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Bryant's injury turns round Cowboys' Holiday Bowl hopes

12/31/2008

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

Jeremiah Masoli helped power Oregon past Oklahoma State and claim the Pacific Life Holiday Bowl.

But the Ducks got a big assist Tuesday night from the shoddy turf at Qualcomm Stadium in San Diego that helped contribute to their 42-31 victory over the Cowboys. The game changed late in the second half when playmaking OSU wide receiver Dez Bryant slipped on the turf, hurt his left knee and never recovered.

OSU jumped to a 10-0 lead, dominating the game early and rolling up almost 200 yards in the first quarter when Bryant helped key a 99-yard scoring drive to start the game. But after that, the Cowboys were bullied at the point of attack on both sides of the ball as the Ducks steadily won the game in the trenches.

Bryant still set a Holiday Bowl record with 13 receptions for 167 yards. But most of those came before the injury as he struggled to play with one healthy leg.

OSU's offense similarly turned around after Bryant left. The Cowboys were one-dimensional most of the game -- especially as Big 12 rushing leader Kendall Hunter struggled through a season-worst 37 rushing yards.

The Cowboys' defense clearly were hamstrung without defensive coordinator Tim Beckman, who left the program at the end of the season to take the Toledo head coaching job. Coach Mike Gundy tried to use his remaining coaches to fill in for Beckman, but the Cowboys couldn't cope with an Oregon offense that plowed through them for 303 rushing yards and 7.6 yards per rush.

It was amazing that the Cowboys did not choose to assign a player to spy on Masoli on every snap. The result was that the chunky Oregon quarterback gashed them for 99 yards and three rushing TDs while adding 259 passing yards and another score.

The Oregon defense did the rest, contributing 10 stops over OSU's final 12 possessions of the game to wrap up the victory.

OSU quarterback Zac Robinson provided a gutsy performance, but wasn't the same after Bryant left. Robinson withstood several huge hits, but remained in the game to contribute 403 of total offense.

The Cowboys finished the season 9-4, but better days appear to be ahead for them. Robinson, Hunter and Bryant all are expected back next season as OSU could be poised for a run at its first South Division title with more experience and an easier conference schedule.

A key will be to hire an experienced defensive coordinator who can help raise the performance levels of a group that allowed at least 504 yards in four of the last six games of the season.

And hope that won't scare them away.