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Big 12 race clearing up — Oklahoma State is in the thick of it

William Purnell/Icon Sportswire

Clarity is approaching in the Big 12 Conference, and Oklahoma State is pleased to remain in the picture.

The 22nd-ranked Cowboys overcame three turnovers and shoveled themselves into a nine-point fourth quarter deficit at Kansas State. Mason Rudolph fueled a big-play attack with 457 yards and five touchdown passes as Oklahoma State won its fifth consecutive game, 43-37, Saturday in Manhattan.

Coupled with TCU’s 62-22 evisceration of Baylor, the Big 12 is a three-team race. Oklahoma, which won at Iowa State Thursday, is 7-2 overall and 6-0 in the Big 12. Oklahoma State is 7-2 and 5-1. West Virginia, which knocked off Kansas, is 7-1 and 4-1. The Cowboys’ only loss came at Baylor and they handed the Mountaineers their only loss.

The remaining games for the contenders:

  • OKLAHOMA: At home against Baylor Saturday, at West Virginia Nov. 19, at home vs. Oklahoma State Dec. 3.
  • WEST VIRGINIA: At Texas Saturday, at home vs. Oklahoma Nov. 19, at Iowa State Nov. 26, at home vs. Baylor Dec. 3.
  • OKLAHOMA STATE: At home against Texas Tech Saturday, at TCU Nov. 19, at Oklahoma Dec. 3.

The Cowboys are in the middle of the Big 12 race for the second consecutive season thanks to remarkable resilience. Kansas State scored on its first two drives to take a 13-0 lead (the extra point was missed after the second TD). Oklahoma State came back to lead 21-16 at halftime but then suffered a third-quarter meltdown.

“If we lose that game, this press conference is about being poor in special teams, you turn the ball over and can’t stop the run then it’s hard to win a football game,” said Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy, who won the 101st game of his career. “I told our team earlier that it’s a great accomplishment to win up here.”

Rudolph’s streak of 163 passes without an interception ended in the worst possible way. Duke Shelley’s 29-yard pick six gave the Wildcats a 23-21 lead early in the third quarter. Jesse Ertz (30 carries, 143 yards) then scored on a 2-yard run to stretch the lead to 30-21.

Kansas State, though, suffered its second loss this season with a double-digit lead in the final eight minutes. Coach Bill Snyder made a difficult decision that helped swing the momentum.

Facing a fourth-and-1 and at the Oklahoma State 38 with just over eight minutes remaining, Snyder elected to punt. Two plays later, Rudolph connected with James Washington on an 82-yard touchdown pass.

“I do not have any grounds to doubt something that Coach (Bill) Snyder would do, I mean obviously he knows more about his team than I do,” Gundy said.

“Traditionally, for years, he has played percentages. He is somewhat of a genius when it comes to that and I am guessing in his world that is what he thought was best.”

Snyder was playing the percentages and didn’t want to give Oklahoma State good field position. The Cowboys took over at their own 8-yard line. The Wildcats wanted to go for it.

“We keep that drive going and we put the game away right there,”K-State offensive lineman Dalton Risner said. “Really disappointed. We can argue as much as we want, but if we didn’t get it on third and inches how is coach supposed to expect us to get it on fourth and inches? It’s on us.”

The possession that led to K-State punting on fourth and 1 came after Rudolph’s second interception. Gundy believes those mistakes sparked the junior quarterback on Oklahoma State’s last two drives that produced touchdowns.

Rudolph had TD passes of 12, 54, 3 and 34 yards before the 82-yarder to James Washington.

“They stayed their base coverage,” said Rudolph, who completed 29 of 38. It was a last second signal to James. I credit the coaches for calling that and putting the ball in the playmaker’s hands.”

On the 80-yard game-winning drive, Rudolph twice scrambled for positive yards and completed two passes. Chris Carson’s 17-yard touchdown run plus a two-point conversion provided the final margin.

Kansas State came into the game eighth in passing efficiency defense and has allowed 300 or more yards passing in four of the last five games.

“We need to improve our defense against the pass,” Snyder said. “My 9-year-old granddaughter knows that. And I don’t have a 9-year-old granddaughter.”

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