Jalen McCleskey caught the ball from Mason Rudolph, looking for a play, a miracle or anything, but what he and his offensive counterparts had put on Saturday.
McCleskey looked around and just chucked the ball. The Cowboys had been moving the ball well despite being behind and this was the play that would bring OSU back into the good graces of the fans and media – both who had idolized this offense.
The ball was caught; but not by anyone McCleskey wanted as TCU intercepted it and effectively ended any chance of a comeback, however unlikely it seemed before McCleskey’s throw anyway.
Following any last-ditch efforts to make up for the double pass, OSU lost 44-31 to TCU, ending the thoughts of an undefeated season and making the dream of a College Football Playoff berth closer to fiction than a reality.
OSU coach Mike Gundy knew it, and he owned up to it in the postgame press conference, because he already wanted to move on. All the coaches and players, as well, wanted to forget the atrocity they had committed Saturday in Boone Pickens Stadium.
It wasn’t exactly a crime, but you could sense it was something bad as some fans fled toward the exits while others stayed because somehow, the Cowboys still had a chance to win late in the game.
OSU lost those few chances in the same manner it had throughout the game and the same things Gundy claimed after the game. The No. 6 Cowboys had been outcoached by an underrated No. 16 TCU squad helmed by Gary Patterson. They had been undisciplined on both sides of the ball and most of all, coaches and players both had been not smart.
“They had better plans and their players executed their plans better than we did,” Gundy said.
The Horned Frogs (4-0 overall, 1-0 Big 12) had been disrespected, Patterson said, and Saturday they showed the national media that the unstoppable OSU offense could be stopped, and it wasn’t that hard either.
OSU had been known for its quick-strike offense, and Saturday it stuck with the quick drives, but not for a good reason.
“You want rhythm and you want to go, and at the same time keep your defense off the field as much as you possibly can,” OSU offensive coordinator Mike Yurcich said. “Our identity has been tempo, so we continued to try to go fast at times and when you aren’t moving the ball well, it becomes a factor. That is a heck of a thing.”
The Cowboys (3-1, 0-1) never found that rhythm as the offense struggled mightily whether it was running back Justice Hill failing to find consistency or quarterback Mason Rudolph looking out of sync most of the game.
There was expected to be some slowdown given that starting right tackle Zach Crabtree was out with turf toe and right guard Larry Williams was lost for the season prior to the matchup. However, no one expected this amount of ineptitude.
OSU ran for 101 yards compared to 238 for the Horned Frogs, a number that Gundy characterized as abysmal.
However, many times the offense had chances to get something going, the defense had double to stop TCU’s momentum.
Time and time again on third down, the Cowboy defense failed, with the Horned Frogs converting 11 of 19 and 10 of 14 before a valiant effort to get back in the game ended with McCleskey’s pass.
Chad Whitener, the redshirt senior leader of the OSU linebacking corps, admitted there wasn’t anything TCU quarterback Kenny Hill was doing, but he and the defense ultimately still failed.
“They came with a really good scheme and executed better than we executed our defense,” Whitener said.
The offense and defense were outperformed, but the OSU special teams were part of the “not smart” comments of Gundy’s presser.
The Cowboys had some momentum at one point early in the first quarter with the defense forcing TCU to punt. On the punt return, redshirt freshman cornerback Rodarius Williams dove for the ball though it was supposed to be a fair catch situation, Gundy later explained.
These situations didn’t help with the hole OSU was trying to get out of and though it did eventually take its only lead of the game later, the defense would never have that success later when it counted.
“I just saw the ball and tried to make a play for some reason, I don’t know why,” Williams said.
Many of the plays the Cowboys had Saturday were ones that made many say the same thing, “I don’t know why.” Gundy said they can’t let the one game define them.
Although the road to the Cowboys’ lofty dream has become a lot harder, he just wants to focus on getting better and hopefully having his team perform so that down the road, he wont have to rely on a low-percentage trick play.
“It will make it difficult to come back (to the CFP hunt), but I don’t think any time you are completely out,” Gundy said. “We are still going play teams that are ranked really high and we have a chance to play well. … We’ve got guys that are really good players and we have areas where we are young, When you’re like that, each week is a challenge.”