yard line, he sent in the field-goal unit.

You'd think an offensive juggernaut could come up with a yard against a middling defense. Instead, Missouri came up with three points, not seven, and that wound up being the difference in the game.

"It definitely gave us some confidence," Lavine said of holding the Tigers to a field goal.

Although Pinkel will be second-guessed a bit after Missouri's first home loss since 2006, Gundy will be celebrated. But to be honest, Beckman deserves just as much credit. Gundy takes the Steve Spurrier all-offense act to the extreme. Because he's the playcaller, he doesn't even watch his defense perform. Instead, he retreats to the back of the bench area to converse with his offensive coaches on the headset and decide which plays to call next.

Asked about a specific defensive player's performance Saturday night, Gundy shrugged apologetically.

"I really feel bad being the head coach and saying that, but I don't see any defensive plays," he said.

He'll want to go back and watch all of them on film. And the offensive ones, too. This game was the signature Mike Gundy moment at Oklahoma State, finally replacing the rant of 2007.

Pat Forde is a senior writer for ESPN.com. He can be reached at ESPN4D@aol.com.

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