Turns out the Oklahoma State Cowboys are, as Dennis Green would say, who we thought they were. That is, who we thought they were before they used an uncharacteristically stifling defense to shutdown Georgia in a 24-10 season-opening win, before they tricked us into thinking they were something else.
Against Houston, the Cowboys re-entered the realm of the shootout, the place so many Big 12 teams call home. But Houston lives there too. Cougar QB Case Keenum moved the ball at will, shredding the Cowboys' defense for 367 passing yards and three touchdowns on the day. Just one week after limiting Georgia to 257 net yards, the Cowboys allowed 511 against the Cougars. It cost them the game.
Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy assured fans the Cowboys wouldn't come into this game drunk on the glory of last week's win. But after shocking Georgia with shutdown defense, the Cowboys allowed 24 first-half points and failed to force a first-half punt. The defense wasn't all the Cowboys were missing in the opening quarters, as they managed just one score on a nine-yard Kendall Hunter run.
The offense came to life in the second half, and the Cowboys reached the middle of the fourth quarter up 35-31. Maybe that's when the SI cover curse kicked in (few survive one cover, let alone two in a month...). Faced with a fourth-and-goal, Houston could have kicked the field goal, but after scoring with ease all day, the Cougars decided to go for it on fourth down. With great protection and endless time to throw, Keenum scrambled before finally slinging the ball into the end zone, where the Cowboys' Donald Booker tipped it out of its path.
It came to rest in Houston RB Bryce Beall's hands. It was that kind of day for the Cowboys, who turned the ball over on their next two possessions, first on a Zac Robinson fumble, then on a Robinson interception that Houston's Jamal Robinson returned 26 yards for the score.
That's not the worst of it. When they weren't bowing their heads into their hands and covering their eyes, Cowboys fans saw star receiver Dez Bryant hobble off the field with an apparent leg cramp, and starting RB Hunter standing on the sideline in street clothes after injuring his ankle in the first half.
This was no way to follow up arguably the biggest win in program history. This was certainly no way to carve a path to a Big 12 title and a BCS Championship Game berth. Houston isn't an easy opponent. The Cougars were one of just five FBC schools to average more yards from scrimmage than the explosive Cowboys in 2008. But elite teams win these games. This was no way to prove, beyond a shadow of a doubt, the Cowboys are a team to beat.