Oklahoma State is having a down year.
Coach Mike Gundy has somehow been unable to stack wins similar to the ones created by superstars Mason Rudolph and James Washington, who have taken their acts to the NFL.
The Cowboys are 4-3 overall and losers of three of their last four games.
To steal an old line: The natives are restless.
Things aren’t good in Stillwater these days, especially with the gut punches that have been taken in home loses to Texas Tech and Iowa State, unranked teams that posted 40-plus points at Boone Pickens Stadium. They’re struggling with homecoming weekend here and the Cowboys would love to ruin Texas’ burgeoning college playoff hopes before a national television audience in prime time.
Cowboys royalty Barry Sanders will be on hand and the locals will have all day long to tailgate and turn an excited crowd into a raucous 12th man of sorts. That 57,000 capacity can feel like 100,000, especially if the Cowboys jump on Texas early.
What we have here is a fan base that’s starving for a signature conference win this year, you know, kind of like Texas’ was before wins over TCU and Oklahoma.
“They’re pretty down,” Oklahoman columnist Jenni Carlson said on this week’s On Second Thought podcast. “It’s a reminder that Oklahoma State hasn’t always been a 10-win team or a bowl team. Unlike most homecomings, at Oklahoma State it’s a huge deal. There will be more people on campus than any other game all year.”
Texas coach Tom Herman was complimentary of Gundy’s ability to consistently produce good offenses and knows the Horns — who have question marks at quarterback with Sam Ehlinger’s shoulder issue — will have a tussle on their hands.
“It is impressive to see what they have done and there’s certainly, you know, they’re a notch above at home as well,” Herman said Monday. “Those guys play out of their shoes when they’re playing at home.”
History tells us that great Texas teams have gotten their noses bloodied early at Pickens because the Cowboys have figured out how to jump on the Horns early. Shoot, Texas’ 2005 national championship may not have happened had the Horns not gotten off the mat after trailing 28-12 at the half in Stillwater.
Vince Young’s pump fake of Donovan Woods produced an 80-yard touchdown run to open the third quarter and a comeback win. There isn’t a Vince Young available this weekend, so the Horns would be well served to come in ready for a fight. The fans will be on top of the action and the paddles will be pounding against those padded walls separating the team from the fans.
Freshman safety Caden Sterns remembers going as a fan to Stillwater in 2016 to support his brother Jordan, who was a defensive back at OSU. The older Sterns snagged an interception in a 49-31 win that’s more remembered around here as the day the Horns had three extra points blocked.
“It was 40 degrees and freezing,” Sterns said. “A lot of the students had their shirts off. I didn’t understand that, but that’s how they get it done. And the paddle people are pretty loud.”
Texas has regained some of its swagger though there is still the perception that it still must prove its top-10 worthiness against the Cowboys, who have won the last three meetings and six of the last eight. With Rudolph and Washington gone, the onus has fallen on fifth-year senior quarterback Taylor Cornelius and All-Big 12 running back Justice Hill. The offense started out like a volcanic eruption with 157 points scored in its first three games, including 44 in a huge win over Boise State, but recent struggles have led to unrest.
Records aside, it’s a dangerous game that could have catastrophic consequences if the Horns aren’t ready.
“It’s an exciting place to go play, especially in night games,” tight end Andrew Beck said. “It’s always rocking.”
So the Horns have gone from losing at Maryland to being the favorite in a legitimate trap game. That’s called progress in Year 2 of Camp Herman.
The next step is to recognize Pickens for the beehive that it is, lest they suffer a fatal sting.