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10 Thoughts on Oklahoma State’s 43-30 Victory against Houston

On Presley, Gordon and two back-breaking moments from Houston.



[Devin Wilber/PFB]


HOUSTON — Sans a monsoon, the start to the Cowboys’ bout with the Cougars looked awfully similar to the Pokes’ trip to Orlando last week, but then they got rolling again.

Oklahoma State beat Houston 43-30 on Saturday at TDECU Stadium, pushing OSU to 8-3 on the year and still in the fight to go to Arlington to compete for a Big 12 championship. Here are 10 thoughts on the game.

1. The Brennan Presley Game

Remember early in the year when we were all hollering about OSU not being able to get Brennan Presley involved? Well that wasn’t an issue Saturday.

Presley set career highs in receptions (15) and yards (189) on the day. Presley was a catch away from tying for the program record for receptions in a game — a record that was set in 1949. It felt like Presley was the first read of nearly every passing play. He was particularly effective on a motion the Dolphins made famous with Tyreek Hill where Presley starts in the slot but then starts motioning to the sideline, essentially giving him a Canadian Football League running start on his route. Presley said after the game that motion is fun in games, but not so much in practice when it feels like he is getting some extra conditioning in.

That’s the type of creativity Cowboy fans have been yearning for when it comes to Presley, who is and always has been a menace to opposing defenses when he gets the ball in his hands.

Presley had 11 catches of more than 10 yards and five of more than 15. His longest catch of the day was a 27-yard completion.

To further put Presley’s day in perspective, he averaged 5.2 catches for 46.7 yards in OSU’s first 1o games of this season. He about tripled both of those averages against the Cougars, all while looking like the veteran version of the true freshman who caught three touchdowns against Miami and the guy who had a 10-catch, 137-yard outing in a Fiesta Bowl win against Notre Dame as a sophomore.

2. Ollie Is Inevitable

Ollie Gordon looked like a good but mortal running back in Bedlam. He looked mortal again in Orlando. But Saturday, he proved that he is at least some demigod version of Thanos — inevitable.

OSU’s superstar tailback was held in check in the first half against Houston, running for 38 yards on nine carries, but as he has done so well all year, he closed.

Gordon ran for 126 yards and three touchdowns in the second half alone Saturday, reigniting his hype train. That meant he finished the game with 164 yards and the three scores.

The first half was weird. Gordon has been banged up — a product of 211 carries now on the season. He even one-foot hopped to the sideline at one point late in the first half. So the idea of not force-feeding the back to keep him fresh makes sense. However, Gordon didn’t get a carry on OSU’s first two drives, and while his carries were limited, Gordon was targeted five times in the passing game. So, his involvement wasn’t as limited as the nine first-half carries suggest.

The Cougars were also loading the box, a concept that isn’t new for defenses facing OSU at this point. That opened up the RPO game that got Presley so involved. Then Gordon got rolling in the second and Houston was out of answers.

All’s well that ends well. When the Cougar defense was grinded down, Gordon kept them down.

On OSU’s first possession out of halftime, there was a play where Gordon lined up alongside Bowman in the backfield before motioning all the way out to the numbers. He then ran a slant route, looking like a veteran wide receiver, for an 18-yard gain.

His size might lead you to believe that Gordon isn’t as effective in the pass game, but with his five catches Saturday, he now ranks third on the team in receptions behind only Presley and Rashod Owens.

Gordon probably isn’t going to win the Heisman Trophy — unless he runs for 500 yards against BYU next week. But if he can secure the Doak Walker, it’d be the first time an OSU player has won a major individual award since James Washington’s Biletnikoff in 2017. Another cool thing: no OSU player has won the Doak Walker because it started being handed out in 1990 — aka BB (Before Barry). (Chuba Hubbard was screwed in 2019.)

3. Houston Will Be Kicking Itself

Two Cougar miscues changed the complexion of this game.

The first came near the end of the first quarter. The Cougars had a 14-3 lead and just forced the Cowboys into a three-and-out deep in OSU territory before Jamal Morris picked up an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty for taunting Gordon after a tackle.

That gave OSU a first down for what should’ve been a punt. With that newfound life, the Cowboys marched down the field and scored their first touchdown of the game. Houston should’ve gotten the ball back with a 14-3 lead, but instead it was now 14-9.

Then midway through the second quarter, the Cougars tackled Gordon in his own end zone after a beautiful punt, forcing a safety and giving Houston a 23-9 lead at the time. Houston got the ball back, as is customary for a safety, but Donovan Smith threw an interception to Trey Rucker with just over two minutes left until halftime. The Cowboys again turned that Cougar mishap into a touchdown, cutting the Houston lead to 23-16.

If neither of those plays happen, the Cowboys would’ve been in a real hole, and as has been discussed this season, OSU isn’t exactly built to come from behind. That gave OSU life going into the locker room after the Pokes drove for a field goal as the half expired, and the snowball was too big for Houston to stop in the second half.

4. Bowman Bounces Back after Rough First Quarter

Alan Bowman threw a pick-six on OSU’s second drive of the game, and all a sudden after protecting the ball so well through OSU’s five-game winning streak, Bowman had more interceptions than touchdown passes.

He finished the first quarter having captained the OSU offense to three points while going 11-for-17 for 77 yards (one of his completions involved Presley making an other-worldly catch before nearly getting decapitated). Alarm bells were ringing after the Cowboys looked bad in last weekend’s monsoon, but like the veteran he is, Bowman settled and went 18-for-26 for 271 yards and two scores from then on out — pushing his touchdown-to-interception ratio back into the positive in the process.

