After waiting for the moment for nearly a full month, Oklahoma State finally secured win No. 6 on the season and the prize that goes with it: bowl eligibility.
The Cowboys' 45-14 win over Baylor Saturday night clinched a spot in one of the Big 12-contracted bowls. This means that OSU will appear in a bowl game for the second-consecutive season and for the fifth time in the past six years.
While the destination remains uncertain, everyone in Orange Country knows now for sure that the Pokes will be playing in a bowl game just after Christmas.
Subbing for head coach Mike Gundy in the weekly Sunday teleconference, assistant head coach Joe DeForest commented about a range of issues, but most notably the win last night, which earned them a spot in a bowl game. He said Perrish Cox summed it up best, saying that players and coaches can take a sigh.
"You can breathe now," said DeForest about getting to the bowl plateau. "Everybody, the last couple of weeks, we were holding our breath not to do anything wrong. And our kids, you could tell that. They were playing a little tense at times when they had a lead and didn't want to screw it up."
There was no screw-up against the Bears. The Cowboys played a pretty complete game in every phase. Offensively, OSU put together 545 yards of total offense and a 21-point second quarter. Defensively, OSU allowed only 309 yards in all and kept quarterback Blake Szymanski to only 226 yards and two touchdown passes. He also threw two interceptions and was sacked four times. DeForest called the defensive showing a "vast improvement from previous games" and added that the plan on defense was to limit the ability of BU's Texas Tech-style system to burn the Pokes. That included rotating the defense (especially the line) throughout the game.
"I think that was part of our plan on defense," DeForest said. "Anytime you're going to have to rush the passer 60 times, you can't ask D-linemen to do that. They're too big. I thought coach (Nelson) Barnes and coach (Jason) Young did a great job of rolling guys in there. And Nate (Nathan Peterson) had three sacks, as everybody saw and became the fourth-leading sacker in Oklahoma State history, which is outstanding for him. I think everybody did well. But the entire down four including about three other guys – really the seven guys we rotated in – really put pressure on the passer. We've still got to do a better job when we've got (the quarterback) in the backfield to make tackles. He (Szymanski) had too many scrambles last night that made our secondary work a little too hard."
DeForest says last night's win has given the players a boost.
"Our kids are confident," he said. "I think we started the game and finished the game. The only real big drive they had on us was the trick play at the end of the half which was very questionable. That drive sort of continued based on a couple of trick plays: a reverse pass, a double pass, a trick-play swinging gate or something that we're not quite sure of yet. But we shut them out in the second half. They played hard and when the ball was thrown in front of them you saw a bunch of people driving on the football. They had great vision on the ball underneath and swarmed tackled and made five sacks."
Now the Pokes are at 6-5 and 4-3 in the Big 12, with their final game of the regular season coming up against arch-rival Oklahoma this weekend in Norman. DeForest hopes already having a bowl spot secured going into Bedlam will relax the team.
"But now that the Baylor game is over and we got to six (wins)," he said, "I think our kids hopefully will play a little bit more loose on Saturday and more aggressive and go play the ball and just free-spirited. That's what we're hoping to get. I bet you there will be some great enthusiasm this week during practice."
DeForest's main focuses are at the cornerback position and the special teams unit, which has been iffy at times this season. But DeForest said he was happy with what he saw out of the group last night in Waco. He believes the unit is coming together.
"To me, the biggest accomplishment we've made in the kicking game is our kickoff unit has sort of gelled and come together and has really sparked those special teams," DeForest said. "We've had great coverage – knock on wood – with guys that are just part-time offense, part-time defensive players that have come together and formed this unit in covering kickoffs."
One of the key changes made on kickoffs has been the insertion of Dan Bailey. DeForest said he's come in and has done a great job since replacing Matt Fodge at the position.
Just how big a difference has he been for kickoffs?
"Gigantic," DeForest said. "His hang time is 4.2 (seconds) for the most part. And how we judge a kickoff is based on where the coverage is by the time the ball is caught. And if we can be about on the 30-yard-line when the ball is caught, that's great hang time and that's a great kick by the kicker. Of course, you always like the ball kicked in the end zone for a touchback, but if he gives us great hang, he'll give us a chance to go down there and cover and shrink the field."
He's also taken over kicking duties from Jason Ricks, who had been spotty all season long. And last night, Bailey finally got his shot at kicking field goals, missing a 42-yarder and making a 27-yarder.
"Obviously it was good that he got to kick a field goal last night and it wasn't a pressure situation, unfortunately he didn't make it," DeForest said. "But then you saw him bounce back on the next field goal. So it's good to get his feet wet and I think Dan's got a lot of confidence. He works extremely hard and he didn't miss a kick in pre-game, so I think he's going to have a great future here at Oklahoma State."
RANDOM BITS OF RANDOM INFO
After last night's win, the Cowboys continue to prove just how balanced they are on offense. Through 11 regular-season games, OSU has posted 2,755 yards passing and 2,755 yards rushing. That means both phases of the "Big O" are averaging 250 yards a game. On the scoreboard, the unit is at 34.9 points per game this season. ... Zac Robinson is assaulting the OSU record book and he's only needed nine starts to do it. While he saw very limited duty against Georgia to start the season (he posted five passing yards and seven rushing yards in that game), Robinson came in during the second quarter of the game against Florida Atlantic and has been on a tear ever since. He now owns the school record for all-purpose yards in a single season at 3,122. He's also now in third place all-time for the amount of rushing yards in a single season by a quarterback (705). He only needs 138 yards to take that record from Brent Blackman (842 in 1972). Also, his 202 yards throwing last night was enough to pass Bobby Reid (2,266) for No. 3 in the single-season passing list with 2,417 yards total. He's now only 78 yards away from passing Josh Fields' 2,494 in 2003 for the second spot. Fields will likely hold onto the No. 1 spot, however, as his 3,145 in 2002 is 728 yards ahead of Robinson's current amount, though he still has two games to get there. ... Dantrell Savage passed 1,000 yards rushing on the season against BU, putting up 109 yards last night. He now has 1,064 yards rushing on the season, which is now the 16th time OSU has fielded a four-digit tailback in a year.