LUBBOCK, Texas — What a nice week it had been for Oklahoma State.
After mugging Kansas State, OSU surged into the Associated Press poll for the first time this season. OSU got extra attention because of Chuba Hubbard’s run-game brilliance.
During the College GameDay show, ESPN’s Kirk Herbstreit said good things about the Cowboys. Against a Texas Tech squad that scored only 30 points combined against Arizona and Oklahoma, the Cowboys were favored by 10 on Saturday.
Forget the home-field factor. OSU hadn’t lost in AT&T Jones Stadium since 2008 — when Spencer Sanders was a third-grader in Denton, Texas.
The OSU-Texas Tech tale of the tape revealed significant advantages for the Cowboys, but those advantages were nullified by lethargy, lousy pass-blocking, uncommonly terrible tackling and pass-coverage failures.
Just as the Oklahoma State season began to take shape in the desired manner, Saturday happened.
The 21st-ranked Cowboys were trucked 45-35 by Texas Tech. The final score was misleading. The Red Raiders dominated.
At a staggering minus-5 on turnovers, OSU didn’t play with urgency until it was too late.
Nothing positive can be spun from this debacle. Sanders was intercepted three times and lost two fumbles. Against Arizona and Oklahoma, the Red Raiders had a total of three sacks. They sacked Sanders seven times.
I was aware of what was said during OSU’s postgame news conference, but this really is what I heard: “Blah, blah, blah.”
There were obvious questions and obvious responses. What isn’t obvious is whether this was an anomaly or a sign of things to come.
Oklahoma State heads into an open-date week in the worst way: with a sobering defeat and, presumably, damaged confidence.
The best thing Mike Gundy did on Saturday was to stick with Sanders at quarterback. If the redshirt freshman had been benched, seeds of doubt are planted. Gundy doesn’t want a psychologically damaged QB.
Zac Robinson, Brandon Weeden and Mason Rudolph had afternoons that resembled the Sanders nightmare.
In every sense, this Oklahoma State team was flat and unprepared — just like it was in Big 12 losses to Texas Tech, K-State, Baylor and TCU last season. OSU was favored in those games, also.
Gundy acknowledged that this Texas Tech mess “felt just like” those losses of a year ago.
In its last six quarters against perennially average Texas Tech, the Cowboys have been outscored 62-35.
Facing an absolute do-or-die set of circumstances in Saturday’s fourth quarter — while trailing by 16 points and still with a 5% chance of a comeback — the Cowboy defense took bad tackling to a new level, letting Texas Tech drive 94 yards for the dagger touchdown.
Because I wasn’t sure whether Oklahoma State was a 10-win or seven-win type of team, it would be an overstatement to declare this a season-ruining setback.
For sure, though, this awful performance and result ruined the weekend for anyone invested in Cowboy football. If you put a realistic eye on the remaining schedule, it’s pretty easy to see at least three more losses.
Until Alan Bowman returns from a shoulder injury, Texas Tech is quarterbacked by Jett Duffey. The scouting report on Duffey: Nice athlete. Run threat. Average passer.
Against OSU, there was nothing average about Duffey’s arm. He cut the OSU secondary to pieces, finishing with 424 passing yards and four touchdowns.
Time and again, against an OSU defense that was believed to have taken a significant forward step last week, Duffey threw strikes on simple slant patterns and crossing patterns.
You’d see the release of the football. You’d see an open Red Raider receiver. You had to look a little harder to find OSU’s coverage defenders. Tech targets were open all day.
Now, two streaks have ended: OSU’s five-game win streak over Texas in games played in Austin, and OSU’s five-game streak over Texas Tech in games played in Lubbock.
OSU lost respectably in Austin. This display in Lubbock, however, has to be chilling for Cowboy coaches and fans.
Over the next two weeks, Gundy and his assistants are charged with saving the season.
If the Cowboys are capable of playing this poorly, then they’re capable of doing it again. The next opportunity for a bounce-back triumph — or for more underachievement — happens on Oct. 19, when surprisingly formidable Baylor visits for OSU’s homecoming contest.