College football bowl games can be particularly tough for a lot of reasons. Between unfamiliar competition, playing a game after an entire month off, and losing a handful of players to the transfer portal, there are plenty of excuses that can be made for a sub-optimal performance. The Oklahoma State Cowboys definitely looked less than their best in their 24-17 loss to the Wisconsin Badgers on Tuesday night in the Guaranteed Rate Bowl.
Like in the case of Oklahoma State and Wisconsin, the two teams had never seen each other in the history of their programs, and in the first meeting, it did not go the way that Cowboy fans would have preferred at all. The offense sputtered for most of the game, managing to score in the first half off one big play, but they didn’t really figure things out until it was too late. Meanwhile, the defense did actually make some big stops and force some turnovers, but they were on the field too much, and fatigue became an issue.
After starting five games into the season with an undefeated record, Oklahoma State showed no signs of dropping six of their next eight games, but that’s exactly what happened. Fingers can be pointed, and blame should be shared across the board for the most part, but perhaps all of the problems from the season can be summarized into one simple sentence: the Cowboys can’t handle pressure.
On the Field
This season was no different from the last few in that the offensive line was not great. Blame it on injuries, inexperience, lack of real star power, etc. No matter what the issue is, it has to be fixed in the future if Oklahoma State ever wants to be able to compete consistently. Between a questionable run game and an inability to protect the backfield, the Cowboys simply could not handle the pressure of any decent opposing defense.
Against Wisconsin, Oklahoma State ran the ball 26 times for just 54 yards. At 2.0 yards per carry, the Cowboys aren’t averaging a first down even if they go for it on fourth every single time. The pass game wasn’t any better, with Garret Rangel completing just 14-of-31 passes for 229 yards and 2 touchdowns but two interceptions.
The offensive line deserves some of the blame, and yes, Rangel is a young guy who nobody thought would be starting at any point in this season, let alone in the bowl game, but under the bright lights, guys either rise above the pressure or crumble to it, and it certainly feels like the Cowboys did more crumbling than anything.
Off the Field
It’s hard to feel optimistic about the future of Cowboy football when you look at the way things have unfolded over the last month. Oklahoma State saw key players like Spencer Sanders, Dominic Richardson, Trace Ford, Mason Cobb, and several more hit the transfer portal. Signing day wasn’t anything exciting, as is typically the case for Oklahoma State football recruiting. Not a lot of players really stood out in the bowl game as future game changers. Then you have Mike Gundy’s postgame press conference.
Coach Gundy has been a polarizing personality for pretty much his entire career. Pretty much every college football remembers or at least knows about the “I’m a man! I’m 40!” speech from so many years ago. Gundy has never shied away from speaking his mind, and perhaps his comments after the bowl game loss show a bit more of his line of thinking.
After thanking Guaranteed Rate for their role in sponsoring the bowl, Gundy almost immediately went into what seemed like trying to explain away or even make excuses for the loss. “I told the team in the locker room that we came out here with a little bit of a reduced roster,” said Gundy. “New guys were involved, and we had to kind of find our way.”
First off, he’s not wrong. Between injuries and transfer portal, there plenty of new faces that saw more snaps last night than they had all season long. Still, you play with what you’ve got, and this is really just a sign of the bigger issue of recruiting. The “next man up” mentality doesn’t mean much when the next guy on the depth chart simply isn’t at the same level of competition as the opposing team.
As Gundy went on in his press conference, he mentioned several times that he would have to look at film to see what went wrong in one situation or another. Again, while that very well may be true, that seems to be a problem. Part of winning in any sport at any competitive level is being able to make in-game adjustments, and in order to do that, you have to be able to quickly assess what the problem is and then solve it in the moment. Postgame film scrums are great for learning and improving for the future, but there has to be a better adjustment process in games moving forward.
Lastly, as far as Mike Gundy’s postgame comments go, a reporter asked a question about the coaching staff, which was apparently too touchy of a topic for Gundy at the time.
Gundy’s full answer when a report asked about potential coaching staff changes was full of snark and pointing the finger elsewhere. “”Do you think I would tell you if I was making staff changes?” asked Gundy. When the reporter said, “No,” Gundy responded, “Then why would you ask? I might have to cut you out. Don’t be an ass. Really? Those are people’s lives, man. Those are people’s families. Don’t mess with people’s families. Let’s do this the right way. That’s not fair to people’s families. I’m not mad about the game. I just don’t like ignorance.”
Gundy has a great point in talking about “people’s families.” Yes, college football coaches are working a job and earning a livelihood like millions of Americans do every single day. However, just like most people at their jobs, accountability is necessary, and sometimes, especially in a public sphere like college football, the accountability factor becomes a public issue. In no way do I think that reporter was trying to instigate a negative response or create drama. Perhaps the timing of the question wasn’t great, which the reporter himself ended up apologizing for, but if Gundy can’t handle questions that plenty of people would like answers to, then it’s no wonder that this team continues to struggle when faced with pressure.
The idea or perhaps even desire of some Cowboy fans for Mike Gundy to move on has been floating around for a while now. While I do believe that perhaps some shakeup in the coaching staff could be a huge benefit to the program, I also know that the grass is always greener over the septic tank, so be careful what you wish for.
Big changes need to take place in the Oklahoma State football program if they ever want to find a level of consistency that is worthy of national recognition, particularly now with the coming changes in the Big 12. With that being said, I still believe Mike Gundy can be the fearless leader of brightest orange in America, but the program is going to have to learn how to deal with every type of pressure imaginable, and that process starts with the man at the top.