The Oklahoma State Cowboys got off to a rocky start in the Fiesta Bowl, trailing the Notre Dame Fighting Irish 14-0 halfway through the first quarter. With just a little over a minute left in the second quarter, Notre Dame had increased their lead to 28-7, but a touchdown right before halftime allowed the Cowboys to cut the deficit to two touchdowns.
That was just enough momentum because when Oklahoma State came out of halftime, they looked like a whole new team, and 23 points later, the Cowboys held a 37-28 lead with just a little over 2 minutes left in the game. The Irish were able to score one more touchdown to bring the game to within a single score, but Oklahoma State recovered an onside kick and was able to run the clock out from there, sealing another Fiesta Bowl win for the Cowboys and a successful conclusion to the season.
Spencer Sanders and Tay Martin Have Career Days
The Fiesta Bowl is a big stage, and for a lot of Cowboys, it was the biggest of their entire football career. That was the case for Spencer Sanders, and he showed up in a big way with the best performance in his three years at Oklahoma State. Sanders finished the day with 496 total yards, a Fiesta Bowl record, and he impacted the game both through the air and on the ground.
After a bit of a slow start, Sanders finished the game completing 34-of-51 passes for 371 yards and 4 touchdowns with no interceptions. Only one other time has he thrown for more than 371 yards, and 4 passing touchdowns ties his career high. On the ground, however, Sanders had a career day running the ball 17 times for 125 yards.
Of his 4 passing touchdowns, Sanders hooked up with Tay Martin for 3 of them. Martin’s 3 receiving touchdowns are not only a career-high but also a Fiesta Bowl record. Martin finished the day with 10 catches for 104 yards. Brennan Presley also hauled in 10 grabs for a team-high 137 yards.
The Fiesta Bowl wraps up Tay Martin’s collegiate career, but Spencer Sanders is just a junior, so it will be interesting how much he continues to improve in his senior year. Sanders isn’t the perfect quarterback, but today was the perfect balance of pass and run to show just how much of a dual threat he truly he is, and I’m anticipating a big senior year for him in 2022.
Defense Adjusts Without Jim Knowles
Losing defensive coordinator Jim Knowles to Ohio State was brutal for Oklahoma State. His arrival ushered in a newfound focus on gritty, tough defense that hadn’t been seen in Stillwater in years. After putting together the most successful defensive season probably in Oklahoma State history, it’s no surprise that Knowles was picked up and offered a contract he couldn’t refuse. As a result, his absence was a pretty big concern headed into the Fiesta Bowl, and based on the first half, he was sorely missed.
By halftime, Notre Dame quarterback Jack Coan had racked up 342 passing yards and 4 touchdowns, and the Fighting Irish led 28-7 before Oklahoma State was able to score right before the end of the second quarter. The Cowboys made some incredible defensive adjustments at halftime, however, and while Coan was able to find a little bit of success, it was not nearly what he had accomplished early in the game. The defense did everything they could, including forcing a couple of turnovers, and despite a late touchdown by the Fighting Irish, it was Oklahoma State who came away on top.
Malcolm Rodriguez Ends His Career as a Cowboy in Style
Oklahoma State has had its share of incredible defensive players come through over the years, but few represent what it means to be a Cowboy as well as Malcolm Rodriguez has. In his time in Stillwater, Rodriguez has been consistent and productive in his efforts while on the field, and he has represented Oklahoma State well. Despite not getting the national attention that players with similar production from bigger schools might get, Rodriguez has been a leader for the Cowboy defense for several seasons now, and his performance in the Fiesta Bowl was the cherry on top of a great career.
Rodriguez finished the game with 11 total tackles—8 of them solo—2 pass breakups, a quarterback hurry, and a clutch interception that came at a crucial point late in the game.
While Malcolm Rodriguez never got the complete national recognition that he deserved, he will go down in Cowboy football history as one of the all the time legends, and he will be greatly missed as he moves on from his time in Stillwater.
Football is going to look different in Stillwater next year. Jim Knowles is gone as defensive coordinator, and a lot of the experience from the defense is leaving as well. The offense is losing plenty of guys to graduation, also. That’s what happens when you have a roster full of seniors. Still, Spencer Sanders is returning at quarterback for his senior year, and as always seems to be the case, there’s plenty of young talent on the way up on both sides of the ball.
The status of the Big 12 is still a bit of a question, and while it’s not 100% clear what next season will look like, one thing is for certain: Oklahoma State football continues to move towards being a consistent power, and they will have another good shot next season to compete for a Big 12 Championship.