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Experience of Gundy, Cowboys Key to Not Repeating Historic Mistakes



Friday night games don’t come around every year and they have rarely reaped positive results for the Cowboys. Mike Gundy has only been a head coach in six of them and his record is a disappointing 2-4 (including bowl games).

The first time a Gundy-coached squad suited up on Friday was in 2007. The 1-1 Cowboys started the season with a 21-point loss at No. 13 Georgia and a 42-6 blowout of Florida Atlantic. What followed was a sad Week-3 trip to Troy, Alabama to face the Trojans.

Most of us remember how that trip ended, and it’s not something Gundy will ever forget. The loss was still fresh on the mind of the third-year head coach when he made his infamous rant eight days later.

During this week’s press conference, the 13th-year, 50-year old version of Mike Gundy was asked about the upcoming seventh episode Friday Night Fights and how it might resemble the first.

“I think we’re a better team now,” said Gundy. “That was really early in my career and how we got to this point I’m not sure. When you go play down there, the field is still 52 yards wide. I think our organization and our program is more mature now than it was in years past.

“We’re still vulnerable at all times, and it’s never as comforting to play on the road as it is to play at home. Our players understand that and we’ve had those discussions. We’re holding them responsible for preparation and playing like we’re playing at home.”

One of those players who will be held responsible for getting himself and his teammates ready is senior quarterback Mason Rudolph. He hasn’t exactly been in this situation but he’s no stranger to fluky non-conference games and the type of traps they can present.

But Rudolph echoed his head coach’s sentiment, putting trust in the veteran group.

“I think any game, no matter the ranking or who you’re playing or where you’re playing. If you’ve got veteran leaders, experienced guys who have been through all types of game situations where you’re expected to win, you’re the favorite, it’s great.

“You know how to kind of approach each and every game each and every environment you’re going to play in whether it’s a hundred thousand in Austin or 30 or 40 (thousand) down in Mobile. It’s definitely a plus.”

Speaking of attendance, QB1 was being a little generous. Ladd Peebles Stadium in Mobile holds a capacity of 40,600 but the Jaguars averaged an attendance of just 16,250 last season.

Now in its sixth year as an FBS football program, South Alabama has welcomed two Power 5 schools as well as Air Force and Navy. The biggest crowd drawn was 38,129 for 11th-ranked Ole Miss in 2013. When North Carolina State came to town in 2015, the crowd totaled merely 21,314.

How much of a local splash does another No. 11 vistor in Oklahoma State make in SEC country and how much of an imprint does that make on the outcome the upcoming contest?

Record crowd or not, South Alabama is probably no Troy of a decade ago. But that doesn’t mean it should be taken lightly, even if the Cowboys have grown to a 28.5-point favorite.

“It’s a good team that we’re playing this week and I know the score was maybe a little lopsided against Ole Miss, but athletically they’re as good as half of the teams in our league, in my opinion,” said Gundy.

“Last year, they [South Alabama] beat Mississippi State and San Diego State and then lost some they probably felt like they should’ve won. We’ve got to go on the road, so we’ll pack our guys up and head down there early on Thursday and get ready to roll Friday night.”

So when the Cowboys make the trip to Mobile (just 170 miles southwest of Troy), they should be ready. This doesn’t seem like the type of game that trips up a team full of veterans who know exactly what messing around with a lesser team in Week 2 can get you.

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