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10 Thoughts on Oklahoma State’s 34-27 Loss to Iowa State

On the QB carousel stopping, the OSU defense struggling and more.



[Devin Wilber/PFB]


AMES, Iowa — Sept. 23 is probably too early to label a game must-win, but the Cowboys probably would’ve felt a lot better about things had they left Ames with a win.

Oklahoma State fell to Iowa State 34-27 on Saturday at Jack Trice Stadium. Here are 10 thoughts from the game.

1. The Bowl Streak Is in Big, Big Trouble

In a game between two teams that lost to Group of Five foes last weekend, the Cowboys lost.

The bowl streak is in as much jeopardy as it has been since the moments before Tyreek Hill returned that punt in Bedlam 2014.

There is still a lot of season to be played, for sure, but after an open week, the Cowboys need four wins from the following:

Kansas State
at West Virginia
at UCF
at Houston

As we sit here on Sept. 23, games against West Virginia and Houston look to be competitive, but even if OSU picks up those two wins on the road, that would still leave OSU needing two more wins to get to the magical number of six wins and push the bowl streak to 18 straight seasons. It looks bleak.

2. The Three-Quarterback Carousel Stops

In more ways than one, the three-quarterback system failed for the Cowboys. But Mike Gundy and Co. cut their losses Saturday and went with the guy that most thought would be Oklahoma State’s starting quarterback back when he committed.

Like Larry Reece says when basketball games are tied at halftime: 20 minutes played three nonconference games and we’ve gone nowhere.

The cycling seemingly made an already struggling offense worse, but with how this situation played out, the fan base picked sides.

Some were with Bowman and his experience, citing he got unlucky with drops throughout the first three games. Some were with Gunnar Gundy and his ability to scramble. Some were with Garret Rangel, who brings a better passing game than Gunnar and a better scrambling ability than Bowman.

Now every mistake Bowman makes, like his third-quarter interception, could be met with more scrutiny. Those on the other sides of the fan base will want their champion to play.

My initial thought upon hearing the Cowboys were finally going with one guy was this is a good thing, no matter who that one guy is. I still think that’s true, but the infighting among X/Twitter quarterback experts has already started, and unless OSU drastically turns things around, it doesn’t look likely to stop.

3. But the Offense Flowed Better with One Quarterback

Whether or not you think Alan Bowman should’ve been the winner of the three-quarterback crusade, it felt like the offense was able to get into a rhythm the more he was out there. Could that have happened with any of the three? Maybe.

In his first four drives Bowman was 2-for-6 with 10 passing yards. Under normal circumstances for 2023’s standards, that would’ve been it for Bowman. Gunnar Gundy or Garret Rangel would’ve came in and started over from there.

Instead, Bowman continued. Over his next four series, Bowman was 8-for-13 with 111 passing yards. He settled in. Sure, that looks a lot better because of his 60-yard touchdown pass to Jaden Nixon. But even if you take that away (which you shouldn’t, it was a beautiful ball), he was 7-for-12 for 51 yards in those four possessions.

It was just overall a lot less frustrating watching one quarterback figure out a game than watching three segmented, stop-start struggles.

“It definitely is hard when you know you’re only getting an X amount of drives,” Bowman said. “But then to say, ‘Alright, it’s the first quarter, a punt is OK.’ I think going through the first three games, a punt wasn’t the best thing because you wanted to score as many points as you could because you only had a certain amount of plays. But kinda getting a full game under your belt, kinda knowing what’s going on, you can be able to settle in. It’s been a lot better. I felt more confident out there.”

Although it is still far from perfect, OSU mustered 27 points (again) and 409 yards of total offense against one of the Big 12’s better defenses. That’s certainly a step up from the seven points and 208 yards of total offense the Cowboys had against a Sun Belt team last week.

4. But How Did Bowman Play?

A third thought on OSU’s quarterback situation is somewhat poetic.

We’ve discussed the pitfalls of the three-man rotation and how things flowed better with one guy, but in his first full game as a Cowboy, how did Bowman perform? Eh, OK.

He finished 23-for-48 with 278 yards, two touchdowns, a rushing touchdown and two interceptions. For a first full game since 2020, it wasn’t bad. There were highs like the dime he threw to Nixon. There were lows like the first interception that he threw into a crowd of two receivers and two defenders.

