NCF Nation: Lyndell Johnson

Unflappable Gundy has OSU rolling again

November, 21, 2013

The only reason Hart Lee Dykes even knew who Mike Gundy was in 1986 was because Gundy’s dad would come to watch practice wearing overalls.

Soon, Dykes would get to know the skinny true freshman quarterback from Midwest City, Okla., a whole lot better.

At halftime of Oklahoma State’s third game, then-coach Pat Jones hollered in front of the team, "Gundy, you’re in!"

The Cowboys had lost at Tulsa the week before, and found themselves struggling to move the ball against Houston. But nobody, especially the team's star players, expected this.

"Thurman Thomas and I looked at each other and were like, 'Gundy?'" Dykes recalled. "But after that, we never looked back.

"He got us rolling and the rest was history."

[+] EnlargeMike Gundy
Brett Deering/Getty ImagesMike Gundy has Oklahoma State two wins from a Big 12 title.
Now in his ninth season as the head coach in Stillwater, Gundy has the Cowboys rolling once again.

After drilling Texas last weekend for a third straight win in Austin, Oklahoma State faces fourth-ranked Baylor in a Saturday night showdown with the Big 12 title on the line.

Before 2011, the Cowboys had exactly one conference championship -- a three-way split in 1976 -- dating back to the early 1950s.

With a victory over the Bears, Oklahoma State will be well on its way to a second in three years.

"It wasn’t that long ago you could hang your hat here on just beating Oklahoma," Cowboys offensive lineman Parker Graham said. "That was a good season here back in the day.

"But Coach Gundy has brought the attitude here that we can compete with anybody."

Before Gundy took over in 2005, Oklahoma State had only one 9-1 start in its 102-year football history. Now, the Cowboys are 9-1 again for the third time in the past four years.

Mega-booster T. Boone Pickens has played a major part in Oklahoma State's rise, spearheading a facilities overhaul that has become the envy of the Big 12.

But Gundy's steady hand has played a major part, too.

"That's Mike," Dykes said. "He never seems to get phased. Never seems to get nervous or uptight. He's the same way now as a coach he was then as a quarterback.

"He still has the same poker face."

Gundy needed that poker face in 1986.

That halftime against Houston, Gundy unseated Ronnie Williams, who had led the Cowboys to an 8-4 record and a Gator Bowl appearance the previous year.

Oklahoma State had a future All-American running back in Thomas and a future first-round wide receiver in Dykes. But against the immense pressure of replacing an incumbent starter, Gundy quickly proved the Cowboys had their quarterback of the future, too.

Gundy completed 138 consecutive passes without an interception, which was an NCAA record until Baylor's Robert Griffin III broke it in 2008. After tough losses to Nebraska and Oklahoma, Gundy quarterbacked the Cowboys to wins in four of their final five games to close out the season.

Over the next two years, Oklahoma State went 20-4, and Gundy finished his career as the Big Eight's all-time leading passer.

"If he threw a pick, I’d be jumping him, the coaches would be jumping him, but he never seemed rattled," Dykes said. "He just kept playing."

That poise has served Gundy well as a coach. And served the Cowboys well, too.

Earlier this season, Oklahoma State suffered a baffling 30-21 loss in its conference opener at West Virginia, seemingly axing the Cowboys' Big 12 title hopes off the bat.

"But he never let us lose our confidence," nickelback Lyndell Johnson said.

Instead of panicking after such a distressing performance, Gundy's Pokes kept playing. They struggled to home wins over Kansas State and TCU. Then, after a backfield change with Clint Chelf taking over at quarterback and Desmond Roland at running back, Oklahoma State finally began to click.

"After West Virginia, the season could have gone one of two ways," Graham said. "We could have gone down and lost a couple more games and got down on ourselves."

The same could have happened in Oklahoma State's first Big 12 title season. In 2011, the Cowboys were unbeaten and two games away from playing for a national championship, but were stunned by Iowa State in a double-overtime upset.

The final game against Oklahoma two weeks later also could have gone one of two ways. The Cowboys, however, put the crushing loss behind them, and destroyed the Sooners 44-10 to capture the conference championship and advance to their first BCS bowl game.

[+] EnlargeClint Chelf
Brendan Maloney/USA TODAY SportsAfter early struggles, Gundy went with Clint Chelf (10) and Desmond Roland and OSU has won six straight games.
"Afterward, you could see how proud a coach he was to coach us," said safety Zack Craig, now a senior. "How proud he was that we bounced back after what happened at Iowa State. That’s a moment I won’t forget."

The Cowboys have bounced back again this season.

The past four games, Oklahoma State has outscored the opposition by an average of four touchdowns, including a convincing 38-13 drubbing of the Longhorns that lifted the Cowboys back into the top 10.

As he did after that Bedlam win two years ago, Gundy ditched the poker face and showed another side in Austin that Dykes also remembers well. A side his former teammates used to relish. A side his players relish now.

"We were so excited about the win," Craig said. "As soon as we heard the door open and him come in the locker room, we started rallying up in a big circle and immediately began clapping."

