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10 Thoughts on Oklahoma State’s 31-24 Loss to TCU

Pokes fall to 6-6 at TCU and finish with the seventh-best record in the Big 12.

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FORT WORTH, Texas — If you didn’t see OSU’s game against TCU on Saturday, here is a recap.

But for real Oklahoma State fell to TCU 31-24 in about the most disappointing (and fitting?) way this 2018 season could have ended. The Pokes didn’t score a TD in their first 10 (!!) drives and fell behind 24-3. The second-biggest comeback in school history (last week against WVU) would have to be followed by the biggest for OSU to get to seven wins.

And of course they scored TDs on three straight drives (Chuba-Corn-Corn, all runs) and got to within striking distance. Their 14th drive of the night was stopped on their own 4-yard-line, though, and OSU lost for the sixth conference loss (the second-most under Gundy … they lost seven in 2005).

The numbers are tough to look at. OSU somehow totaled just 280 yards (which was 31 fewer than they did in whatever happened in Manhattan earlier this season) and the 167th-best out of 179 games in the Gundy era.

Corn finished 17 of 40 passing (!) for 181 (!) and a pick ?. He doubled as OSU’s leading rusher (nine carries for 52 yards) as Tylan Wallace led the way on the receiving side (four catches for 64 yards).

Let’s get to the 10 Thoughts just so we can get to the end of them. But first let’s pay tribute to our sponsor, Thrive Landscape and Irrigation.

1. A Fitting End

The roller coaster has come to a complete stop. You may now remove your waist guard. The 12-game regular season ride has finished. OSU finished the regular season 3-5 as a favorite and 3-1 as an underdog. That’s also 3-5 against unranked teams (at the time they played them) and 3-1 against top 20 teams (at the time they played them). That’s 3-0 as a home dog and 1-3 as a road favorite.

This email was sent to me by the man who pulls the levers for CFB Reference earlier this week: OSU is the first team since 1958 (!!!!!) to have three wins against top 20 teams and four losses against unranked teams.

You can make that five after this game.

I don’t understand it at all. I’ve tried to understand it. I’ve tried to rationalize it. I’ve thought myself in circles thinking about it. I’ve asked Gundy about it. Gundy has asked himself about it. Why … why in the world … is OSU so good against good teams and so bad against bad ones? It goes against everything we know about Mike Gundy teams historically.

You can pin it on whoever you want — Gundy blamed both the players and the coaches on Saturday — but the reality is that we (and an exasperated Gundy) will be trying to untangle this 2018 season for a long, long time.

2. Where Was the Offense?

OSU averaged 1.4 yards per play on its first 37 plays, which went three minutes deep into the third. They averaged 3.9 yards overall. I get that TCU’s defense is good — really I do — but they aren’t that good. TCU came into the week allowing 2.0 points per drive, which was a top-five number nationally (and solid for the Big 12). But last week WVU came in allowing 1.8, and OSU couldn’t stop scoring on them (even in their bad half they scored a pair of TDs).

Look at it this way, on OSU’s first 10 drives, they had more that went backwards (6) than went forwards (4). That’s almost impossible to do!

The reasons for this are innumerable and not nearly as simplistic as any of us want them to be, but they include some variation of the following:

  • Corn was inaccurate
  • OSU was running its fourth string RB
  • TCU’s pass coverage was awesome
  • OSU’s offensive line was on its heels
  • No creative playcalling

And on and on we go. The primary factor for me was some combo of Corn looking lost (and maybe a beat slow on his passes) with a strong TCU defense intent on taking away Tylan (more on that below). This team — maybe more than any in the Gundy era? — seems to require momentum to score points, and momentum looked like it jumped out of the plane down around Ardmore and never made its way across the Red River.

3. Star Neutralization

Chuba Hubbard and Tylan Wallace had 24 combined touches or targets and posted just 104 yards. TCU seemed like their entire gameplan revolved around taking away No. 2 and No. 30, and it worked. Gundy said after the game that OSU’s game plan offensively wasn’t very good — he thought it was coming in but after seeing it on the field thought differently — and it did seem like OSU couldn’t adjust when their two bellcows were taken away.

4. Corn the Microcosm

Just as I don’t understand this team, I equally don’t understand Corn. We’re talking about somebody whose season has been tracking right along with Brandon Weeden and Mason Rudolph, and he laid another monstrous egg.

Consistency is a skill — maybe one we undervalued with Rudolph — and even though what happened on Saturday doesn’t change the success Corn has had in the last few weeks over elite teams, it does solidify his status as one of the bigger enigmas in OSU quarterback history.

