STILLWATER — The Oklahoma State coaching staff sold out on its message of becoming a more disciplined football team during the offseason, but the Cowboys’ past two games haven’t been that disciplined.
The coaching staff forced its players to pay close attention to minor details down to the cleanliness of their lockers. Visual representation was reinforced with “Win with Discipline” T-shirts worn by the coaches.
The enhanced focus on fixing the penalties and defensive breakdowns were bound to make the Cowboys a better team than last year, especially on defense. However, OSU’s 4-3 record is exactly where it was after the first seven games of last season.
“We talked about (discipline) a lot,” defensive coordinator Jim Knowles said over the summer. “We took responsibility for it as coaches, which I think is important.”
Early on, it looked as if OSU was on its way to proving it was a more disciplined team.
The offense clicked against Oregon State and McNeese State with quarterback Spencer Sanders having a great start to his college career.
Sanders threw for 453 yards and six touchdowns with no interceptions in his first two games. The 36 points and 448 yards allowed to Oregon State still left fans questioning the defense. However, the defense showed its potential two weeks later at Tulsa when it shut out the Golden Hurricane in the second half after facing a 21-20 halftime deficit.
The Cowboys had a solid showing in a 36-30 loss at No. 11 Texas and found their way into the AP Top 25 after beating undefeated, No. 24 Kansas State. Things weren’t perfect, but it looked as if the offseason messages were getting through.
The No. 21 ranking was short-lived, though. OSU traveled to Lubbock, Texas, and was upset 45-35 by Texas Tech with a score that looked closer than it was. The 45-27 loss against Baylor after a fourth-quarter collapse now has some fans reaching for the panic button.
Two consecutive losses in which OSU was plagued by turnovers, defensive lapses and penalties have the Cowboys looking less like the poised and disciplined team they were to start the season.
“I feel like everybody knows we’ve kind of lost our discipline a little bit over the last few weeks, especially this last Baylor game with the penalties,” linebacker Amen Ogbongbemiga said Tuesday. “We’ve got to cut those out. Against good teams, you can’t give them any yards.”
OSU had eight penalties for 92 yards against Baylor, but more hurtful lately have been turnovers. The Cowboys have eight turnovers over the past two games.
Sanders threw three interceptions and lost two fumbles at Texas Tech and lost two fumbles and threw an interception against Baylor. The first fumble against Baylor was returned for a touchdown and his interception was thrown in the end zone right before halftime.
“The three things that got us are three things that you can’t have, and it happened to us in the fourth quarter,” Gundy said of the Baylor game. “We turned the ball over, one for a touchdown. (We) gave up two big plays and we had penalties in the fourth quarter.”
Disciplined defenses try to limit the number of big plays allowed, but OSU gave up four plays of at least 63 yards to Baylor and allowed a 56-yard pass against Texas Tech. Not to mention, the multiple plays of 20 yards or more against both teams.
Disciplined teams keep their focus in close games and the Cowboys lost theirs with about eight minutes left. The Cowboys were trailing 31-27 when Baylor recovered Sanders’ fumble for a TD.
About three minutes later, Baylor running back JaMycal Hasty broke for a 73-yard touchdown run. Gundy said that was the one noncompetitive play of the game for his defense. Trailing by 11 late in the fourth quarter is the wrong time to be noncompetitive.
OSU will need to fix the issues it had in the past two games if it wants to win at Iowa State on Saturday. Gundy is confident the Cowboys can turn things around.
“The program is on as good a ground as it’s ever been on here,” Gundy said. “We’ve just got to correct a few mistakes. That’s just life. It’s kind of the way it is.”