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Texas Tech Win Induces Red Flags for Oklahoma State

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The Cardiac Cowboys returned to form on Saturday, surviving a wacky tortilla-laden environment in Lubbock to outlast the Red Raiders of Texas Tech, 41-34.

But unlike the Cardiac Cowboys of old, which endeared themselves to the fan base in 2015 with their heart-stopping, last-second wins — a gritty victory in Ames that ended with a Jordan Sterns INT, and an OT win in Morgantown that could’ve easily fell in favor of the Skullet-led Mountaineers come to mind — the new-look 2017 Cardiac Cowboys induce more red flags than a Seahawks-Colts Sunday night football game.

In the preseason, this team had a half-known identity. We knew Mason Rudolph would be a potential Heisman candidate. We knew James Washington would pick up where he left off after torching Colorado in the Alamo Bowl. We knew Justice Hill would once again be an All-American candidate.

But for every absolute, we also knew there were flaws hiding in the shadows.

Replacing NFL talent Ashton Lampkin and Lenzy Pipkins at cornerback? A.J. Green and Rodarius Williams are, at the very least, serviceable on the outside. And Adrian Baker! Missing Jordan Sterns’ production? Tre Flowers and Ramon Richards are uber-talented center-fielders! Depth at offensive line a concern? Hey, have you seen the Cal transfer? He’s bigger than my three-quarter ton pickup truck!

The only problem is that we are, after all, fans. As such, we’re glass half-full humans, and see our team through a lens of optimism. But after a close call against Texas Tech, it’s time to chug some of that half-full Kool-Aid down and look at what we know about this team.

First, we know the defense can’t get off the field. Currently, Oklahoma State ranks 114th in third down defense, allowing a 46 percent conversion rate – a mark that ranks second to last in the conference just ahead of Iowa State (and out of a total 130 teams at the FBS level). The team with the highest rate in the Big 12 to win the conference since 2010 was when OU did it in 2016 allowing a 43 percent conversion rate.

Second, we know that OSU’s pass defense on the whole hasn’t been championship level thus far. Through five games, the Cowboy defense is giving up an average of 233.6 yards per game through the air. That’s against QBs that, to my untrained eye, don’t sniff the talents of Baker Mayfield or Will Grier or Jacob Park. No offense to Kenny Hill, but he ain’t exactly the kind of QB who typically upends top-10 teams’ seasons, yet OSU made him look like Johnny Football in Stillwater.

Now, a below average defense isn’t a new thing for OSU. But offensively, this team doesn’t seem to have the juice many thought it had.

On Saturday, Oklahoma State – a team most consider to be a top-10 team – struggled to put away a Texas Tech team that flat out stinks. Even taking the environment into consideration, the Red Raiders really aren’t a great or even good football team. And yet OSU managed to stumble over its feet time-after-time, making what should have been a four-touchdown victory a nail-biter to the end.

An ill-advised throw turned pick-six got the Lubbock crowd rocking early, and a costly personal foul penalty on a bench player later in the game culminated in what was a 2-minute-long end-game meltdown on live television that nearly undid the Pokes. Self-inflicted mistakes, which aren’t a Mike Gundy calling card, are what nearly cost the team a win on Saturday after seemingly having the game in check going into the fourth quarter.

A win is a win, I’ll admit. And there’s something to be said for gritting out a road win and bouncing back after a demoralizing defeat to TCU. But 4-1 could have just as easily been 3-2, and with little-to-no margin for error moving forward after that stunning Big 12-opening loss to TCU, you’d think this team would have a little more in it than just surviving and advancing against what will likely be a middle-of-the-road Big 12 team when it’s said and done.

After this close win, we could look at this team with that same glass half-full outlook. They survived a tough environment. Look at the grit! The Cardiac Cowboys are back! Or, we could take a page out of the 2015 season’s playbook and see the red flags for what they are: warning signs that this team might not have the juice to compete for a Big 12 title.

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