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Tech, OSU have grown from last season's wild shootout

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

The scene in Texas Tech's locker room after last season's loss to Oklahoma State remains vivid to Graham Harrell. The frustration and tears he shared with wide receiver Michael Crabtree afterwards are something he'll never forget.

Memories for Oklahoma State quarterback Zac Robinson are a little bit sweeter as he recalls his first victorious college start -- a game that boosted his confidence that he could be a productive college quarterback.

Any reporter who was within earshot of either Mike Leach or Mike Gundy's post-game interview sessions will long recall how their post-game pyrotechnics upstaged the wild offensive show that had just taken place on the field.

Looking back, Oklahoma State's 49-45 victory over Texas Tech last season was one of the most spectacular games in Big 12 history. And it's proven to be even more significant for what has happened for both teams afterwards.

Both coaches have said the game could have been considered a touchstone that has pointed their teams to the recent success the following season. Texas Tech (9-0) is off to its best start since 1938 and brings a nation-best 11-game winning streak and a No. 2 ranking in the BCS standings into the game. And Oklahoma State's 8-1 start -- its best since 1985 -- is marred only by a four-point road loss at then No. 1 Texas.

Some of the impetus for the strong starts began after that wild four-hour, two-minute shootout at Boone Pickens Stadium that left both teams drained and both coaches raging afterwards.

"It was a big win for us because Tech was a very good football team," Gundy said. "For the most part, our program has grown since then. We're more mature and things seem to be heading into the right direction. That game kind of lifted our spirits and made things better."

The bitter disappointment helped point Harrell in the right direction along with Crabtree, who dropped a potential game-winning touchdown pass in the end zone with 11 seconds left.

"I can remember being in the locker room with him and both of us were in tears after how that game played out," said Harrell, who passed for a career-best 646 yards in the loss. "We battled and left everything out on the field. That loss hurt bad at the time. And now, looking back it's kind of a turning point to help us get where we are today."

But the fun was only getting started.

Afterwards, Mike Leach blistered his defense's performance so badly that his coordinator Lyle Setencich resigned the next day. And Gundy became a sports cultural icon for his iinfamous "I'm 40, I'm a Man" catch phrase as he fumed at an Oklahoma City columnist. Those two YouTube staples effectively upstaged a game that featured 1,328 yards of total offense, 62 first downs and three lead changes in the final 12:25 of play.

Leach immediately installed Ruffin McNeill as his interim defensive coordinator. The Texas Tech defense unified over the course of last season under their new leader, steadily improving each week. And it has carried that growth into this season, where it has shown surprising across-the-board development.

"I think that as soon as Ruffin took over, the defense improved immediately and has just continued to grow," Leach said. "He's inspired the whole group and they are a passionate about what he has taught them. I think our whole team has drawn from our defense."

And Oklahoma State grew from the victory as well, charging to a 7-6 finish that was capped by a victory in the Insight Bowl. The Cowboys used that strong finish as a springboard to this season that has pointed them into contention for their first Big 12 South title.

"As a team, we've come a long way dating back to last season," Robinson said. "We knew we had a chance to be a good team, but we just needed to put it together. We're more of a team than we've ever been."

That belief will be tested Saturday as the Cowboys will be battling some significant history. The Cowboys will be looking for their first victory in Lubbock since 1944 and a triumph over their highest ranked road opponent in history.

"There's a lot on the line," said Gundy, who didn't know of the Cowboys' 11-game losing streak in Lubbock until he was told by reporters earlier this week. "We're playing in some big games and I think that's enough motivation for them. To be honest, I don't know if those other things intrigue them that much."

If not, they should just think back to last season and the wild game that helped point them to where they are today.