Tramel: OSU football has a championship-level defense, but that's all for now
STILLWATER — I know only a few things about Ryan Bujcevski. He’s Austrailian. He’s the cousin of NFL punter Michael Dickson. He’s a Texas Longhorn.
And I know one more thing. Bujcevski has the most tired leg in America.
Saturday at Boone Pickens Stadium, Bujcevski kicked more than a bucking bronc at the National Finals Rodeo. The Longhorn punted 10 times. TEN punts. This isn’t 1937. Nobody’s punting on third down. Nobody’s playing field position. Yet 10 times Saturday, the Oklahoma State defense stuffed the Sam Ehlinger Gang and prompted Bujcevski to trot onto the field.
And OSU lost to Texas, 41-34 in overtime.
A team with a defense that wears out the opposing punter should never flirt with defeat, especially a team with Chuba Hubbard and Tylan Wallace touching the ball on a regular basis.
But flirt the Cowboys did, and then lose they did, apparently ending their College Football Playoff dream and endangering their Big 12 Championship hopes.
Four, count ‘em, four turnovers and a 100-yard Texas kickoff return and a roughing-the-punter penalty will let even overmatched teams stay in a game, and stay the Longhorns did. Long enough to finally dent a proud and hearty OSU defense.
“We put them in pretty terrible position, and they rallied time after time after time after time,” Mike Gundy said. “Can’t put ‘em in that kind of position that many times.”
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We came into this game thinking OSU had a championship-caliber defense. We left this game KNOWING OSU had a championship-caliber defense.
Three times in regulation, the Cowboy offense played loose with the ball, setting up Ehlinger and the Texas offense at the OSU 20-yard line or closer. It would have been four times, except UT linebacker Joseph Ossai fell down in the open field after picking up a fumble.
Yet those three bonanzas resulted in just 13 points for Texas. The Longhorns entered overtime with just 277 total yards and 16 first downs.
It didn’t matter. The defensive performance went for naught. All those cataclysmic mistakes means a special OSU season might not happen.
“I thought our guys fought hard against a tough opponent,” said State defensive coordinator Jim Knowles. “You’re never going to be perfect, but we play to be damn near perfect. Could have been better, but I thought they played hard. There are no moral victories. We lost. We gotta do better.”
Uh, OK. But it’s every other element of the team that needs to do better for the Cowboys to make it to Arlington and play for the Big 12 title.
Roughing the punter on a fourth-and-22 midway through the fourth quarter, leading 31-26? Are you kidding me? Giving Texas life with D’Shawn Jamison’s kickoff return, when the ‘Horns were down 31-20? Four, count ‘em, four turnovers. Three fumbles and an interception.
“Just way too many turnovers,” said offensive coordinator Kasey Dunn. “Way too many. That’s tough. Hard. It’s amazing we were in it that far along.”
That’s all because of OSU’s defense. Texas isn’t an offensive juggernaut, but the Longhorns do routinely crank out a big chunk of points and yards. They do have Ehlinger, the grizzled veteran who has beaten Southern Cal and Georgia and Oklahoma over his long career. And the Cowboys neutralized him.
Texas had only one legitimate touchdown drive all game, a 75-yard journey midway through the first half. Otherwise, UT reached the end zone only with massive help. Turnovers. Roughing the punter. Overtime.
“It’s not what you want,” OSU safety Tre Sterling said of the dire straits in which the defense was placed. “But when it happens, it happens. Coach Knowles always says, give us an inch and we’ll defend it. Doesn’t matter, if there’s a play, we need to be able to stop ‘em. We need to get better in that aspect and we will.”
Laudable attitude. But not grounded in reality. This is 2020. A defense that forces 10 punts deserves to win.
Instead, the Cowboys have a great defense that potentially could be wasted, because the offense can’t protect the ball.
Berry Tramel: Berry can be reached at 405-760-8080 or at firstname.lastname@example.org. He can be heard Monday through Friday from 4:40-5:20 p.m. on The Sports Animal radio network, including FM-98.1. You can also view his personality page at oklahoman.com/berrytramel.