His first pass should’ve been intercepted. His second pass should’ve been caught. Both were dropped, and that sort of tells you all you need to know about OSU football thus far in 2023.

5. Defense Easily Has Its Worst Game of the Year

With as poor as the Cowboys’ offense was against South Alabama last week, the Cowboys’ defense avoided the attention of allowing the Jaguars to score 33 points and rush for 243 yards in Boone Pickens Stadium.

Iowa State averaged 16.7 points and 270.3 yards of total offense in the nonconference against titans like Northern Iowa, Iowa and Ohio. The Cyclones put up season-highs in both stats against the Cowboys with 34 points and 422 total yards. Not good.

6. Iowa State Quarterback Rocco Becht Has Career Game

For the first time this year, the Cowboys failed to get the opposing quarterback on the ground.

To put it nicely, the Cyclones’ offensive line is in a rough spot. There were a few times that it looked like Iowa State was setting up a screen, but in reality, three OSU defensive linemen instantly bested their competition. But no matter the circumstance, Rocco Becht – only a redshirt freshman – found a way out.

Against the Cowboys, Becht threw for a career-high 348 yards and three touchdowns. The Cowboys were credited with two hurries; Iowa State was credited with 11.

It’s hard to say whether the pass rush or the coverage was more to blame, which is a scary spot to be in. There were breakdowns in the secondary. The Cyclones attacked redshirt freshman Cameron Epps, who made his first start in place of an absent Lyrik Rawls, but no sacks against a struggling offensive line certainly didn’t help.

7. Ollie’s Big Run Makes OSU’s Run Game Look Better Than It Was

After getting just three carries against South Alabama, OSU made a point to feed No. 0 on Saturday, and it looked for a bit as if it was going to pay off in a big way.

The Cowboys’ first four plays from scrimmage were Gordon runs. Then in the first quarter, Gordon busted free for a 71-yard run that set up OSU’s first score.

Gordon finished with a career-high 18 carries, running for 121 yards (6.7 YPC). But outside of that 71-yard dash (which, again, you can’t totally do because it did happen), the Cowboys as a team carried the ball 24 times for 60 yards (2.6 YPC).

8. The Nixon Touchdown Was Beautiful

After scoring seven points against a Sun Belt team last week, OSU offensive coordinator Kasey Dunn was taking it on the shins on X/Twitter this week.

But, the Jaden Nixon 60-yard touchdown reception was a beautifully designed play. Nixon, OSU’s speed back, motioned out of the backfield to the OSU sideline. Caleb Bacon, a 6-foot-3, 240-pound linebacker, followed him out there and was left on an island. From there it was a simple matter of pitch and catch.

Nixon darted past Bacon (something I would never do), caught a beautifully thrown ball and strolled into the end zone. The Cowboys created a mismatch and exploited it.

OSU’s best plays this year have come when motion was involved. Brennan Presley’s touchdown against Central Arkansas, Presley’s touchdown against Arizona State and now this. Just more of that, please.

9. Cowboys Still Struggling to Get Presley in Space

The Cowboys are still struggling to get Brennan Presley involved after his three-catch, 11-yard day against South Alabama last week.

Presley was targeted six times Saturday. He had a season-low two receptions and nine yards. Perhaps the most worrying part of Presley’s box score was that he had just one yard after catch.

OSU is failing to get one of its most dynamic playmakers the ball in space. When he has room and the ball, good things usually happen. Ollie Gordon got off the milk carton this week; perhaps Presley will against K-State.

10. This Game Was Better, and That’s a Tough Pill to Swallow

So, the defense took a step back against the Cyclones, undoubtedly. But overall, I think this was a better performance than the one the Cowboys put together against South Alabama.

Although moving forward is good, it’s weird to see OSU this far back.

There are ups and downs with most programs, but it’s just hard to imagine that this team was a whisker away from a potential College Football Playoff berth two years ago. The Cowboys beating Notre Dame in the Fiesta Bowl feels as close as the Cowboys beating Stanford in the Fiesta Bowl.

I think the 2023 Cowboys in a lot of ways took a step forward Saturday, but getting better doesn’t necessarily mean the Cowboys are destined for similar successes of the past 20 or so years.

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