OSU football: Cowboys at a crossroads after 4th-quarter debacle
STILLWATER — Baylor defenders jumped and chestbumped and celebrated one final turnover Saturday afternoon before sprinting across the field toward their jubilant sideline.
As they cleared out, a figure in Oklahoma State orange remained on the turf. Spencer Sanders lay flat on his back, not injured but hurting, not out but down.
So, too, are the Cowboys.
Baylor 45, OSU 27.
On a day the Cowboys played some of their best ball of the season, going toe-to-toe with the undefeated Bears and taking a lead in the fourth quarter, OSU also had some of its worst moments. Turnovers by the offense cost the Cowboys points. Busts by the defense gave the Bears huge plays. Mistakes weren’t just bad; they were killers.
“We had a helluva game all the way till nine minutes left in the fourth quarter,” Sanders said. “We just gotta keep playing. We just gotta play like that throughout the entire game.”
But will they?
The Cowboys are at a crossroads. Seven games are in the rearview mirror. What this season will become hangs in the balance with only five regular-season games remaining.
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Are the Cowboys going to continue with maddening inconsistencies and missed opportunities, or are they going to forge a new path?
We know this bunch has some amazing individual talent, headlined by Chuba Hubbard and Tylan Wallace. We saw their brilliance on display again Saturday.
Hubbard had 171 yards and two touchdowns, spinning and sprinting his way to another big day. The running back is just such fun to watch. Early in the game, he took a handoff and headed left, but realizing room was scarce, he reversed field to his right and pretty much single handedly saved the play. It went from a loss to an 11-yard gain.
Wallace was every bit as electric. He had a catch early in the second half with a Baylor defender all over him and a couple more coming his way. But he launched himself away from the defenders, snagged the ball and made a 29-yard reception.
He finished the day with six catches for 69 yards.
There were some similarly scintillating moments for the defense. Yes, the defense. After giving up a touchdown on Baylor’s first drive, OSU stiffened. The next four possessions went fumble, punt, punt, field goal.
And even that possession that ended with field goal had positives. After Baylor had first and goal at the 5-yard line, OSU got tackles for loss on the next two plays, then nearly came up with an interception on third down.
There were moments these Cowboys were really good. On offense. On defense. All the way around. That’s why they were able to the lead early in the fourth quarter against the undefeated Bears.
That’s also why what happened late in the game was so maddening.
After Baylor answered OSU’s fourth-quarter touchdown with a touchdown of its own, the Cowboys faced a crucial third down. Sanders dropped back in the pocket, and when pressure came, he tried to scramble out of the pocket. A Baylor defender swiped at the ball, and it flew out of Sanders’ hand.
Another Baylor defender scooped and scored.
A few minutes later, OSU turned the ball over on downs, and the very next snap, Baylor running back JaMycal Hasty busted a 73-yard run for a touchdown.
In less than three minutes, the Cowboys went from down four points to down 18.
"The wheels came off," Cowboy coach Mike Gundy said. "All four of them came off."
That was a wild swing, but such things have become the norm for these Cowboys. They look capable of playing with anyone, but then in an instant, they look capable of losing to anyone.
“It’s not that we can’t do it,” Sanders said. “We’re just going to keep consistent, keep it going.”
That’s the problem, though — the only consistent thing about OSU is inconsistency.
So, what will become of this season?
Road games at Iowa State and West Virginia remain along with home games against TCU, Kansas and Oklahoma. Wins against at least two or three of those teams seem possible, but it’s hard to say that any of them are sure wins.
“We’ve still got a whole bunch of football to play still,” Wallace said. “It’s really now about testing the kind of football player, the kind of person you are. Are we going to go in here and just kind of lay down? Or are we going to go out there and fight?
“We just have to be more consistent getting there and staying there.”
They haven't done it yet.
Time is getting short.
Jenni Carlson: Jenni can be reached at 405-475-4125 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Like her at facebook.com/JenniCarlsonOK or follow her at twitter.com/jennicarlson_ok.