Caleb Williams broke the pocket on 4th and 10 and rolled to his left. Linebacker Devin Harper, coming on a delayed blitz, missed a sack attempt on the slippery quarterback and ended up on the ground. Williams found a seam and sprinted upfield with no one between him and the first down.
A minute and twenty seconds later after the Cowboy offense failed to get a first down and had to punt the story was much the same. Again it was 4th and 10 with the pocket collapsing Williams was looking to break to the left. Collin Oliver’s speed rush had ended up going too wide and the left tackle got the better of him. Oliver found himself on the ground a few yards behind the Sooners’ electric star gunslinger.
It’s a scene Cowboy fans had seen before many times. OSU has a shot and the Sooners somehow pull the rug out from under the Pokes. Sooner Magic. Those words are only spoken in hushed, spiteful tones in Stillwater. With the Cowboys leading only by four there wasn’t a fan in Boone Pickens Stadium that night that thought Williams wasn’t going to escape and pick up the first down on those plays, keeping the game-winning touchdown drives alive. The Sooners were ready to celebrate and the Cowboys were ready to serve their hearts up on a plate.
Except it didn’t happen. Harper picked himself up off the ground and chased Williams down from behind, diving at his feet and tripping him up five yards short of the line to gain. When given his shot Oliver didn’t even bother to get up and instead crawled two yards and lunged, grabbing Williams’ foot and pulling him down for a sack.
The first ended a drive but the second ended the game. Oklahoma State’s play-by-play man Dave Hunziker said it best on the OSU radio broadcast:
“Where is that Sooner Magic now, baby!?”
The best adjective for the 2021 Oklahoma State Cowboys is relentless. They beat the Sooners and 10 other teams this year mostly because they refuse to quit. Sooner Magic tried to help in Bedlam but even after a disastrous sequence of interception, safety, muffed punt for a TD, missed field goal, and interception OSU never let up. The Sooners only had to gain 14 yards offensively to flip the score from 24-17 Cowboys to 33-24 Oklahoma but the Cowboys never wavered. They just picked up their lunch pails and went back to work.
“So when they watch video on Sunday, they’re in a room and if everybody in here can see and if somebody is not giving effort, like out of the corner they’re eyes are cutting at him because they know you’re not playing hard. Got 10 guys playing harder, and you’re not playing hard. I think there’s a tremendous amount of peer pressure there for that, so now the snowball is going downhill and you can’t stop it. It’s working in our favor.”
That quote from Mike Gundy in his Monday press conference was about the defense but it applies to the whole team. Harper and Oliver are heroes for making effort plays in the waning minutes of Bedlam but the entirety of the Cowboys squad has played that way all season. The defense grabbed all the headlines but the offense did its part, too. They overcame early-season injuries and struggles to settle in and embrace the role of running the ball, not taking risks, and controlling the game. Special teams blocked a kick to preserve a win at Boise State and Brennan Presley returned a kickoff 100 yards for a score against OU. You can’t convince me that if OSU got a better spot (the correct spot?) on 4th down up in Ames that the Pokes wouldn’t have won that game and be undefeated right now.
Big 12 Championship, Playoff Appearance at Stake
The team puts on their hard hats and work gloves and goes down to Arlington to play Baylor Saturday. It’s a game they are favored in and that I expect them to win fairly easily. They’ve already beaten Baylor once by 10 in a game where they had to overcome three interceptions and a fumble. Baylor has gotten better since that game the first week of the conference schedule but so has Oklahoma State. In fact, no team has improved more of this season than the Pokes who looked iffy to make a bowl game after watching them play their first three games. Now they are one win away from the school’s second-ever Big 12 Championship and likely first playoff appearance.
The College Football Playoff field will most likely be made up of four of these six teams: Oklahoma State, Georgia, Alabama, Michigan, Cincinnati, and Notre Dame. Maybe I’m naïve but the only team in that group I think the Cowboys should be scared of is Georgia. I think Oklahoma State could be competitive against Bama and Michigan and I think they would boat race Notre Dame and Cincinnati. Georgia, that’s a different story. While I think the defense would hold up fine against the Bulldogs’ offense I don’t think the Cowboy offense could score. I’d expect something like 24-7 as a final score.
The thing that should worry whoever OSU plays after Baylor is that the Cowboys will have a month to prepare and, more importantly, to get healthy. The offensive line is banged up. Jaylen Warren isn’t quite 100%. The offense that seemed to be finding a rhythm to end the season is peppered with freshmen, especially at receiver, and could make a huge jump following a month of practice. Oh yeah and Tre Sterling, an All-Big 12 caliber safety, returned from injury two games ago but needs to get back in shape to really contribute. As much as the team improved during the season I’d expect a pretty good leap during bowl prep. Give the Mad Scientist Jim Knowles a month to scheme and Tre Sterling back along with a healthy offense to compliment his defense and I’d pick Oklahoma State to beat anyone whose mascot isn’t named Uga.
Am I being a homer? Maybe a little but I don’t believe so. I do believe I’ve watched the second-best defense in the nation get better every week not because they have a bunch of stars but because they work harder than anyone else. They are mature and experienced and enjoy watching their opponents struggle to breathe. I believe with the progression of Spencer Sanders the offense is good enough to score 20+ on almost anyone especially when the defense gets the ball back to them so quickly.
So buckle up, Cowboy fans. Last week was the most important game in school history because a win got you to this game with your playoff hope still alive. Now this game has already usurped last week’s, as the hurdle to heights the Pokes have never reached. Win this one and, once again, the stakes get higher. You are in the middle of a three (hopefully four) game stretch that could be the most important and historic in your favorite program’s history so far, maybe forever.
So be excited. Be nervous. Be anxious and hopeful and concerned. But the whole time keep in the back of your mind that when your Cowboys take the field they are absolutely going to try to punch the other team in the mouth. And then do it again. And again. And again until the game ends because that’s what they do.
Like I said before they are RELENTLESS, and I promise they will leave it all on the field this weekend and beyond. And the beyond, well, it may just be all the way.