Oklahoma St. 24 – Baylor 14 | Defense was Key, Jaylen Warren was Great, and Spencer Sanders Needs Some Work

The Oklahoma State Cowboys played a far from perfect game on Saturday night. Losing the turnover battle 3-0 is no way to put on your best performance. Despite the shortcomings of the offense, primarily from quarterback Spencer Sanders, the Cowboys were able to overcome and hold on for a 24-14 win at home over the Baylor Bears.

Saturday night’s game shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise. The Cowboys are nothing if not dramatic. Why overpower a team and win with ease when you can make it interesting and keep fans on the edge of their seats from start to finish?

The win over a solid team like Baylor—the second consecutive win over an AP Top 25 ranked team—shows that the Cowboys are also a solid team. I don’t think I would say Oklahoma State is a good football team, at least not yet. They’re definitely not a bad one: starting 5-0 is no joke. Still, they have to continue to improve, or that first loss will be just around the corner. For now, though, perhaps “good enough” is all they need to keep winning.

It’s Time To Take the Cowboy Defense Seriously

For the first time since 2015, the Oklahoma State Cowboys are 5-0 to start the season, and despite the inconsistencies on the offensive side of the ball, one aspect of the team has remained as tried and true as the orange and black on their jerseys: the defense.

Oklahoma State’s defense has looked good for a while now, and at this point, I think they’re pushing towards becoming special. Regardless of whatever challenge that they face, they rise to the occasion and perform admirably.

Despite a number of key injuries, the defense has played with plenty of depth, and honestly, as good as guys like Trace Ford and Tre Sterling truly are, you could almost say their absences have gone unnoticed. That’s no shade to them at all; it’s just a nod to how incredible the defense has really been.

Coming into the game, the Bears were averaging 490.8 yards of total offense (16th in the nation), including 271.8 rushing yards per game (6th in the nation). Tonight, however the Cowboys held Baylor to 280 yards of total offense and just 107 yards rushing. Oh, and that’s not to mention that they’ve averaged 42.8 points per game but were held to just 14 on Saturday.

Through 5 games, Oklahoma State’s defense is holding teams to 18.6 points per game. That’s a good sign considering the Big 12 is known for explosive offenses. On October 16th, the Cowboys travel to Austin to take on Texas, who has one of the highest scoring offenses in the country. You know what I say? Bring it on.

The Spencer Sanders Quarterback Experience

Spencer Sanders may truly be the most polarizing player to play for the Oklahoma State Cowboys in the Mike Gundy era. His inconsistencies remind me of quarterback Bobby Reid, a crazy good athlete who also struggled to play well on a regular basis, and the player that fueled Mike Gundy to make his “I’m a man” speech.

Against Baylor, Sanders completed 13-of-23 (56.5%) passes for 182 yards and a touchdown. Those numbers aren’t quite as good as last week’s performance against Kansas State, but not too bad…if that was the entire story.

Of his 10 incompletions, Sanders threw 3 interceptions, and they were all pretty bad. A lot of reasons/excuses come to mind for why he continues to turn the ball over, but when it all comes down to it, the time for excuses is over. His biggest issue appears to be his inability to handle pressure in the pocket.

We know the offensive line is shaky at times, especially in pass protection. We know that Sanders doesn’t get a lot of time to make a decision, and when he does, he’s no Tom Brady at making the right read. But that doesn’t mean he can just let it fly and hope for the best.

Perhaps what’s most frustrating about Spencer Sanders is that he makes plenty of positive big plays. He was a nightmare for Baylor on the ground tonight, rushing 12 times for 76 yards for an average of 6.3 yards per carry. On top of that, he threw an absolute dime to Rashod Owens for his lone passing touchdown.

I’m still in Spencer Sanders’s corner, and I believe he has the talent to continue to lead this team to wins. All I want—really, what all Cowboy fans want—is for the big mistakes to come far less often.

Stop Trying to Fix What’s Not Broken

The passing game in Stillwater is not what it used to be. Gone are the days of Zac Robinson, Brandon Weeden, and Mason Rudolph. It’s all about the run game lately, and it’s worked out fine, for the most part.

After an ugly season opener where the Cowboys rushed for a mere 54 yards, they’ve racked up 743 yards on the ground through the last 4 games. That’s not spectacular, but it’s much improved, and the biggest reason is Jaylen Warren.

Warren didn’t start the season opener against Missouri State, but he’s settled in firmly as the top back for the Cowboys ever since starting the second game against Tulsa, and he’s done a heck of a job. Tonight, Warren rushed an incredible 36 times for 125 yards and 2 touchdowns. He’s the type of guy that truly plays until the whistle blows, and it’s saved a number of drives for the Cowboys already.

Despite heavily favoring the run in the play calling department, it still feels like Oklahoma State is trying to do too much with the pass game. I don’t think 23 attempts for Spencer Sanders is too many, but the types of plays are questionable at times. Sanders isn’t a pocket quarterback, so drawing up plays that require time to develop just isn’t the way to go.

It’s time for offensive coordinator Kasey Dunn or head coach Mike Gundy or whoever is actually calling the plays to settle down and stop trying to do too much. Just keep it simple. Stop trying to fix what’s not broken, and keep running the ball down the throats of opponents.

See You in Austin

The Cowboys are off next Saturday, but then they have their work cut out for them the following weekend as they travel to Austin, Texas to take on the Texas Longhorns. The Longhorns are 4-1 on the season after they held on to defeat the TCU Horned Frogs 32-27 in Ft. Worth, which will likely move them into the AP Top 25. Next week, the Longhorns take on the Oklahoma Sooners in the Red River Rivalry.

The week off will do Oklahoma State some good as they get some extra time to heal up, rest up, and prepare for what will be their toughest game of the season. Kickoff for the game has not yet been decided, but depending upon how the matchup with the Sooners goes, it could be a primetime kickoff.

Be sure to follow @HeartlandPokes on Twitter for more breakdown and discussion on Oklahoma State athletics.

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