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?
It’s a good thing I didn’t attempt to write this during the game, because it could have gone about 15 different ways over those 3+ hours. What we thought we knew in the first quarter definitely didn’t appear true in the third quarter. By the end of the fourth quarter, I’m not sure anyone really knew what they had just witnessed, and I’m not sure anyone who has ever seen a game between the Cowboys and the Snydercats was surprised.
Just another run-of-the-mill K-State game. Just another trip to the cardiologist. You’d think Snyder would have more consideration for health issues, but apparently not. Why is it always like this? Well, Kansas State is just a weird matchup for the Cowboys. In many ways, the two teams do things completely differently. Even if Gundy himself is more Snyder than Holgorsen, the fact remains that the two teams operate in polar opposite ways and the drama that polarity produces is both tortuous and endlessly entertaining. This game was like watching the Tortoise and the Hare play out on a football field, except this time the hare got it together just in time to dive across the finish line. Or stop the tortoise from crossing the finish line. Or something. Don’t overthink it. Let’s just take a look at what we learned about this team from what was thankfully the last trip to Manhattan until 2018.
What We Knew
Vincent Taylor is a beast. We knew this coming in. He’s made plays all season, some of which have been absolutely incredible. So it was no surprise that he showed up against the Wildcats, but man did he show up. He didn’t lead the team in tackles (Jordan Sterns did with 12), but it just felt like he made every big play. Every third down stop. The painstakingly few stuffs the defense produced seemed to always be led by Taylor. He ended the day with a sack and three tackles for loss, and the Cowboys needed every last one of them. I still have more questions than most about the overall effectiveness of this defensive line, and the truth of the matter is the defense was manhandled for most of the day, but Taylor stood out in a big way.
What We Learned.
This team has a lot of mettle. It doesn’t get much more gut-check than being down nine in the fourth quarter in Manhattan. Throw in the three turnovers and the blocked punt, and the Cowboys had every opportunity to hang their heads and say it wasn’t their day. There was a point in the fourth quarter when K-State had a 94.1% win probability according to ESPN. It so easily could have been over, but it wasn’t. Instead, the Pokes fought back in impressive fashion. Mason Rudolph, in particular, turned what was a disastrous stretch of the second half in which he was intercepted twice in four possessions into a brilliant fourth quarter in which he went 4-5 for 117 yards. Clutch. The reality is we’ve likely not seen the last of those moments when the Cowboys could choose to call it a day. Over the closing stretch of the 2016 season, there will be times when they’re down, times when nothing is going their way. They might not always come out of the those hard times on top, but they’ve shown us all they aren’t going to quit.
What We Still Don’t Know
How will this team handle the mounting pressure now that they control their own destiny in the Big 12 race? It’s an invaluable benefit to have a veteran presence at key positions like quarterback and safety, but this team is still young in multiple places. In a way, the early losses to Central Michigan and Baylor gave Oklahoma State the benefit of not being in the spotlight. With five straight wins, however, the Cowboys are now squarely back in the middle of the discussion in the Big 12. With a little help from Texas and TCU, the Cowboys now know if they win out, they’re conference champions. But with success comes expectations, as evidenced by the fact that the Pokes opened as 12-point favorites over Texas Tech. That’s a lot of love from Vegas. Mentally, it’s an entirely different challenge when you go from feeling cheated and disrespected to being considered a legitimate contender. We’ll get our first glimpse of how this team will handle that new role on Saturday in Boone Pickens Stadium.