Football is a game of inches. Like the famous Al Pacino Speech from Any Given Sunday when he said “The margin for error is so small. I mean one half step too late or to early you don’t quite make it. One half second too slow or too fast and you don’t quite catch it. The inches we need are everywhere around us. They are in every break of the game every minute, every second.”
On Saturday, Oklahoma State was just a few inches short of walking out of AT&T Stadium with a Big 12 title and a possible College Football Playoff berth in a 21-16 loss to the Baylor Bears. “We were just a few inches short.” Oklahoma State head coach Mike Gundy said after the loss. “We came up short, but I couldn’t be more proud of this team.”
Coming into the Big 12 championship game with an 11-1 record and fresh off a win against six time defending Big 12 champion Oklahoma, the Cowboys were favored to become the next champion of the conference.
Behind a great defense, Oklahoma State turned the 2021 season into something from the 1980’s as they wore down opposing offenses making offensive coordinators lose sleep at night. What Jim Knowles did with this defense was incredible but as we all know, defense isn’t the only part of a football game.
You must score points to win games because all that matters at the end of the day is that you have more points on the scoreboard than the other team. Through the year, quarterback Spencer Sanders cut down the mistakes and was able to manage the offense. When paired with a talented defense, it worked quite well as it was good enough to win 11 games this year.
The first time Oklahoma State met Baylor, they were able to get away with three turnovers and still dominate the game. However, that wasn’t the case on Saturday as Spencer Sanders turned the football over four times. “We didn’t protect him very good today.” Gundy said. “If we protect him then he usually plays pretty well. We struggled rushing the ball and it made it one dimensional and when you are one dimensional then pass protection is not as easy. I thought he was great when it comes to his composure and his ability to rally back. He’s come a long way from where he was a couple of years ago. He had a couple of errant throws and a couple times he got hit.”
To be fair, Mike Gundy was right. Baylor dominated the Cowboys up front and with star running back Jaylen Warren out with an injury, Oklahoma State struggled to run the football which put more pressure on Spencer Sanders to perform. With just 70 rushing yards on the day, Oklahoma State needed Spencer to go out there and use his arm to win the game. Is that a lot to ask for? Not really but that is not who this Oklahoma State team is. All season long they have relied on their run game while playing great defense.
When you put your defense in tough spots throughout the game due to turnovers, eventually the defense will break. While they did pitch a shutout in the second half, their lack of offense and explosive plays is what did them in. You can’t rely on your defense to win every game and at some point, you need your offense to hold up their end of the bargain and that didn’t happen.
Was Oklahoma State’s season disappointing? Absolutely not. Sure, this team would have like to walk out with the confetti falling on them with Mike Gundy hoisting a Big 12 title, but this team still accomplished a lot. They won 11 games and made their first Big 12 title game appearance when nobody had them here to begin with. All the chatter in the preseason was about Oklahoma and Iowa State. Who knew all along we would have the wrong team from the state of Oklahoma playing for a conference title?
Mike Gundy has proven to the college football world that he is capable of change and adapting to whatever is best for his football team. This season, it was all about the defense. It was never about getting into high-scoring shootouts and hoping for the best. Mike isn’t some stubborn old coach stuck in his ways. He has embraced the defensive mindset of this team and it has taken them somewhere that nobody thought they could get to this season, considering they were picked to finish fourth in the Big 12. Pretty soon, Oklahoma and Texas will be gone and as long as Mike Gundy is still around in Stillwater, the Oklahoma State football program will always be a contender in the Big 12.