Every week this season, we’re going to take a look at the previous Saturday’s game and do our best to answer three questions about Oklahoma State football:
What did we already know about this team going into this game?
What did we learn about this team from this game?
What do we still not know after this game?
Okay, in fairness, we all knew the Texas Tech game was going to be a crazy shootout coming into the season, right? I know the Cowboys have put us through what feels like 57 roller coaster games this season, but we all knew this one was coming. Which did absolutely nothing to make it easier to endure. Just prior to kickoff, I leaned over to my wife and said “I’m trying to prepare myself for the fact that they are going to score, probably a lot, and that’s okay, because so are we.” It didn’t work. Count me as solidly NOT mentally prepared for what went down.
There’s at least a 50/50 chance that there are some poor Cowboys fans still standing in Boone Pickens Stadium with their eyes clenched shut, terrified of what they might see if they open them, yes? It was that kind of game. It was that kind of ending. It’s been that kind of season. But take a breath, Cowboy Nation, we survived another week, even if we still aren’t quite sure how. Let’s take a look at what we’ve learned about this team, other than the fact that they clearly want us all to die an early death.
What We Knew
Justin Phillips can play a little ball. We might have forgotten, since he hasn’t really been much of a factor in almost two years, but we’ve seen before that he has the skills necessary to be productive. So we knew that the guy stepping in for the injured Chad Whitener at middle linebacker was capable, and if we had forgotten about the surprise hero of Bedlam 2013, he reminded us on Saturday. Phillips had what was then a career night in Norman two years ago, but he was arguably more impressive Saturday against Texas Tech. He came in averaging less than two tackles per game this season, but posted a team-leading 14 against the Red Raiders. He added a sack and was also at the center of one of the biggest plays of the entire game. Early in the fourth quarter, after a successful onside kick by Texas Tech, with all of the momentum shifting in the Red Raiders’ favor, Phillips was the man who stepped up and forced a fumble that gave the ball back to the Cowboys and at least momentarily quelled the storm. The guy has a knack for showing up when he’s needed the most and he definitely did so again on Saturday. The defense wasn’t great, but I honestly feel like they did their part to win this game, and Justin Phillips was a big reason why.
What We Learned
Speaking of the defense, we witnessed what was probably the most impressive ten minutes they’ve put together this season. At the 4:40 mark of the first quarter, Texas Tech converted on a 4th and 1. That was the first time the Red Raiders had moved the chains. It was their FOURTH possession of the game. To recap, one of the most prolific offenses in the country went three drives without so much as a single first down. I wish we could forget about what happened after that first down, because it all went downhill in a hurry, but that’s ten minutes of impressive stuff from this defense. They didn’t force a turnover over those first three Tech possessions, there were no big mistakes or penalties by the Red Raiders that set them back, it was purely a matter of the OSU defense stopping the Texas Tech offense on three straight possessions. I absolutely would have bet against that happening at any point in the game, and it happened in the first ten minutes. This defense has struggled all season with getting stops once their opponent gains a first down, and that was the case again on Saturday, but for those first three drives, it was glorious.
What We Still Don’t Know
Can the Cowboys avoid making mistakes on the road? TCU looks like they’re getting things together at the worst possible time for Oklahoma State. Admittedly, Baylor is reeling (what if OSU had played TCU in September and Baylor in November?), but the Horned Frogs put up 688 yards of offense, which would be impressive against eleven clones of Ramon Richards. This TCU team is beginning to resemble Kansas State with a modern offense. That sounds scary. The Horned Frog defense has been stout, ranking near the top of the conference in total defense, scoring defense, and rushing defense. After being held to ten points by West Virginia and 24 points by Texas Tech, the Horned Frog offense exploded against Baylor two weeks ago. Throw in the fact that TCU is coming off of a bye, so they should be rested, healthy, and prepared, and the margin of error for the Cowboys will be razor thin in Ft. Worth. The Pokes have been less than sharp in their three road games this season, totaling eight turnovers and 16 penalties against Baylor, Kansas, and K-State. They’ll need to be better on Saturday if they want to do their part in setting Bedlam up as the Big 12 Championship Game yet again.