Dave Sittler: No doubts about OSU's Mike Gundy or his team
BY DAVE SITTLER World Sports Columnist
Sunday, September 25, 2011
9/25/11 at 9:05 AM
OSU report card
OSU Quarter Breakdowns
Defense motivated to win for Spencer
OSU Notebook: Hedgepeth, Rush injured
Original Print Headline: No doubts about Gundy or Cowboys
COLLEGE STATION, Texas - This isn't your father's Oklahoma State football team. But it sure as heck is coach Mike Gundy's OSU team.
If there was still any question that Gundy has totally changed the culture of OSU's program, there shouldn't be any longer. Not after the remarkable comeback the No. 7 Cowboys pulled off Saturday in a 30-29 win over No. 8 Texas A&M on the Aggies' home field.
For decades, OSU almost always found a way to lose big games. There were gaffes like a kick bouncing off an OSU player's helmet when the Pokes had Oklahoma beat, or a wide-open receiver dropping a perfect pass in the end zone in what would have been another victory over the Sooners.
Oh, there was a huge OSU blunder in this highly anticipated contest. But that's precisely the point: Instead of letting a bonehead play by All-American wide receiver Justin Blackmon lead to another heartbreaking loss, these Cowboys sucked it up and provided what just may have been the biggest win in OSU football history.
Yes, I know that covers a lot of territory. But the ramifications of this win - keeping OSU in the chase for both the Big 12 and BCS championships - has to put it on the shortest of lists in historic OSU victories.
"Oh, I think that's for you all (media) to say," said Gundy, who recalled a 38-28 win over No. 3 OU when he was an assistant in 2002. "But from a national perspective, I would think this has to be bigger because they (Aggies) were ranked No. 8. So this was pretty big for our team."
And the reason why it happened starts with Gundy. Now in his seventh season, the former OSU quarterback has come so far in his growth as a head coach that he found a way to overcome a week full of distractions. And there was also that 17-point halftime deficit that the Cowboys rallied back from in front of 87,358 spectators jammed inside Kyle Field.
Until Friday night, Gundy wasn't certain which OSU team would show up. The coaches and players had been emotionally rocked with the death of Angela Spencer, wife of linebackers' coach Glenn Spencer. Then there was the nonstop speculation about if OSU would be in the Big 12 next season or leave for the Pac-12.
"It really was surreal around there," Gundy said of the coaches' offices and the players' locker room.
But Gundy slowly worked to put the emotional pieces back together. On Wednesday, he instructed his staff that it was time to get the players' minds back on the undefeated Aggies.
"Even five years ago, we would have lost that game," Gundy said. "But this is a new group of guys with a new attitude.
"I think people see us differently. And I think our players themselves have a different attitude."
That's because Gundy has seriously upgraded recruiting. Over the past six years, he's brought in players who can fight back from a 20-3 halftime deficit on the road.
The confidence he has in what he's built is why Gundy didn't go bonkers during intermission. The Cowboys had been embarrassed the first half, but he quietly walked around to each group of players and discussed what had gone wrong and how they could fix it.
"We talked about adversity and how your true colors are going to show up when bad things happen," he said. "It takes a lot to come back against good teams on the road. And that doesn't happen overnight."
No, it happens over years. And it happens because of Gundy's long-held belief that OSU doesn't have to take a backseat to any other team in the state of Oklahoma or the nation.
A huge step in building that foundation of confidence happened a year ago against the Aggies. OSU twice came back from being 14 points down to post a 38-35 win that was the impetus for the first 11-win season in school history.
A&M's players and coaches didn't attempt to hide the bitterness they felt after that turnover-plagued loss. All summer, they pointed to the rematch with OSU, vowing that the better team wouldn't lose this rivalry two straight years.
And you know what? The best team didn't lose. And it was the memory of last season's thriller that made the Pokes believe that they still had a chance when things looked so bleak.
"I heard the players say (at halftime) that they had been here before," Gundy said. "We just had to go out and make plays."
OSU had to overcome a horrible mistake by its best player. Blackmon, who helped quarterback Brandon Weeden enjoy a record-setting day, displayed in the third quarter comeback why he's the nation's best receiver.
But while headed to the end zone for what would have been OSU's fourth touchdown during a wild third quarter, Blackmon fumbled the ball out of the end zone when he tried to make a showboat move.
"I was trying to dive, and I thought I was closer to the end zone," Blackmon said. "It was a fumble, so I'm happy we won."
If Blackmon had scored, the Pokes would have been up 31-20. But a defense that was riddled the first half repeatedly bailed out Blackmon and the Cowboys by forcing three interceptions and recovering a fumble.
In the old days - shoot, even in the not so old days - Blackmon's mistake would have signaled the beginning of the end of another victory the Cowboys were going to give away. But these new-look Pokes held on, allowing their fans to point at the scoreboard and chant "Big 12, Big 12," in a not-so-subtle shot at A&M's plans to leave the conference after this season for the SEC.
"I don't know why the Big 12 has to sacrifice," Gundy said. "I think we need to stand tall."
Because of Gundy's leadership, standing tall is what OSU football has elevated to. And it's making a whole bunch of old-timers happy this isn't the OSU team they remember.
Oklahoma State's Justin Blackmon is pressured by Dusitn Harris of Texas A&M. MIKE SIMONS / Tulsa World