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10 Thoughts on Oklahoma State’s 24-17 Guaranteed Rate Bowl Loss to Wisconsin

On slow starts, the future and more.



[Devin Wilber/PFB]

PHOENIX, Arizona — Perhaps the wackiest season of Oklahoma State football in recent memory has come to an end.

Oklahoma State fell to Wisconsin 24-17 on Tuesday night in the Guaranteed Rate Bowl at Chase Field. The Cowboys finish the year 7-6, and here are 10 Thoughts on the bowl game.

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1. A Big Ten Strangulation

OSU’s inability to do much in terms of production on offense played right into the hands of the Big Ten Badgers.

Field position and clock management — two cliches of Big Ten football were all Wisconsin needed to strangle the Cowboys out of the game.

In the first half alone, Wisconsin had the ball for 23:10 — leaving a whopping 6:50 for OSU to possess the ball. The Cowboys didn’t have an offensive snap in Wisconsin territory until there was 4:28 left in the third quarter.

Then here is the look at Wisconsin’s starting field position during that first half:

Wisconsin 29
Wisconsin 41
OSU 44
Wisconsin 31
Wisconsin 32
Wisconsin 35
Wisconsin 37
Wisconsin 28

OSU’s best starting field position in the first half was its own 25 after a pair of touchbacks.

At one point in the not-so-distant past the Big 12 and Big Ten were at entirely opposite ends of the style-of-play spectrum. Games like Tuesday’s are going to be play right into the fodder of national pundits saying the Big Ten is lightyears ahead of the Big 12, and that stinks.

2. Bedlam All Over Again

Like in Bedlam just a little more than a month ago, Oklahoma State did little offensively for three quarters before providing hope with a come-back attempt that fell short.

Of Oklahoma State’s 281 yards of total offense, 119 came in the fourth quarter. Aside from Stephon Johnson’s herculean 84-yard effort (which we’ll get to), that leaves 78 yards of total offense in the first, second and third quarters.

It’s both promising that the Cowboys don’t lose fight no matter the circumstance, but it’s also mildly infuriating that what the fourth quarter bursts aren’t more prevalent in quarters one through three.

3. The Future of the Quarterback Position

The biggest storyline for any team during any given season is the quarterback more often than not, but that will especially be the case for the Cowboys as they head into 2023.

With longtime starter Spencer Sanders in the transfer portal, the Cowboys are at a crossroads. Do try to get a guy, like Virginia transfer Brennan Armstrong, out of the portal? Or do they try to develop the likes of Garret Rangel and the incoming Zane Flores, knowing doing so likely means taking the lumps that young quarterbacks often take?

Let’s start with Rangel. He had his highs in his limited introduction to college football this season, but — like with most freshmen — those highs came with some lows. On the year, Rangel was 59-for-115 (51%) with four touchdowns and five interceptions. He showed good things throughout the year. Everything aside from the first quarter in Kansas, and he made some impressive plays late Tuesday.

His Houdini-esque effort on fourth-and-goal to flick a ball to Ollie Gordon as he avoided being brought down for a loss was one of the coolest things I have ever seen on a football field.

Then later in the fourth quarter, Rangel made a big-time third-down pass. He got flushed from the pocket and rolled to his left before flipping his hips, planting his feet and floating a ball over a Wisconsin defender and into the waiting hands of Rashod Owens for a gain of 41 on 3rd-and-14.

“I know he competed,” Gundy said. “Again, without watching tape, there’s times he missed some throws. It’s difficult for me to see what’s going on down there with coverages and such. I’m going to put him in the category of the other guys. I know he competed, I know he fought, but I could tell there’s times he did miss throws. He’s young.

“He did get a lot of work this year, though. That work will help him in the offseason as we develop and continue to develop quarterbacks in the spring.”

It’s no secret that OSU is in the Armstrong transfer sweepstakes, a quarterback with one year remaining who could be a stopgap between Sanders and Rangel/Flores. If Armstrong doesn’t pick OSU, though (Wisconsin is another school reportedly involved with him), you wonder how far down the transfer quarterback pecking order OSU would be willing to go before they just hand the keys to the young guys and try to expedite their development.

There are a lot of dynamics at play from the outside, and how the quarterback room develops will be the story of the offseason.

4. Football on Ice

This game was played at a baseball stadium, but it might as well have been at a hockey rink.

They put down some Bermuda 419 on the baseball playing surface, and it made for poor footing for all. Whether people were full on falling over or sliding when planting, it was a bad look. Players were just flipping a coin every time they planted whether would stay upright or not.

5. Stephon Johnson Further Solidifies Dude Status

With OSU’s offense struggling to get out of the blocks, a spark came from a freshman.

