Oklahoma State finds ways to pull out late victories
STILLWATER, Okla. (AP) It hasn't always been pretty, but after two late comeback victories in a row, No. 21 Oklahoma State remains undefeated.
In both their 30-27 triumph over Texas on Sept. 26 and then again last Saturday against Kansas State, the Cardiac Cowboys (5-0, 2-0 Big 12) needed last-minute field goals from Ben Grogan to win.
But it hasn't just been Grogan coming through for them under pressure. It was all three phases of the game - offense, defense, and special teams all delivering when they needed to, enabling the team as a whole to prevail.
''You only hope that they'll play that way,'' said OSU coach Mike Gundy. ''I said it at Texas and again with the Kansas State game, you hate that a team has to lose. Both teams played really hard until the end. But our players, even after giving up the late score on fourth down, that's the time when guys could tank it a little bit, but they didn't. They kept playing.''
In each of those games, Oklahoma State struggled to stop the opposing team's offense in the first half, only to devise some adjustments at halftime and limit the damage in the second half, providing their offense an opportunity to bounce back.
Against Texas, the Cowboys surrendered 242 yards of total offense in the first half and trailed 20-17 at the break before the defense clamped down in the second half, allowing just 48 yards of offense. The only Texas score came on an interception return, and Grogan connected on field goals of 41 and 40 yards in the final 1:33 to win it.
Last week, Kansas State amassed 230 yards of offense en route to a 28-20 halftime lead that might have been insurmountable if Jack Cantele hadn't missed a 43-yard field goal attempt with 3 seconds left. But again, OSU's defense tightened up, giving up just 1 yard of total offense in the third quarter and 120 in the fourth.
''It's just a process you go through, with us as a staff and them as students,'' said defensive coordinator Glenn Spencer, of having to change things mid-game. ''Things don't work out the way you practice all the time. People keep talking about halftime, but it's continuous. You're continuously, throughout the game, making adjustments on the sideline, and you might tweak something you're doing, and all of a sudden, they've got a new way to attack, and you've got to adjust to it.''
Offensively, the ongoing maturation of sophomore quarterback Mason Rudolph has been a major factor in their success. Rudolph completed 10 of 14 passes on third-down situations and orchestrated two fourth quarter scoring drives against Kansas State, despite the fact that everyone knew he was going to pass the ball, because the Cowboys, missing their top two running backs, managed just 49 yards rushing.
One week after surrendering three turnovers - two of which were returned for touchdowns - against Texas, Rudolph completed 34 of 55 passes for a career-high 437 yards and three touchdowns, along with one interception. It was the fourth-highest single-game total in OSU history and most ever for a sophomore.
Rudolph now ranks sixth in the nation with 1,674 passing yards on the season.
''One of the things that he's done a good job of is he stays very calm,'' Gundy said of Rudolph. ''We're extremely pleased with his demeanor and the way he handles the games in those situations.''
Gundy also believes some of their recent success late in games might be due to superior conditioning.
''They've bought in, and (strength and conditioning coach) Rob Glass does a great job with them,'' Gundy said. ''I think they're in tremendous shape and they're fresh and they're able to play well in the fourth quarter.''
So while Oklahoma State, which travels to West Virginia (3-1, 0-1) next Saturday, hasn't necessarily piled up the style points, they have confidence that they can battle back and overcome adversity.
''It's hard to measure that,'' offensive coordinator Mike Yurcich said of his team's recent resilience. ''I think all you can do is look at that we're coming away with victories and winning close games at the end, and it's a sure sign of character and growth.''