Instant Analysis: Oklahoma State narrowly dodges defeat vs. Iowa State

Oklahoma State narrowly avoided a crushing loss to Iowa State that would have ended the Cowboys' undefeated season and possibly halted their playoff hopes, too.
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AMES, Iowa — It was four years ago, though under vastly different circumstances, that Oklahoma State rolled into Jack Trice Stadium with national title aspirations…and left with those hopes ground into dust in a double-overtime loss to Iowa State.

For a good while Saturday, it appeared as though 2015 would be a repeat of 2011, at least in terms of evicting the Cowboys from the pursuit of a championship. But Oklahoma State survived, as Jordan Sterns intercepted Iowa State quarterback Joel Lanning when the Cyclones were attempting a drive for a game-winning score. The Cowboys held on for a 35–31 win after trailing by 10 entering the fourth quarter.

Here are three thoughts on a tense night in central Iowa:

1. Oklahoma State committed the greatest false start in program history to win

Trailing 31–28 with about six and a half minutes left and facing a third-and-10, Cowboys quarterback Mason Rudolph misfired on a pass and Mike Gundy's team was left to punt. Except for the official jogging in from the sideline toward the flag he threw on the field. He had hit the Cowboys with a false start penalty, negating the result of the play.

On the ensuing play, a third-and-15, Rudolph connected with receiver David Glidden for a 31-yard gain to keep the drive alive. That possession eventually ended with Jeff Carr’s seven-yard touchdown catch from J.W. Walsh for the game-winning score. In an amazing turn, a third-down false start penalty essentially gave Oklahoma State a first down, and ultimately a season-saving win.

2. This was still a bad afternoon for the Big 12

Clearly, the playoff selection committee has not been impressed with the conference thus far. This might be an exercise in presumptuous mind-reading, but ranking Baylor and Oklahoma State out of the top five at this point smacks of a lack of belief among the members that those teams are actually playing at a high level on both sides of the ball.

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The Cowboys’ effort Saturday likely did little to sway the committee from that position. The Cyclones raced to a 24–7 lead to start, at which point they were averaging 10.4 yards per play, 8.6 yards per rush and 21.3 yards per pass completion. A cynic might call that good defensive balance.

And a conspiracy theorist might posit that it plays right into the committee’s thinking that Big 12 teams lack the fortitude on both sides to be considered one of the best four teams in the country. As much havoc as Emmanuel Ogbah can create, the Cowboys’ stellar defensive end cannot prop up the reputation of an entire unit alone.

So it did not help the Big 12 that TCU barely escaped Kansas early Saturday. And it further hurt that a little later, Oklahoma State looked helpless defensively at times.

3. Joel Lanning’s toughness nearly allowed Iowa State to pull off the upset

The Iowa State quarterback set the tone early, dropping his shoulder into an Oklahoma State defender at the end of a run, coveting the contact instead of doing everything he could to avoid it. The 232-pound redshirt sophomore did a terrific job creating an attitude for his team on Saturday, and he finished with 130 yards rushing on 14 carries. His most notable effort: A 17-yard scramble on a third-and-10 that set up a 21-yard touchdown run near the end of the third quarter to give the Cyclones a 10-point advantage after Oklahoma State had crept back in.

Lanning will surely want back an overthrow early in the fourth quarter that might have resulted in a long touchdown to D’Vario Montgomery. But the only way Iowa State was going to have a chance was to be fearless, and Lanning set the example there.