On a Saturday of new beginnings for the Oklahoma State football program, one tradition seemed out of place. Every time the Cowboys made a first down, everyone in the Boone Pickens Stadium-record crowd cocked their arms in anticipation. As the P.A. announcer overdramatized the moving of the chains, every arm shot forward.
That tradition should die immediately.
Elite teams do not celebrate first downs. Elite teams celebrate touchdowns. And make no mistake, Oklahoma State is an elite team.
The Cowboys proved it Saturday with a 24-10 win against Georgia. Had someone blacked out the dateline section of the box score, an educated college football fan would have assumed the contest took place in October in Tuscaloosa, Baton Rouge or Gainesville. But it didn't. It played out in the heart of Big 12 country, in a stadium recently made palatial thanks to the largesse of a billionaire who earned a geology degree here in 1951, back when the school was called Oklahoma A&M.
When Saturday dawned, few could have imagined that Oklahoma could lose to BYU, that
So dream huge, Cowboys. You now stand shoulder-to-shoulder with the members of college football's ruling class. First downs are fine. But imagine celebrating something bigger. Like a Big 12 title. Or a berth in the national title game. All those things are in your reach if -- and this is a big if -- you can handle the pressure.
Young might have felt like the water was rising fast Saturday when Georgia took the opening kickoff and marched 80 yards in five minutes for a touchdown, but he didn't show it. After the drive, defensive tackle
When Young opened his mouth, he calmly decreed what adjustments his unit would make when Georgia next got the ball. Linebackers would attack run plays from a slightly different angle. Safeties would support the run better. In the final 54 minutes, the Bulldogs would score three points and gain 177 yards. "Four years ago, everybody would have been in the tank," Gundy said. "I didn't see anybody flinch."
In the process, the defense would bail out a usually high-scoring offense that faltered against an SEC defense. Vicious, fumble-inducing hits set up a momentum-swinging field goal just before the half and the game-clinching touchdown in the fourth quarter. The Cowboys, poster boys in 2008 for the Big 12's score-first-and-play-defense-later mentality, shocked everyone including themselves by winning with sound defense. "The game," Gundy said, "was played much like what you would see in the SEC."
And that's why Oklahoma State is elite. Oklahoma and Texas, the Big 12's resident titans, have separated themselves from the rest of the league in recent years by combining a high-scoring offense with an aggressive, opportunistic defense. With the exception of Texas Tech in 2008, the other 10 teams have played shootouts against one another and gotten stuffed when they meet the Sooners and Longhorns. If Saturday is any indication, these Cowboys can separate themselves from the field because they can win with offense or defense. Georgia hamstrung Oklahoma State quarterback
With Bryant limited to three catches -- one of which was a glorious diving grab for a 46-yard touchdown that capped the Cowboys' only scoring drive longer than 32 yards -- it was up to unsung Cowboys such as Jarko and safety
It was Antoine, a senior from Coral Springs, Fla., who tattooed Georgia tailback
By the fourth quarter, the Bulldogs had grown desperate. Quarterback
That's right. Backups. Playing in the fourth quarter. Making the crucial play against an SEC team that has notched double-digit wins six of the past seven seasons. In the game many in Stillwater considered the most important in the program's history.
But was it the most important? Was it a program-changer, or has Oklahoma State's program evolved to the point that, in spite of the hype and the quality of the opponent, the Cowboys simply won a game they were supposed to win?
"Program changer? I think, overall, we're a little bit beyond that," Gundy said. "We've played some really good teams the last couple years, and we've either beaten them or stood toe-to-toe with them. I think we're starting to believe that we can play with anybody if we play our best game."
After the final whistle, Bryant raised his hands to the sky. Left tackle
Gundy could only shake his head and chuckle at the thought.
"He sees things a little differently than most people," Gundy said. "One hundred eighty-six million dollars is a lot of money for one win. I have a feeling that he expects more than that."