The polar opposite of 2014.
How does a season that finished 10-3, played for a Big 12 title, and got a chance to play in a NYr six bowl game, manage to feel worse than a season that was one idiotic Bob Stoops' decision from staying home?
Going three and out in the three biggest games of the season, that's how.
What hurt most about this, however, is that the Cowboys could have been in this game from the beginning, if not for egregious mistakes by arguably the most talented position group on the team, and the unending Gundy stubbornness to run the ball.
The OSU defense started with an interception on a poor decision by an otherwise flawless Chad Kelly (nephew of HOF QB Jim Kelly), which was basically an arm punt, but the Cowboys successfully moved downfield as Mason Rudolph looked very sharp. On a familiar 3rd and long, Rudolph threw a dart to Ateman over the middle. Instead of immediately cutting upfield for an easy first down, Ateman tried to run around an Ole Miss defender and was cut down short of the marker. In the exact opposite fashion of the reckless abandon of last season's Cactus Bowl, Gundy opted to punt. This was the first of several early uncharacteristic mistakes by the receiving corp that would doom any plans for success.
When the Cowboys stuffed the Rebels deep in their own end, and a penalty on the ensuing fair catch gave OSU the ball almost in FG range, many a fan was still confident OSU could put one in the end zone and keep Ole Miss on their heels. The Cowboys continued success throwing the ball, with an assist on a defensive PI penalty, resulting in 2nd and 1 at the Rebels eight yard line.
I know hindsight is 20/20, but this was a fairly poor decision in my book. JW Walsh came in, as he might otherwise normally do, but the Cowboys predictably ran into the strength of the Ole Miss defense, and on 4th and short chose to kick a FG.
Momentum was now swinging towards the Rebels, and they took full advantage, scoring 27 unanswered points on great catches and blown coverages. OSU's offense sputtered, with ill advised runs, drops, and penalties. The Cowboys mustered a late drive, but again had to settle for a FG, and Ole Miss turned a late hit penalty into a fat guy TD on the last play of the half to make it 34-6. Any hope of a bizarre comeback was snuffed out as OSU laid an egg again on their opening drive of the second half, and the rest was just a slow bleed to the end. Walsh came in to finish the game and recorded a couple of TD's, but that didn't even qualify as window dressing.
The Cowboys' big play threat, James Washington, was held to one catch, and the one that got away showed why he was so coveted as a recruit, posting 6 catches for 71 yards and three scores. For the first time all season, Ogbah was held largely in check by a future NFL lineman. The opening interception was the Rebels' only real error, as they executed their offensive game plan almost flawlessly, as well as taking advantage of OSU's weak offensive front to only rush 3-4 and drop 7-8 in coverage. Play calling was far more creative on the Rebels sideline, and the Cowboys' complete lack of a running game meant Ole Miss backside defenders could stay at home, negating any misdirection that might be employed, although not much was attempted. Gundy/Yurcich seemed to ignore the downfield success in the passing game, continuously passing wide or utilizing slow developing plays against a fast defense that was largely going unblocked.
So what do we do now? I'm going to let this ruminate for the night and lend my thoughts on the state of the program as they head into national signing day and spring practice. The team is now fully in Rudolph's hands, and they need to find an offensive line and running game in order to realize his full potential. For all you folks screaming about the defense, take a chill. No, they weren't great as the season wound down, but the offense didn't give them any help. They faced the three best offenses they saw all season, and the offense saw the same, struggling to stay on the field against the best defenses they faced all year. Much experience is coming back for a second year in a row.
Make no mistake, though, this was a pretty good season for OSU. We thought they could reach 10-2, but the Sugar Bowl was a fluke of injury (see Baylor), and even without the mistakes, winning would have been a tall task. We knew the offensive line was a big question mark.
So let's settle in, let the negative emotions wash away, and start dreaming about Mason Rudolph with an offensive line and a running game.