John E. Hoover: Cowboys' rushing overshadowed by Texas' old-school power game
BY JOHN E. HOOVER World Sports Columnist
Sunday, September 30, 2012
9/30/12 at 6:04 AM
Read more stories on OSU's lost to Texas.
Go to John E. Hoover's blog
STILLWATER - The Big 12 Conference's day started with a 7-on-7 drill in Morgantown, W.Va., a no-tackling-allowed offensive showcase between Baylor and West Virginia that produced 133 points and more than 1,500 yards total offense.
Reason, however, regained a foothold on Saturday night at Boone Pickens Stadium.
Texas and Oklahoma State didn't exactly play lock-down defense, but the Cowboys and Longhorns did provide definitive proof that the tailback is not obsolete, that there is still room in this 21st century game for running the football.
O-State and Texas still operated their respective versions of the spread, complete with four- and five-receiver sets and fleet-footed quarterbacks and an often frenetic hurry-up pace.
But No. 12-ranked Texas' dramatic 41-36 victory was dominated and decided by old-school power football.
Hey, guess what? We're gonna hand off. And there's nothing you can do about it.
This was a matchup of the Big 12's two best rushing offenses, with Oklahoma State riding an average of 308 yards per game on the ground compared to Texas' 259.
The combatants mostly lived up to that billing Saturday, with the Cowboys rushing for 275 yards and Texas 136.
But Texas' numbers are misleading. Most of the night, the Longhorns lived off quarterback David Ash's passing, which has matured this season thanks to patience on his part and rational thinking by his coaching staff.
Ash stood tall early and again late - he was 30-of-37 for 304 yards with three TD passes - but as Oklahoma State mounted a comeback behind a punishing running attack, the Longhorns also suddenly turned to the ground game, putting together back-to-back grinding touchdown drives late in the third quarter and midway through the fourth.
Texas went into the final stages of the third quarter with 29 rushing yards on 22 attempts. But, as UT's sizable edge in time of possession (36:36 to 23:24) came into the play in the fourth quarter, UT runners were made to look like Earl Campbell and Ricky Williams by OSU defenders' exhausted arm-tackling efforts.
On one play, Daje Johnson slipped away from six Cowboy tacklers as he zigged back to the right; on the next, Joe Bergeron broke through two more OSU defenders as he zagged left.
Texas gained 107 rushing yards in the final 18 minutes, averaging 5.6 yards per carry.
Oklahoma State's ground game got going early - Joseph Randle went 69 yards just 39 seconds after kickoff - and the Cowboys stayed with it, most spectacularly with quarterback J.W. Walsh's slick draw play that covered 50 yards.
But on one late play, OSU - trailing by a point and facing a third-and-6 from the Texas 9 - ran the ball up the middle. It was stopped for a gain of just 2 yards, and Quinn Sharp hit a 24-field goal that gave the Cowboys a 36-34 lead with 2:24 to play.
It proved a risky and eventually fatal gambit by Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy. The Longhorns had just marched 75 yards twice, virtually unmolested on either possession as they did almost all their work rushing the football.
"We felt like it was the smartest thing to do," Gundy said. "Could be wrong."
With so little time left, Gundy probably figured the Longhorns would have to throw the football to win. Putting the game on Ash's shoulders seemed like a sound philosophy. After all, last season he threw four touchdowns and eight interceptions.
But this is the Big 12 Conference, after all. Passing wins games. And Ash, whose TD-to-INT ratio came in at 7-0 on this day (he did throw his first pick of the season), was up to the task.
Ash converted a fourth-and-6 play with a perfect throw over the middle to D.J. Grant for 29 yards, then threw short for a gain of 5. He followed that up with a long, high ball to Mike Davis, who leaped high for a catch over Justin Gilbert and a 32-yard gain to the Oklahoma State 5.
From there, Earl Campbell - er, Joe Bergeron put the game away by plowing through the Cowboys. His final carry, a dive of 2 yards, put Texas ahead 41-36 with just 29 seconds to play.
Texas was brilliant on third down in the first half, converting 6-of-9 after dreadful ineffectiveness on first and second down: 2.6 yards per play (not counting a surprise 44-yard touchdown pass).
"The biggest mistake we made in my opinion was third downs in the first half," Gundy said.
OSU coach Mike Gundy shouts at an official Saturday night against Texas. MIKE SIMONS / Tulsa World