Oklahoma State deals Baylor painful dose of BCS reality
STILLWATER, Okla. -- In a small room connected to Boone Pickens Stadium, a defiant Bryce Petty stood before a handful of reporters. Four hours earlier, he'd been the star quarterback of 9-0 Baylor and its thus-far unstoppable offense. One humbling 49-17 defeat later, a good portion of college football's unforgiving public now likely views him and his teammates as frauds.
That's how quickly perception changes in this sport. But reality doesn't change quite so rapidly.
"This is a great team. This is a special team," Petty said late on Saturday night. "A loss does not define this team."
If one loss defined an otherwise flawless team, Oklahoma State should have called it a season back on Sept. 28. That's the day it lost to West Virginia (now 4-7) 30-21 in Morgantown. Seven consecutive conference victories later, the Cowboys have put themselves in position to win the Big 12 for the second time in three years. But not even their head coach envisioned holding Baylor -- which came in averaging 61 points per game -- to just 17 in a clash that Oklahoma State dominated on both sides of the ball.
"That's not something we anticipated," said Mike Gundy, whose more modest goal had been to hold the Bears to half of their season average. "But when you play at home in front of a crowd like this, and you get on a roll, sometimes that can happen."
It happens every year, in fact -- an undefeated BCS title contender finally gets a dose of reality -- but it still always manages to surprise. Baylor, in particular, understands the sport's roller-coaster nature. Its 13-game winning streak that came crashing to a halt began just more than a year earlier, with a 52-24 thumping of ... 10-0 Kansas State.
"This hurts," said standout Bears safety Ahmad Dixon, who filled in at linebacker on Saturday. "Our chances of still winning the Big 12 aren't over, but we wanted something bigger than that."
Many fans and analysts will zealously declare that Baylor never belonged in the national title discussion. Instead, they ought to give a little credit to Oklahoma State, and perhaps gain a new level of appreciation for remaining unbeatens Alabama, Florida State and Ohio State.
The Bears didn't put up all those 60-plus-point and 600-plus-yard games by accident. Baylor, like any team, is mortal. On a bitterly cold night in a hostile atmosphere, without several injured key players, the Bears ran into a formidable foe with an athletic defense and a rapidly improving quarterback. Clint Chelf completed his first 12 passes and finished 19-of-25 for a career-high 370 yards with three touchdowns and no interceptions. The Cowboys racked up 594 yards of total offense against a Baylor defense that came in ranked 11th in the country in that category (322.6 yards per game).
"The offense, defense and special teams just kind of game together as a group tonight," said Oklahoma State sixth-year fullback Kye Staley, who entered the night with two career carries and went on to score two touchdowns. "I don't know how many games we've won in a row (seven), but we're on a roll."
The first sign this game would be different from previous Baylor outings came when Petty inexplicably wiped out while moving toward what appeared to be a certain 7-0 lead.
Running untouched toward the end zone on a first-quarter keeper, Baylor's stocky quarterback rumbled 27 yards before losing his footing and falling at the one-yard line. Two plays later, Bears redshirt freshman running back Shock Linwood fumbled while trying to stretch the ball over the goal line. What seemed at the time to be a minor setback proved to be the closest Baylor would come to reaching the end zone until early in the fourth quarter.
The score was just 14-3 at the half, but when Oklahoma State tacked on two quick touchdowns to open the third quarter, it was clear the Bears' dreams of an undefeated season and possible BCS championship would end in Stillwater. Oklahoma State's defensive linemen whipped a Baylor offensive line missing its starting left tackle (Spencer Drango) and shut down a Bears' rushing attack missing two of its top three tailbacks (Lache Seastrunk and Glasco Martin). Baylor also played just its second game without star receiver Tevin Reese, whose absence may partially explain why Petty (28-of-48 for 359 yards with two touchdowns) lacked his usual selection of wide-open downfield targets.
For their part, the Cowboys played most of the night without All-America cornerback Justin Gilbert (shoulder) and still put the clamps on the mighty Baylor offense. The Bears usually thrive because of their balance; they came in averaging nearly 300 rushing yards while routinely torching foes with their vertical passing game. But Linwood (101.5 yards per game) found little room to move, continually stopped by the likes of Cowboys safety Daytawion Lowe and linebacker Caleb Lavey. That, in turn, put more pressure on Petty, who clearly wasn't at his best.
"We had to challenge them. We had to get in their face," said Oklahoma State defensive coordinator Glenn Spencer. "We had some different personnel groups, and those guys got in their face. There's a risk that you could give up a big play, but they were focused and played with outrageous effort."
Gundy said the Cowboys took more chances on offense, too, figuring they'd need to score in bunches to win. In fact, on its very first possession, Oklahoma State went for it on fourth-and-one from its own 47-yard line. Gundy later described that decision as "dumb." The Bears stuffed Desmond Roland to take over on downs, and only Petty's subsequent fall and Linwood's ensuing fumble kept Baylor from cashing in.
But Oklahoma State was also bold with its play-calling, dialing up numerous tricks and attacking Baylor downfield. That game plan worked because Chelf -- the senior who was beat out by a true freshman (Wes Lunt, now at Illinois) to begin last season and spent the first six games of this year alternating with sophomore J.W. Walsh -- was spectacular. He was 12-of-12 for 238 yards at one point late in the second quarter. After the aforementioned Linwood fumble, Chelf orchestrated a 99-yard touchdown drive, completing throws of 28 (to Charlie Moore) and 51 yards (to Marcell Ateman).
"Clint was amazing," said receiver Tracy Moore, who caught five passes for 126 yards, including a 56-yard touchdown. "He was running, throwing and even making a catch. There's not much that kid can't do."
Chelf and his teammates have one game left, against archrival Oklahoma (9-2) on Dec. 7. Win, and they're league champions. Simple as that.
As for Baylor, while dreams of Pasadena are dashed, it can still win a share of its first-ever Big 12 title (and its first trophy since sharing the 1994 Southwest Conference crown) if it finishes the regular season with victories over TCU (4-7) and Texas (7-3). It needs help from the Sooners if it hopes to gain the league's spot in the Fiesta Bowl, though an 11-1 Baylor team would likely garner an at-large berth elsewhere.
"We wanted something that's never ever been done before [at Baylor] and that was [to] go to a national championship," said Dixon. "That dream came down. I promise this next one [the Big 12 title] won't crash down on us."
By now, fans shouldn't assume anything this season will play out according to form. Even if the real Baylor lies somewhere between the 70-points-per-game version and Saturday night's group, that team would still likely win almost every week.
This just didn't happen to be one of them.