On the heels of the most disappointing loss of the Mike Gundy era, leaders of the Oklahoma State football team decided to ensure that their teammates were focused heading into the next week.
No, we’re not talking last weekend’s 30-21 loss to West Virginia.
During the week following OSU’s 37-31 upset loss to Iowa State in 2011, Brandon Weeden, Markelle Martin and the rest of the senior leaders on that squad made sure their teammates understood the Cowboys’ Big 12 championship hopes remained intact. They didn’t want the loss to snowball and keep them from winning their first Big 12 title.
Waiting in the wings, redshirting freshman J.W. Walsh observed it all. Now, the Cowboys’ starting quarterback plans to use that experience to help his squad get back on track with the heart of Big 12 Conference play looming.
“When we lost to Iowa State, the older guys took it upon themselves to make sure we were buying into the next week and was not letting Iowa State beat us again,” Walsh said. “Watching what those guys did and trying to incorporate what they did is key for us this year.”
OSU lost its Big 12 favorite status with a sloppy loss to the Mountaineers as turnovers, missed opportunities and horrible special teams play doomed the Cowboys during their first Big 12 trip to Morgantown, W. Va. Walsh and company reviewed their mistakes in the film room on Sunday then turned the switch immediately.
“It’s forget it, time to move on, you have to see the mistakes you made, correct them then time to move forward,” Walsh said. “We can’t let West Virginia beat us twice, there’s still a lot of games to be played, we can still win the Big 12. We can’t sit back and ponder on what we did wrong against West Virginia.”
The Cowboys’ defense actually played well enough to win against the Mountaineers, recording two interceptions while holding WVU to 4.28 yards per play. One of WVU’s three touchdowns was off an interception return. Yet defensive tackle Calvin Barnett left Morgantown disappointed with his unit’s ability to make big plays when it mattered.
“We have to continue to get better, we allowed them to score too much, we didn’t do our job,” Barnett said. “We allowed too many big plays and [were] not making plays on the ball or getting off blocks to make a play when we had a chance to.”
As Barnett reviewed the performance, one thing stood out. The senior liked OSU’s defensive performance during several different stretches, particularly when the Cowboys stayed focused on their individual responsibilities within the system. When they didn’t, trouble arose.
“We have to be our biggest critic,” he said. “There were plays we could have made but didn’t. Everybody being accountable for doing their job, that’s really all it comes down to.”
The mistake-filled performance left the Cowboys with a bad taste in their mouths but also with an understanding of how they can improve. Walsh needs to make better decisions with the ball, the offensive line needs to block better, running backs need to run better, the receivers need to make catches when they get the chance and the defense needs to limit explosive plays from the opposition.
Because, even with the shocking setback, enough talent to win a Big 12 title still roams the halls of the West End Zone in Boone Pickens Stadium.
“We lost a game but it was just because of mistakes, it wasn’t because we aren’t a good football team,” Walsh said. “We made a lot of mistakes and all of those mistakes are correctable.”
OSU had high expectations heading into the season as the preseason favorite to win the conference. Now they’ve tumbled down the conference standings with people questioning how good they really can be. They’ll get their first chance to prove they are a team capable of winning a Big 12 title on Saturday against defending Big 12 champion Kansas State.
“We did lose but at the same time, usually the team that wins the national championship has lost that season and last year the Big 12 [title] was split,” Barnett said. “We still have a chance, our goals are still in front of us, it’s just how bad do we want it because, obviously, we’re not as good as we thought we were.”