Following his team’s fourth loss on the year — and maybe its most gut-wrenching — Mike Gundy had plenty to say about the dozen penalties for 100-plus yards that helped fuel a Baylor comeback win in the final seconds.
On Monday, as he debriefed the media on Week 10 and previewed a Week 11 Bedlam matchup, the subject was predictably broached again. But this time, he got more specific. The Pokes have struggled with a lack of discipline all season, and Gundy credited a lack of veteran leadership as at least a part of the issue.
“Some of it is youth. Some of it is immaturity. Some of it is when they get frustrated,” Gundy said. “Some of it is maybe they’re getting a little fatigued and they’re a little [out] of position, so they’re reaching and grabbing and things like that. There is no easy answer, but we’ll come up with one.”
To his point, the Cowboys lost six starters on offense and four on defense to exhausted eligibility during the offseason — as well as senior receiver Jalen McCleskey, who transferred after four games. All in all, OSU is without 25 lettermen from a year ago. But Gundy did name off a few of his players who have taken up the leadership mantle and seem poised to carry it into the future, past this apparent year of rebuilding. Two that he mentioned as among the more vocal of OSU’s locker room were his top receivers, Tyron Johnson and Tylan Wallace.
Johnson, the polarizing junior, has a big personality to match his big-time talent (that we’ve actually seen on the field this year). With the departure of guys like James Washington, Marcell Ateman and Chris Lacy, he has seen his role as a leader increase along with his production.
“I just try to get the team fired up as much as I can,” said Johnson. “I try to do as much as I can to help us win. So if that’s me being more of a vocal leader, then that’s what I have to do.”
Johnson was not called for one of OSU season-high 12 penalties against Baylor — and has only had two accepted penalties all year — but he was asked how to reduce those aforementioned transgressions. He spoke more like Gundy’s mouthpiece than the flashy persona might lead you to expect.
“Just pay attention to detail and trust the technique,” Johnson said. “Sometimes players get out of position and really shy away from stuff we’ve been practicing all week, and that leads penalties. It starts with the small stuff like wearing the right clothes to practice, going to class on time. Discipline runs off the field too.
“Just preparation, practice. Having a good practice only give us a chance to win. So we try to come in, try to work our tails off and get back on track.”
The true sophomore Wallace is far from a vet. He played in all 13 games a year ago but totaled just seven catches for 118 yards (his per-game average through nine games).
“Tylan Wallace is doing well too [at leading], but he is young,” Gundy said. “Last year he played not even one game. He has only played nine games in his life so it’s hard for him to step up and be that guy. But he is going to, he will be this time next year.”
But Wallace speaks about his team like he’s ready to lead now. I can only imagine what he’s like in the locker room.
“I want to see, as a team, if we can go out there and fight,” Wallace said about the upcoming matchup in Norman. “Just because we’re not as ranked as high as we were last year or have won as many games as we did.
“I wanna see if we can all still got out there as a team and still fight even though it’s not going the way we want it to this season. I wanna see if we can go out there and still put up a fight.”
Johnson echoed Wallace’s sentiment referencing perseverance and resiliency.
“We gotta keep fighting,” said Johnson. “Even though it’s kind of a down year for the program, we can’t lay down and forfeit the rest of the games. We gotta play. So we playing to win, not to lose.”
Winning and losing comes down to a lot more than just the confidence of wide receivers. If it were that easy Kasey Dunn would be a head coach. And not all leaders lead in the same way. Justice Hill and Taylor Cornelius aren’t the type to give long drawn-out answers. Gundy has made no bones about his team’s on-field results being a direct reflection of his staff’s ability to coach. But it’s got to be refreshing to see two of your best players ready to hold each other accountable as well as rally the troops.
As he mentioned, “The peers are way more powerful than the coaches.”