October 27, 2008

Missed it by that much

For the first time this season, Oklahoma State has been thrown for a loss.

Saturday's game, a 28-24 slugfest won by top-ranked Texas, was an instant classic. Of course, that doesn't mean a whole lot to the team and fan base on the losing side of them.

And while the team is not happy with the loss, they're said to be in good spirits. Head coach Mike Gundy says his team realizes what's done is done.

"Guys that are going to Wall Street every day, they're not having really good days, but they've got to show up the next day and hope it gets better," Gundy said. "We've had a lot of good days here this year and we came up short (Saturday) but there's only one thing left to do and that's go back to work tomorrow and I think they understand that. They realize that you can't change the outcome so you might as well try to make it better next week."

And that's what they'll have to do, as the Cowboys take on Iowa State this weekend. The team arrived back in Stillwater on Saturday evening to a solid throng of fans in orange wanting to show support for the team.

"There were quite a few people out there," Gundy said. "In fact, probably more people out there than I had ever seen. I'm sure the players enjoyed that. Everyone likes to hear they've done a nice job."

While that is certainly true, and while the Cowboys did turn in a nice performance against the Longhorns, coming within five points of a win in Austin wasn't enough for this bunch. And Gundy - who has seen plenty of OSU teams in his days - says this group of Pokes isn't satisfied with a near-miss.

"The encouraging thing about this team is finishing the game four points behind them wasn't enough for them," he said. "I'm not so sure that, in years past, you go way back, that there's been teams that would have been satisfactory. But they expected to win the game, they prepared for it but they came up short. For those people to show up and show their support and their loyalty to the team, that always makes you feel good."

So now the Cowboys are saddled with their first loss of the year. The rankings weren't too hard on them, as they're now 9th in the AP and BCS Rankings, meaning they'll have chances to climb back up over the last quarter of the season. But they don't control their own destiny anymore when it comes to making it to the Big 12 championship game. Now they need to win out and have the Horns trip up to have a shot at Kansas City.

Even so, Gundy says the mindset and objectives are no different now than they were before the last game.

"Our goal is to just to prepare to play well and have a chance to win every Saturday," Gundy said. "And when it's all said and done, our goal is to win a Big 12 championship. And when you look back, last year the team that won it had two losses. And the team that won a national championship had two losses. So you've got to continue to play every game. You never know what's going to happen. You see it on all the scores across the country. It doesn't matter who is playing who is playing very well and who may not be playing that well. If you're not ready to play that Saturday, you take a chance on getting beat."

The Pokes' special teams have been very solid this year. So much so, other teams are respecting the abilities of the returners that they've actively tried to avoid them. That was no different this past weekend. The question is, will it continue the rest of the season? Are more short kicks in store?

"We'll get some of that, it just depends on the philosophy of the kickoff team and what they feel like their strengths are in coverage and what they feel like their strengths are in coverage," Gundy said. "It's not the easiest thing to do. You'd think that just kicking the ball high and putting it in a certain spot would be easy to achieve, but it's more difficult than you think."

But opponents might not like what happens if they do decide to go short on kickoffs. The Cowboys have some weapons up close as well.

"We're fortunate this year," Gundy said. "Beau Johnson is up there and (Donald) Booker is up there. And Booker has done a nice job for us and he's athletic and so is Beau Johnson. There have been years where you worry about that but we practice it and try to keep those guys ready to go and they do a good job."

In the case of Booker, when did the coaches discover that he had the ability to be a factor on returns?

"Early in the year," Gundy said. "They do a lot of drills on defense catching passes and stuff. He's very athletic and has good hand-eye coordination. So we knew he'd be a good player on those teams. He plays fearless and is very physical."

Every Sunday, the major polls are released, usually in the early afternoon. When hearing that fellow Big 12 South team Texas Tech moved up in the national rankings, Gundy had this to say:

"Good, they should have."

Already thinking ahead to taking down a Tech team on the road in two weeks? Maybe not, but Gundy realizes if OSU can beat ISU this weekend, then goes on the road and takes down Tech, the Cowboys can move up higher in the top 10. That's important for things down the road, especially a possible BCS bowl bid after the season ends.

But for now, Gundy just has this to say about the polls:

"I just want my team to play good and take care of ourselves and don't worry about the rest of them. Pretty tough division to be in, though."

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