Last week, Joel Klatt designated Oklahoma State as the No. 1 sleeper team in college football.
“(The Cowboys aren’t) even ranked yet,” the Fox Sports television analyst tweeted, “but they will be soon.”
During the first period of Saturday’s Oklahoma State-Tulsa game at Chapman Stadium, the Cowboys looked like an underrated dynamo. In bolting to a 17-0 lead, they averaged 8 yards per play.
After the hot start, however, OSU wasn’t a sleeper. OSU was sleepy.
During the entirety of the second period and some of the third, OSU was outplayed by the Golden Hurricane.
The Cowboys trailed 21-20 at halftime with plenty of bad to go around. There had been shoddy tackling. There had been a terrible play-call (a 2-yard pass in a third-and-5 situation). There had been a spectacularly conspicuous failure in coverage — a mistake that resulted in a wide-open Keylon Stokes collecting a 39-yard TD pass from TU quarterback Zach Smith. Neither of OSU’s safeties was within 10 yards of Stokes.
OSU fans and Mike Gundy recognized an unsettling, obvious truth: the Cowboys’ poor second quarter bore a striking resemblance to OSU’s sorry 2018 performances at Kansas State and Baylor. The road favorite each time — and in spite of talent advantages — OSU lost in both of those games.
The Oklahoma State of Saturday’s second period would have no chance of beating Texas in next week’s Big 12 opener at Austin.
Texas would truck the second-quarter Cowboys.
However, the Oklahoma State of the second half has a chance to win in Austin — for the sixth consecutive time.
After spending 20 halftime minutes in the sweatbox that qualifies as a visitors’ locker room, the Cowboys returned with substantially better defense against TU.
During the second half of a 40-21 Cowboy victory, Tulsa was scoreless. Hurricane QBs Smith and Seth Boomer were 10-of-22 passing. The Golden Hurricane run game amounted to 32 yards on 21 attempts.
Before halftime, TU averaged 5.7 yards per snap. After halftime: 3.2.
Gundy praised playmakers Chuba Hubbard, Tylan Wallace and Spencer Sanders after the game, but OSU’s coach seemed most pleased with his defensive coaches.
With 10 minutes left to play and TU trailing by 12 points, Philip Montgomery left his offense on the field for a fourth-and-5 gamble from the OSU 6-yard line.
Gundy himself called for a safety blitz. Kolby Harvell-Peel bolted into the backfield for a 9-yard sack of Smith.
“That was a really, really good job by our (defensive staff) — making adjustments at halftime, and then our players taking the information from the locker room to the field to shut (TU) down,” said Gundy, who as an OSU quarterback, assistant and head coach is 10-4 against the Golden Hurricane.
“And, obviously,” Gundy added, “we rushed the ball pretty well.”
Oklahoma State rushed for 337 yards. Hubbard, who solidified his status as an elite tailback, carried 32 times for 256 yards and three TDs.
In his past seven games, Hubbard has run for 947 yards and 12 TDs. If that 135-yard average were sustained over a 13-game season, it would result in 1,755 yards.
In Oklahoma State football history, only Barry Sanders, Terry Miller, Ernest Anderson and Thurman Thomas have gotten single-season rushing totals of at least 1,755 yards.
With gold-medal track speed and amazing balance, Hubbard is off to a 521-yard, three-game start this season. He and Wallace give Oklahoma State a chance to compete in every game, but to actually contend in the Big 12, OSU consistently needs the type of defense it executed during Saturday’s second half.
Last year, OSU was dogged by stupid penalties. Against TU, while trailing on the road and in need of something positive with three minutes left in the third period, the Cowboys got a third-down stop — and then got flagged for unsportsmanlike conduct. TU was given a fresh set of downs near midfield.
If the bad penalties are eliminated and if the Hubbard-Wallace big plays are bundled with the sort of defense seen during Saturday’s second half, OSU would be positioned to steal another road win in Austin.
Also, Klatt would gain some traction with his contention Oklahoma State is a national “sleeper” to watch.