That was pretty much perfect, wasn’t it?
Of course it would have been more perfect if OSU had blown the doors off of Washington in the second half and led to some “OU fans after the Sugar Bowl” levels of irrationality from all of us over the next eight months but all things considered?
Mason Rudolph dealt like Walter White at his peak in the first half and OSU’s defense hung on throughout before James Castleman (?!?) stuck the dagger in late with a 48-yard reception that doubled as my second-favorite play of the season.
The transformation is now complete, everyone. The 47-day transformation has been tied up, bowed and will be proudly displayed at the OSU ticket office over the next 240 days.
Gundy took this team from the lowest low (I can’t remember anything worse than getting spanked by Texas at home in the last five years) to something resembling all of the optimism heading into 2015 and nobody could have dreamed how it would happen (a last-second Bedlam punt return and James Castleman sealing the deal in the desert).
It’s been quite a ride.
Let’s get to the final 10 Thoughts of the 2014 season.
1. Really, James Castleman: I can’t get over it. I wrote about it twice (here and here) and just the fact that there are two different “James Castleman played offense” posts up on the site right now is borderline unfathomable.
If we’re ranking my favorite plays from this season (and this is the hottest of takes) then off the top of my head they look like this:
1. Tyreek’s punt return in Norman
2. Castleman goes 48 yards to seal the Cactus Bowl
3. Tyreek’s catch against Texas Tech
That Gundy and Yurcich would call the big fella’s number with the game on the line with two minutes left is the best part of all of it. Oh wait, no this is the best part:
Castleman said when defender fell he was thinking, "Oh my god he's [Rudolph] going to throw to me. I just wanted to make sure I caught it."
— Andrew Carter (@Andrew__Carter) January 3, 2015
Or maybe the fact that he told Carson Cunningham the check engine light came on late in his rumble down the sidelines.
Or maybe the fact that brings No. 31 to his knees off the line of scrimmage:
Or maybe I don’t actually know what the best part of the whole thing is and that’s actually the best part of it.
2. Mason Rudolph has the reigns: Knowing Mike Gundy he’ll probably try to sneak JW Walsh back into the QB talk come spring ball but the future is crystal clear.
OSU’s offense hasn’t functioned like it did in the first half against Washington all season long and, gasp, maybe not since the days of No. 3.
Yes the offensive line played a big part in that but Rudolph reading the defense like a coloring book (from Yurcich?) and making throws that I’ve nary seen from a Big 12 frosh played an even bigger part.
There’s not a way to possibly be more all in on No. 10 than I am right now. Three more years of this madness.
The worst part is that we have to wait eight more months for his home debut.
I said it after the Baylor game and I’ll say it again (likely many more times) — his ability to elude the rush and check down as quickly as he does is uncanny for a college QB, much less a 19-year-old.
Believe the hype because the hype isn’t the hype anymore. It’s real.
3. The offensive line was stout: I couldn’t have been more impressed with how the offensive line held up against Washington’s trio of All-Americans.
Three sacks in 76 plays and OSU averaged 6.22 yards per play against one of the 20 or 25 best defenses in the nation? Did they sneak Russell Okung into Brad Lundblade’s uni or has this unit just improved this much?
Given that the former was tweeting about the game while it was happening I’m going to have to choose that yes, this young Oklahoma State offensive line really has improved that much.
4. Brandon Sheperd is a bona fide star: No. 7 now has 12 for 254 yards and 3 TDs in his last two outings and he even busted out Reggie Bush’s superhuman move from the Fresno State game 10 years ago.
With a legit QB OSU’s receiving corps. has gone from sterile to scary in a matter of weeks. When Jhajuan Seales and Marcell Ateman can’t crack the top three of your WR rotation that’s bad news for the rest of the Big 12.
5. Defense in the first half: At halftime of this game OSU had gone on a 41-0 run since the five-minute mark of the fourth quarter of Bedlam. That’s 41 in a row before Washington answered early in the third.
The offense will get all the headlines, accolades and will be the object of all the optimism but it’s really the defense that grew up during this season.
