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'We’ll be in a fourth-quarter game': Injuries have Mike Gundy's Cowboys settling for winning ugly

Scott Wright
Oklahoman

STILLWATER — Embrace the ugly, Oklahoma State fans. This is what your team is now, and maybe for a while. 

Definitely this week, when the Cowboys take on Kansas State at 6 p.m. Saturday at Boone Pickens Stadium.

If anybody is going to make sure a game is ugly, it’s Kansas State. 

“We’ll be in a fourth-quarter game,” OSU coach Mike Gundy said on Monday. “We’re gonna be in fourth-quarter games from here on out. We lost some pretty good firepower for the year on offense. 

“You’re trying to do the best you can to manage and work together as a team and rush the football and use the clock and keep the defense off the field, play good special teams. You try to find a way to win the game, other than just saying we have guys injured and I don’t know what we’re gonna do.”

For now, that translates to a different brand of football than OSU fans have grown accustomed to in the Gundy era. The days of 50-point offensive performances seem like a distant memory. Instead, 21-20, grind-it-out games like last Saturday at Boise State are the new normal. 

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Oklahoma State quarterback Spencer Sanders looks for a receiver during the first half Saturday at Boise State.

So the Cowboys are going to be in a lot of close, low-scoring games going forward. 

The good news? OSU is 8-2 over the past two seasons in games decided by single digits. 

In breaking down the victory over Boise State, Gundy mentioned things like time of possession and targeted punting as factors in the win — the type of things that won games when Pat Jones was coaching the Cowboys, but didn’t matter so much when Gundy brought along his high-flying offense.

The reality of where the Cowboys are now — thanks to a lot of injuries and, at times, some shaky offensive line play — is a stark contrast to the typical Gundy offense. 

Quarterback Spencer Sanders isn’t going to throw the ball 50 times a game, and the plays he makes running the ball are just as vital as the ones he makes when he passes.

“Spencer is explosive. He’s dangerous when he runs, so he needs to run the ball,” Gundy said. “We don’t want to get him hit. We always try to minimize the blow, but there’s just times that he has to do that, based on the scheme we see. He’s got to be able to rush the football.”

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Oklahoma State safety Kolby Harvell-Peel makes an interception at Boise State during the second half of a 21-20 win Saturday.

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The run game in general was executed much more effectively at Boise State than it had been the two weeks prior, but Kansas State presents a different challenge, allowing only 54.7 rushing yards per game this season.

“The majority of the runs we had in that game Saturday night were blocked effectively,” Gundy said. “Prior to that, it wasn’t blocked effectively. 

“Those plays were blocked, and that’s a big part of what we need to accomplish now. We need to block, and we need to block good.”

The Cowboys are going to need to win ugly this week, and probably the next week against Baylor. Then the Pokes have an open week to try to get some players healthy before heading to Texas to take on the Longhorns. 

But for now, the ugly is the best method for winning football games.

“You have to have patience with the young players,” Gundy said. “You’ll see some really good plays, and then you’ll see a lot of mistakes and you have to be patient with them.

“Patience is really important for me and for (offensive coordinator Kasey) Dunn and everybody on offense, and just try to get what we can out of it, not what we think we’re gonna get. Until they get seasoned a little bit, they’re not gonna give you much more than that.”

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OSU vs. Kansas State

KICKOFF: 6 p.m. Saturday at Boone Pickens Stadium in Stillwater (Big 12 Now/ESPN+, subscription required)