With the players surrounding him, Gundy unleashed his signature bending-back dance to the floor.

"That showed just how much he cares," Johnson said.

"That’s the Gundy I know," Dykes said. "He was always one of us as a player. One of the guys. That's why he's become such a player's coach now."

Oklahoma State is on the cusp of another Big 12 championship, and if the Cowboys win Saturday, Dykes' poker-faced quarterback will surely be dancing again.

"If you were a betting man," Craig said, "that would be a pretty good bet."

Eight years ago to the day, Oklahoma State traveled to Waco for a clash of the Big 12’s worst defense against its worst offense.

That season, Baylor couldn’t move the chains. The Cowboys couldn’t keep the chains from moving against them.

The Bears ultimately prevailed that day, but only because first-year coach Mike Gundy’s offense coughed up the ball eight times.

My, how times have changed.

Saturday, instead of playing for last place, Baylor and Oklahoma State will be vying for the Big 12 title. And this time, the matchup will feature the Big 12’s best offense (Baylor) against the league’s best defense (Oklahoma State).

“Everyone talks about their quarterback, but they average 300 yards rushing a game -- I don't think people really realize that,” Cowboys safety Zack Craig said. “Their passing is great, but their running backs are some of the best in this league.

"They are, by far, the ultimate offense.”

Not only is Baylor’s offense the ultimate, it has a chance to go down as the most prolific in college football history. The Bears lead the country with an average of 61 points and 684 yards per game, which, if they held up, would both shatter NCAA records.

Baylor has already totaled 53 touchdown drives of two minutes or less (Oregon led the country with 45 last season), 50 plays from scrimmage that have gone for 30 yards or more (Indiana is second with 38) and six games with at least 60 points (Ohio State is next with only three such games).

"They are the way they are because they have great talent,” Oklahoma State defensive coordinator Glenn Spencer said. “A quarterback with a fast and accurate release, running backs who can make you miss and an offensive line that will maul you.”

Bryce Petty ranks third nationally in QBR, four different running backs have 100-yard rushing games and guard Cyril Richardson is on the short list to win the Outland Trophy. The receiving corps is as explosive as any around, too, headlined by All-American candidate Antwan Goodley.

“No doubt, this is going to be a huge test for us,” Oklahoma State nickel back Lyndell Johnson said.

But this will be a huge test for the Bears as well.

Behind a veteran core, the Cowboys have featured one of the stoutest defenses in college football all season. Oklahoma State’s defense ranks in the top 10 nationally in several “Next Level” stats from ESPN Stats & Info, including points per drive (seventh), percentage of drives that end in touchdowns (sixth) and red-zone efficiency (seventh).

Oklahoma State is also now tied for the national lead in interceptions after picking off Case McCoy three times in a dominating 38-13 win at Texas last weekend.

“They have great personnel and they do a great job,” Baylor coach Art Briles said. “They’ve done a great job recruiting the last four to five years, and it’s paying off for them.”

Thanks to those talent upgrades, this Oklahoma State defense, which features seven senior starters, has been the best of the Gundy era. By far.

Tackle Calvin Barnett is a run-stuffer up front. Linebackers Shaun Lewis and Caleb Lavey don’t miss tackles. And Justin Gilbert is a lockdown cornerback who tops the Big 12 with six interceptions.

Over seven Big 12 games, the defense has surrendered just 14 offensive touchdowns, the fewest in the league.

“We’re more athletic and more aggressive on defense than what we’ve been the last three or four years,” Gundy said. “Our players have bought into it, and they’re consistent in their play each week."

But on Saturday, Oklahoma State’s defense will find out just how stingy it is, while the Baylor offense will learn if it truly is unstoppable.

“We have a great defense and they’re a great offense,” Craig said. “When you go against somebody like this, you find out just how good you are.”

Big 12 helmet stickers: Week 11

November, 10, 2013
Recognizing the best and brightest from around the Big 12 in Week 11:

RB John Hubert and QB Daniel Sams, Kansas State: Nobody wants to play Kansas State right now, and this duo has a lot to do with that. On the road at Texas Tech, Hubert rushed for a season-high 157 yards highlighted by a 63-yard touchdown while Sams contributed 81 yards and two touchdowns in a 49-26 victory. When these two get rolling on the same day, K-State is a tough out no matter the opponent.

RB Shock Linwood, Baylor: No Lache Seastrunk, no Glasco Martin, no problem for the versatile Baylor offense. When the Bears' top two backs went down with injuries, Linwood stepped in and rushed for 182 yards on 23 carries in the big 41-12 victory over Oklahoma. Despite being No. 3 on the depth chart, Linwood is sixth in the Big 12 in rushing at 625 yards.

ATH Trevone Boykin, TCU: What position are we supposed to list him at now? Boykin has started six game at quarterback, has a 100-yard receiving performance as a wideout and a 101-yard rushing performance. Against Iowa State, he returned to the backfield and rushed for three touchdowns on five carries while adding four catches for 24 yards. He's doing anything and everything asked of him now that Casey Pachall is back.