The Cowboys ran seven plays and punted twice on their first two series before Rangel whipped a little screen pass out to Stephon Johnson. Johnson proceed to break a handful of arm tackles and toe tap down the sideline before cutting across the field and springing 84 yards to the house (special shoutout to right tackle Jake Springfield for being one of the furthest Cowboys down field).

Johnson has been a pleasant surprise from OSU’s 2022 recruiting class. Like with Rangel, Johnson has had his downs (drops here and there), but the potential is clearly visible. He finishes the season as the Cowboys’ fifth-leading receiver with 293 yards and two touchdowns.

Watching him develop with OSU’s still-young receiving corps. (John Paul Richardson and the Green twins are only sophomores) ought to be well worth the price of admission for seasons to come.

6. A Below-Average Bowl Performance

In Mike Gundy’s first 16 bowl games as the Cowboys’ head coach, OSU averaged 33.6 points and 448.1 total yards a game. Tuesday, the Cowboys scored 17 points and had 281 yards of total offense.

Now, there are qualifiers to this, sure. OSU was using a freshman quarterback, a freshman running back, two freshman receivers, and the portal adds an entirely different dynamic to bowl games. But here is a look, by season, at the yards of total offense OSU has had in bowl games under Gundy:

Season Yards Points Win/Loss
2021 605 37 W
2013 548 31 L
2016 527 38 W
2012 524 58 W
2007 513 49 W
2018 502 38 W
2017 488 30 W
2014 473 30 W
2008 469 31 L
2006 419 34 W
2020 418 37 W
2011 412 41 W
2015 366 20 L
2019 334 21 L
2010 312 36 W
2022 281 17 L
2009 259 7 L
7. Staff Changes Uncertain

Gundy has set a high standard for his football program over his now 18 completed seasons as a head coach.

With 156 wins, he is the best coach the program has ever seen, and it’s not particularly close. But with expectations rising and rising, there is a need to keep the machine he created in peak condition.

After Tuesday’s game, Gundy did not say whether changes would come to his staff after the Cowboys finished 7-6, their worst record since 2018.

8. Hello Trey Rucker

Trey Rucker made his first game appearance of the season Tuesday, and holy smokes, he made some plays.

There was one early Wisconsin drive in particular where Rucker, a 6-foot, 190-pound safety, saved two touchdowns.

On 2nd-and-16 from the Wisconsin 35, Badger running back Chez Mellusi broke free and sprinted 51 yards down field before Rucker ran all the way across the field and tripped him up.

Shortly after, Rucker intercepted Chase Wolf in the end zone. It was Rucker’s first INT as a Cowboy and set up the Johnson catch-and-run that gave OSU a 10-3 lead.

“It was good to get Ruck back,” Gundy said. “And he’ll be with us. Ruck’s actually got two years left. So it’s good to be back. He likes to compete. He loses his temper a little bit. We’ve got to get him calmed down at times. Get him back into our culture, but he wants to fight and compete. And look forward to watching him in the spring.”

9. A Touching Moment from Jason Taylor.

Jason Taylor entered his postgame news conference with a towel on his head and bloodshot eyes after what could be his final game as a Cowboy.

An All-American this season, Taylor finished the year as OSU’s leading tackler (one short of 100) while also leading the Cowboys in interceptions with six.

Because of the pandemic, the former Carl Albert standout has a year of eligibility remaining should he choose to use it, or he could pursue playing professionally.

Taylor said after Tuesday’s game he didn’t have a decision he was ready to announce, but he gave a heartfelt message of what OSU meant to him.

“Oklahoma State has meant everything for me,” Taylor said. “Just to be able to be right in the backyard of home, my family is able to come to every game. Even my long-distance family was able to come to games. I’m grateful and blessed and thankful just to have the coaches that I have and have the teammates that I have.

“Obviously, I haven’t decided whether or not I would come back or declare. But, obviously, I’m going to take some time. But I was just kind of focused on this season. But if this is it, I’m so grateful to have been a part of the Cowboy family. I’ll forever be a Cowboy, and this is forever going to be my home.”

10. What a Strange Year

On Oct. 15, the Cowboys were 5-0 and had a 24-7 lead on TCU (a College Football Playoff team) before eventually falling in that game in double-OT, dealing with a string of high profile injures and finishing 7-6.

The OSU offense went from scoring at least 40 points in five of its first seven games to not cracking more than 20 in the final six.

It’s hard to pinpoint where things all came crumbling down, but it undoubtedly starts on the injury front. The Cowboys couldn’t stay healthy when things started to go south around that trip to Forth Worth.

It was a year unlike any other. One that couldn’t be replicated in some computer simulation. It had its highs; it had its lows, but it was another set of 13 games we could all congregate over our computers and phones and develop lasting memories over.

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