STILLWATER, Okla. — Two days after a stunning 30-27 loss to Central Michigan that came on a final untimed play that officials later admitted shouldn’t have been awarded, Oklahoma State just wanted to forget about it and move on.
While Cowboys coach Mike Gundy admitted that he didn’t sleep well Saturday night and that the details of the dramatic ending to the Central Michigan game will continue to haunt him, he knows that if his team played the way it was capable of, the controversy wouldn’t have been an issue.
“A little bit more frustration because so many different variables could have changed it,” Gundy said of his emotions on Saturday after the game ended. “When I’m involved in a game like that, that’s something that will come across my mind 500 times, if I live long enough. Whether I’m driving, sitting in the shower or a bath tub, sleeping and wake up in the middle of the night — forever. Those games don’t ever get away from you.
“They came down here, we were more talented than them and they beat us on our field, so if we’d have played better during the game, it wouldn’t have happened.”
One aspect of that game the Cowboys (1-1), who dropped out of the Top 25 , need to address before facing Pittsburgh at home next Saturday is their ineffective running game that produced just 50 yards on 26 carries.
Gundy acknowledged that his team needed to be better running the ball and that they gave up on it a bit earlier than they should have. Overall, not counting four sacks on quarterback Mason Rudolph and his other scrambles, Oklahoma State handed the ball off just 16 times in the contest while Rudolph made 43 throws.
“We have to find a way to move the ball on the ground some, in order to set up everything else we do,” Gundy said. “We don’t have to re-structure what we do and who we are, we’ve got to continue to get better at it. We abandoned the run too early in the last game, and that’s what happens sometimes when you press a little bit. That was the thing we would correct in the game, going back.”
At the same time, Gundy also noted that he thought Oklahoma State’s running game, which ranked 114th in the nation (out of 128 FBS schools) last season with 126.8 yards per game, had actually improved, and that the stats didn’t tell the whole story.
“We had two plays where we (had missed assignments) in the running game,” Gundy said. “Other than that, we improved. Everybody’s sitting there saying, ‘You averaged (1.9) yards per carry, you’ve lost your mind.’ We also had 27 yards in sacks, and what we look for in our running game is covering guys up and our backs being aggressive in running. I thought we had that. We were better and we need to continue to be better. (Facing Pitt) will be a real challenge.”
Freshman Justice Hill led the Cowboys with 31 yards rushing on five carries. Chris Carson gained 27 on eight carries, while also pulling in four receptions for 52 yards. Jeff Carr, their leading rusher in the season opening 61-7 win over Southeastern Louisiana with 42 yards and a touchdown on six rushes, was in the game for only a handful of plays and did not touch the ball once, while Rennie Childs and Barry J. Sanders only got one carry each.
“We abandoned it early and it all got reduced,” Gundy said of the ball distribution Saturday. “(Hill) needs to touch it more. I liked Chris’ attitude and the way he’s playing right now. Over the next month, we’ll see how he does, because we’re going to be playing guys that are physical and fast and can hit you. That’s where we may need all of them. We needed 8 to 10 more carries.”
Gundy and Rudolph both felt confident that the team would be able to put the disappointment of their loss behind them, and that everyone would be able to re-focus on a difficult upcoming opponent in Pitt (2-0).
“I think with everything in life there’s always going to be setbacks or adversity,” said Rudolph, who completed 27 of 43 passes for 286 yards and two touchdowns, along with one interception, against Central Michigan. “That’s when you find out who you are as a leader and who you are as a team. This team is experienced and has a lot of leadership so we’ll be just fine. We can’t wait to get back out there again.”