It was incredible for the first 30 minutes (Washington had two first downs in the first half) and got monster stops down the stretch including a fourth-down stand with just over four minutes left in the fourth which led to the Ben Grogan field goal that made it 30-16.
Plus they lent one of their best players to OSU’s offense for the first and last quarters of the game.
6. The 2015 optimism is supreme: At halftime I asked Jake Trotter and David Ubben if every Big 12 team had a draft for all the QBs in the league for 2015 who would go second (obviously Trevone Boykin would go first).
Trotter said probably Rudolph or Mahomes while Ubben took Seth Russell of Baylor but conceded that Rudolph is in the mix. The point is that you have to have a good quarterback to win the Big 12 and OSU has one now.
I’m confident in Gundy’s ability to build around a QB (though my confidence in him to actually pick a QB could not possibly be any lower than it is) and that’s what he’ll get to do for the next three years.
Everybody knows it, too.
Rudolph: "We look forward to all getting bigger, better, faster and stronger and coming out in 2015 and making a statement." #OKstate
— Andrew Carter (@Andrew__Carter) January 3, 2015
7. The dagger came later than it should have: I was disappointed in OSU’s ability to end things early in the second half.
I should have known better than to think we would blow the doors off early but it felt like the offense went super conservative, well, until the play-action pass to the defensive tackle with two minutes left.
As nuanced and well-called as the first half it was a bummer to see the opposite in the second half. Here’s the drive chart — it got shaky in the third quarter:
Final #okstate drive chart…
WHO CARES CASTLEMAN WENT 48 YARDS
End of game
— Pistols Firing (@pistolsguys) January 3, 2015
8. That was the sendoff Des Roland deserved: I still wish Roland had gotten the walk-off TD in overtime in Norman but his performance on Friday was a tremendous way to go out.
He had 32 (!) carries (a career high, by the way) for 123 yards which was the fourth 100-yard game of his career but just his first this year. He ran like a man all night and solidified what Gundy said about OSU needing 12-yard and 15-yard runs against Washington to get the win.
9. Ben Grogan FINALLY Ben Groganed: It took long enough, didn’t it? I can’t kill him for this though because he won Bedlam and he’s been immense all season.
Plus, Gundy took the blame for not setting him up in the middle of the field like he did in Norman and relegating him to the right hash which he apparently doesn’t like as much.
10. Greatest six-week turnaround ever? Mike Gundy made sure to mention it again after the win:
"Best 3 weeks of bowl practice we've ever had." -Mike Gundy. Said it was better than 2011 Fiesta Bowl. #okstate
— Carson Cunningham (@KOCOCarson) January 3, 2015
As numerous folks pointed out on Twitter the Bedlam win was more useful than just being a win over OSU’s biggest rival and a recruiting weapon. It provided OSU three extra weeks of playing together as they head into the next year.
If I would have told you the day after the Texas game (November 16) in which OSU put up 192 yards of offense and got beat 28-7 that in 47 days OSU would be considered one of the favorites to usurp Baylor and TCU off the Big 12 throne and it involved Mason Rudolph and James Castleman catching bowl game passes, you would have had an aneurysm.
You would have unfollowed me and never read this blog again and possibly called the Texas Department of Drug and Alcohol Prevention anonymously to check in on me at my home in Richardson.
And yet here we stand.
Here we stand with Mike Gundy pumping his tucked in hoodie in a freezing cold game in the desert with the future taking snaps and throwing seeds to two wide receivers who couldn’t miss.
Here we stand with a senior running back playing his last game and starting his first year on the planet without his mom.
Here we stand with a much-maligned offensive coordinator dealing to a defensive lineman and calling throwback passes to that aforementioned freshman QB.
Here we stand with a defense that’s all grown up and not going anywhere over the next two years.
Here we stand after 13 games so excited about the future and so confused about a past that somehow shut out that same QB I mentioned earlier.
Here we stand, and you know, I think that’s the best part.
We’re still standing…enjoying the hell out of all of this.
It’s been quite the season.
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