With Baylor leading 28-21 midway through the third quarter on Saturday night in Waco, Texas, Oklahoma State was trying to start a comeback. A 12-yard run by Jeff Carr represented the team’s longest run through that moment, but it was called back on two chop block calls on the Cowboys.
While that double-penalty didn’t have much effect on the drive in general — the Cowboys still got a field goal — it does serve anecdotally as a representation of how OSU struggled to maintain momentum. Too often, as soon as a forward step was taken, a backward step followed. It largely stemmed from the offensive line failing to get a push on the Bears while trying to milk the clock and keep the potent BU offense off the field.
“The last two years we got in a track meet with them, and we couldn’t run with them,” head coach Mike Gundy said. “We wanted to be able to establish some running game, use a bit of clock with playing on the road. That’s why I’m so upset at everybody. It’s not just the players. It’s coaches. We’ve got to coach them better and put them in better position.”
What made the Cowboys so successful last week in a shootout with Pittsburgh was the ability to stretch the field with deep passes. That was taken away against the Bears — Rudolph was typically sent outside the pocket desperately looking for a receiver. He usually found someone, completing 27-of-46 passes, but his average took a big dip from 8.9 yards to 6.1 yards thanks to his deep targets being muted.
Instead of consistently looking deep for James Washington and Jajuan Seales, slot specialist Jalen McCleskey became Rudolph’s go-to receiver. He finished the night with five receptions for 77 yards. Uncharacteristic throws to the H-back in the flats also became a go-to option under heavy pressure from nickel back Travon Blanchard.
Baylor’s unique pressure and run containment gave BU head coach Jim Grobe’s confidence for fourth-down attempts inside the Bears’ own territory and — on a separate occasion — within field goal range.
“You know, it seems like when our defense gets their backs against the wall, we play better,” Grobe said laughing. “I just like to go ahead and spot them on the 20 and say, ‘Let’s play football.'”
The failed attempt was inside Baylor’s own territory and was followed by linebacker Aiavion Edwards making huge back-to-back plays: The BU defender wrapped up Rennie Childs behind the line and then sacked Rudolph the next play after blown blocking assignments by the Pokes. That set up third and 23, miraculously saved by Rudolph evading yet more pressure for a 25-yard gain… only for the Cowboys to lose a fumble at the goal line, which Gundy said wiped away any sense of achievement.
Anything that went right for the Cowboys was the result of individual talents defying the odds created by the collapsed offensive line. Those individual talents also coughed up four turnovers.
“Got to take care of the ball. Doesn’t do any good,” Gundy said admittedly upset. “If you can’t take care of the ball, it doesn’t do us any good to have you in there.”
Oklahoma State finished the night with an average carry of 3.9 yards. All its touchdowns were five yards or fewer. The longest run of the night came five minutes into the fourth quarter, pushing the run outside with Justice Hill for 38 yards instead of running into direct pressure as before. Take away his and Rudolph’s run, and the Cowboys finished the night with an average carry of 2.9 yards.
“I hate it,” Gundy said. “Because if you take those six or eight crucial mistakes out, we probably played well enough to win the game. Unfortunately, those count.”
They count a lot when they come at crucial points in a game.
The mission for Oklahoma State’s offense — linemen and skill people alike — is clear heading into October.