5. Coaching Disparity

Gary Patterson coaches like a man who’s in either the first or last game of his life. Mike Gundy coaches like a man who has a lifetime contract and enough John Deere equipment to till all the land in Oklahoma west of Stillwater between now and next football season. Both may have been true (???) on Saturday.

Each method works for the man it is intended for, but as somebody who covers this stuff *grabs air with both hands* from the outside looking in, I prefer Gundy’s. I just thought the disparity between the two was stark on Saturday as Gary Patterson leaked sweat through two shirts on a brisk night and Gundy stood at the other end of the field from where his team played. To be fair, he did get animated at the end and came to his presser with a hoarse voice, but his highest level is still about 10 notches under where GP lives.

6. Untimely Penalties, Turnovers

Rinse, repeat. Scrub in. Rinse, repeat again. Two of the biggest plays of the game were, in chronological order, the Chuba fumble that turned into a TCU TD, and the Logan Carter roughing the punter near the end of the third.

If you’re only going to score 24 points on 15 drives, but you’re going to give an opposing offense — even one as horrific as TCU’s — a free defensive TD (and basically a free FG after A.J. Green dropped that pass at the top of this post), you’re pretty much always going to lose. An aside: I would have been fine with not seeing the swing pass again until late 2019 so of course OSU ran it with LD a few plays after Chuba fumbled.

The roughing the punter penalty was a killer because it stymied what could have been a wave of momentum going back the other way right after Chuba scored to make it 24-10. Would it have taken the biggest comeback in OSU football history for the Cowboys to win the game at that point (one week after the second biggest)? Sure. But you’re not even giving yourself that chance at history if you’re needlessly banging into their kicker. Maddening.

7. Justin Phillips’ Last Regular Season Game

No. 19 balled out in his second-to-last game. I don’t know that I’ll ever remember him as anything other than the true freshman who had 10 tackles in that 2014 Bedlam win in Norman (OSU was so thin that year he redshirted his sophomore year), but his 12 tackles on Saturday against TCU were the second-most he’s ever had (14 against Tech in 2016), and he made a slew of jaw-droppers that were more impressive (and more difficult) in person than they looked on TV.

Seven of those were solo, two were for loss and he chipped in another pair of QB hurries to boot. He came to play on Saturday. He was one of the few.

8. Jalen Reagor, a Dude

I honestly am not sure why TCU didn’t just run the Wildfrog with No. 1 the entire night. He was breathtaking in person. Like if you gave Chuba’s speed to Tyron and the best number on the field. He looks the part, too. If you squint — like, if you’re legally blind and have had four COOPs and squint as hard as you can — he stands, runs and carries himself a little bit like Dez. I’m in awe.

 

9. Defense Was Good Enough

The offense was awful — unspeakable levels of awful for much of the night, in fact — and the frustrating part of that is that OSU’s defense held a TCU offense playing with pretty much Jalen Reagor and nothing else to right at their season average in points per drive. It’s the story of the year, isn’t it? When the offense rocks, the defense stinks, and vice versa. The problem for OSU defensively on Saturday was primarily Reagor going for 211 yards on 13 touches, but other than that they were what they needed to be. A competent OSU offense should have buried the Frogs by two TDs.

10. Now What?

I don’t even know what to think. I knew more about this team on August 1 than I do on December 1. OSU will play a bowl game against a bad team (so they’ll probably lose it), but then it’s a lot of question marks for 2019.

Gundy seems excited about bowl practices, but Justice Hill is a question, QB is a question (still? again?), RB depth is a question, special teams are a question and the defense is (always) a question.

This season could have been a springboard into the future, but instead it was seemingly a bizarre one-off full of sweet moments but little (?) to build on.

Maybe that’s how it was always going to go. But I couldn’t help but think as Gundy sat near the freight elevators in the depths of TCU’s stadium with equipment boxes loudly rolling by and his hoarse voice trying to rise above the drum, that this is not how it was supposed to play out. OSU was not supposed to lose to Kansas State and TCU and Texas Tech. OSU was not supposed to beat WVU and Texas.

Gundy glanced around at all of us, wondering if anyone in the building had any answers for a puzzle he hasn’t been able to put together. There was a perplexed look in his eyes, not knowing how to decipher what just unfolded over the last 13 weeks. It didn’t seem like he could give a more apt description of these Pokes than we can. OSU isn’t good. OSU isn’t bad. OSU, it seems, doesn’t know what it is, and that is sometimes the most frustrating place to be.

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