He threw some beautiful balls during that time, particularly on fade routes. He threw a looping, perfectly placed pass to Jaden Bray for OSU’s first touchdown of the day. He then gave the physically imposing Leon Johnson III a chance with another end zone fade for Bowman’s second touchdown of the day.

Then with OSU nursing a 36-30 lead late in the fourth, Bowman led a 10-play, 78-yard drive to ice things. That drive included Bowman going 3-for-4 for 46 yards, including a great ball to Rashod Owens on a go-route for a 36-yard gain.

5. Game-Icing Drive

Speaking of that 10-play, 78-yard drive, it was perhaps the most in control OSU’s offense has looked over the past two weeks and it came at a great time.

The Cougars wouldn’t go away when Donovan Smith scored on a 31-yard run with 7:30 to play to cut OSU’s lead to 36-30. The Cowboys’ defense hadn’t had its greatest game, so it was paramount the Pokes’ offense got the lead back to two scores. It did that and took some time off the clock in the process.

It started with a 6-yard pass to Presley, then Gordon ripped off a 10-yard run. The nickel and diming continued to the Houston 46 when Bowman hit Owens for that 36-yard gain to the Houston 10. A few plays later, Gordon was in the end zone again, and the Cowboys’ lead was back up to two scores after they drained 5:04 off the clock. Great stuff.

6. A Sign of Growth

The Cowboys got molly whopped in Orlando, and the start of Saturday’s game didn’t look much different.

Was a repeat of last season’s collapse imminent? No. The Cowboys fought through a rough start in H Town, battled and kept their season alive.

After getting molly whopped in Manhattan last season, the wheels fell off the Cowboys’ season. Although they’re not out of the woods yet — still needing a solid performance against BYU next week — this was a welcome sign after the debacle that was last season.

7. Welcome Back, Jaden Bray

When OSU traveled to Orlando last week, the Cowboys did so with four quarterbacks and six receivers.

That’s sort of hilarious. Each receiver nearly had his own quarterback to catch passes from. But that’s just sort of where the Cowboys’ receiver room is at right now.

Enter Jaden Bray, who played in his first game in nearly a month after getting injured in Morgantown. Still working his way back into things, Bray didn’t play a ton Saturday. He was targeted only once, and he made the most of it.

Bray caught a beautiful touchdown fade in the second quarter. It was OSU’s first touchdown of the game.

It was a great ball from Bowman, but that’s a tough catch to make, rainbowing over Bray’s head with a defender in the area.

8. Nickolas Martin’s Speed Is Underrated

Nickolas Martin makes double-digit tackle games look pedestrian at this point.

OSU’s middle linebacker, Martin finished with 12 tackles Saturday, including a sack and a trio of tackles for loss. But what perhaps stood out most about Martin’s game Saturday was his speed. If you just watch him on any given play, he runs so fast that it looks like he could run on water.

There are many times where he comes on a delayed blitz, starting as essentially spying the quarterback before he takes off downhill and flushes the quarterback out of the pocket. There was once or twice where he overran a play, but he causes so much chaos that regardless of whether he gets the guy on the ground (he usually does), the play gets off schedule for the offense.

He is up to 112 tackles on the season. Malcolm Rodriguez had 129 in 2021. Martin still has at least two (perhaps three) more games to eclipse that. Martin could also find himself in the top-10 list for tackles in a season for OSU. There are three players tied with 134 tackles at No. 10. For how historic making that list would be for Martin: it has been since 1985 when someone last broke into the top 10 — James Ham with 134 tackles.

9. Defense Settles after Explosive First Half

After OSU gave up 45 points last week and 23 points in the first half Saturday (seven of which were via pick-six and not on the defense), my mentions weren’t the biggest Bryan Nardo fans.

But as has started to become somewhat customary, Nardo’s defense locked things down in the second half, holding the Cougars to seven points and 144 yards of total offense.

It felt like a big change to that was the Cowboys getting more pressure on Smith — something that is probably easier to do when you are defending a lead and can pin your ears back a little.

Martin and Collin Oliver each sacked Smith in the second half, the Cowboys’ only two sacks of the game. In the first quarter, Smith had back-to-back completions. The first was a 16-yard gash and the second was a 60-yard touchdown. Smith looked as if he could’ve filed his taxes in the pocket during both of those plays. In the first half, Smith completed 65% of his passes for 198 yards. In the second half, he completed 54% of his passes for only 65 yards.

10. Arlington Is Still Within Reach

As I’m writing this, the Texas-Iowa State and Kansas-Kansas State are ongoing, but regardless of those results, OSU isn’t going to clinch a spot nor lose a spot in Arlington by night’s end.

What was important from Saturday was that the Cowboys found a way to win. It wasn’t always pretty, but they did that. If the favorites win out, the Cowboys will go back to Arlington for the second time in the past three years.

It looked at times Saturday that BYU might do the Cowboys a favor in more ways than one and bump the Sooners from contention, but OU escaped Provo with a 31-24 win. Now if you’re an OSU fan, you wouldn’t mind a Kansas State loss or Texas winning out. Either of those things are good for OSU. This gets weird if the Cyclones upset Texas, but as things stand, the Cowboys are still in a good position to play for another conference title.

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