DT Desmond Jackson, Texas: This is a little bit of an under-the-radar choice, considering all the scoring that went down in Texas' 47-40 overtime win at West Virginia, but Jackson stepped up when top defensive tackle Chris Whaley was lost to a knee injury. The former starter put up eight tackles, 2.5 tackles for loss, two sacks and a fumble recovery. Whaley is as important a senior leader as UT has on defense, but this line didn't miss a beat thanks to Jackson's immediate impact.

S Lyndell Johnson, Oklahoma State: Following in the trend of honoring key injury fill-ins, we're giving one to Johnson. The Cowboys needed a capable replacement for Shamiel Gary and found one in the junior safety, who earned the start and contributed eight tackles, including three tackles for loss, in a 42-6 win over Kansas.

Big 12 weekend rewind: Week 11

November, 12, 2012
Time to hand out some superlatives from the week that was around the Big 12:

Best offensive performance: David Ash, QB, Texas. Ash took care of business against Iowa State, bouncing back after some struggles earlier in conference play. He completed a 47-yard pass to start the game on a trick play out of the wishbone formation. More on that in a bit. His day only got better. He completed his first 11 passes and finished with 364 yards and two touchdowns on 25-of-31 passing.

[+] EnlargeDavid Ash
Cooper Neill/Getty ImagesTexas' David Ash threw for 364 yards and two touchdowns in Saturday's win over Iowa State.
Best defensive performance: Meshak Williams, DE, Kansas State. Williams was everywhere for Kansas State in the Big 12's most dominant defensive performance of the weekend, a 23-10 win over TCU in Fort Worth. He had a pair of sacks and three tackles for loss among his seven stops. Those three TFLs accounted for a loss of 28 yards, too. Williams also batted down a pass. Honorable mention: Lyndell Johnson, LB, Oklahoma State.

Best game: Texas Tech 41, Kansas 34, 2OT. Another week, another OT thriller. This one, though, lacked the presence of TCU. All three Big 12 overtime games have gone multiple extra periods, but Tech's game-winning score came on a cheeky halfback jump pass from Eric Stephens to Darrin Moore. The Jayhawks erased a double-digit, fourth-quarter deficit to send the game into overtime, but once again, the Jayhawks came up just short from ending their painful Big 12 losing streak.

Best quote: Gary Patterson, to Bill Snyder after K-State, Patterson's alma mater, knocked off TCU in Fort Worth to go 10-0. "Go win it all," he said.

Best team performance: Texas. It started with a fantastic tribute to Darrell Royal, but the Longhorns' evisceration of Iowa State was as complete a beating as you'll see in a Big 12 game not involving Kansas. Texas' defensive woes looked like a distant memory as the offense outgained the Cyclones by more than 300 yards and won the turnover battle 2-0. The Longhorns had the ball almost twice as long as ISU, ran the ball well and played amazingly efficient offense. Add it up, and you get the worst beating Iowa State's received all year. No small feat. Honorable mention: Kansas State

Worst overall performance: West Virginia's special teams. What a nightmare for this unit. Two different kicks took odd bounces, hit WVU players and were recovered by Oklahoma State to account for both of WVU's turnovers. Another play resulted in a touchback when four different WVU special-teamers got greedy and decided to let a punt bounce one more time. That's a 20-yard mistake, and eight plays later, OSU capitalized with a touchdown to go ahead 48-34. Does that happen if OSU is pinned inside its 5-yard line? It's worth asking.

Worst explanation: Tommy Tuberville. Hey, only Tuberville knows exactly what he was trying to do when he aggressively swiped the headset off a graduate assistant on the sideline in the middle of giving him an earful. His explanation, though, that he was trying to get him off the field and meant to grab his shirt simply doesn't line up with what the video clearly shows. There was no urgency on the part of Tuberville to get the assistant off the field, and he missed his shirt by a long, long way with the swipe. I don't believe Tuberville deserves any truly serious punishment for an incident that looked worse than it actually was, but his explanation was an insult to viewers' vision and intelligence.

Best play: Jaxon Shipley/David Ash/Greg Daniels, Texas. The Longhorns announced to the world what formation they would open up in, and gained 47 yards anyway. Ash pitched it to Shipley out of the wishbone, a three-back formation popularized by legendary Texas coach Darrell Royal, who died last week. The Longhorns made the move as a tribute to Royal. Shipley threw the ball back to Ash in the backfield, who found Daniels for a 47-yard gain. There was irony in doing so in honor of a coach who said that only three things can happen when you pass the ball, and two of 'em are bad, but this one was very, very good for the Horns.

Most deserving of a thank-you card: Texas A&M. Kansas State looked likely to get squeezed out of the title game by Alabama and Oregon if the Tide, Ducks and Cats all went undefeated. Then the Big 12 expats knocked off the No. 1 team in the country on its home field. Snyder owes you one, Kevin Sumlin and Johnny Football.