The Game According to Guerin: The colossal mismatch left the Cowboys impressed by their conquerors more than discouraged by their shortcomings. Which was the correct way to view it.
ARLINGTON, Texas – Sometimes the numbers are not deceiving at all.
Texas captured its first Big 12 championship since 2009 Saturday with 662 yards to Oklahoma State’s 281, 33 first downs to OSU’s 13, and 49 points to OSU’s 21.
It was a colossal mismatch that left the Cowboys impressed by their conquerors more than discouraged by their own shortcomings.
Which was the correct way to view it.
Reason to feel better about the past
OSU doesn’t have to play this version of Texas again.
Maybe the Longhorns go to the SEC next year and discover that their 2023 resurgence was a mirage. That’s probably up to Alabama’s and Georgia’s defenses catching up to Steve Sarkisian, who appears to have surpassed Lincoln Riley as college football’s most challenging playcaller.
Say the Horns continue to sharpen in their new league. That they don’t put 26 different players on the all-conference team but settle for 10-15. That they don’t beat Bama or Georgia by 28 points in an SEC title game, but they play them for a belt as soon as 2024.
That leaves Mike Gundy a lucky coach not to have with Texas for the foreseeable future.
Gundy entered Saturday’s game 6-2 against the Longhorns over his last eight games, and 9-4 over his last 13.
Had the Horns stuck around the Big 12 instead of bolting for the SEC, it’s likely Gundy wouldn’t have improved on that record for a long time.
Reason to worry about the future
The transfer portal/opt-out counter.
Gundy’s Cowboy Culture isn’t bulletproof from today’s College Football Culture. OSU is no different than anyone else bracing to absorb some losses with the portal officially open for business beginning Monday.
The question, with a New Year’s Six bowl game off the table as of Saturday’s result: How many Cowboys opt out of the team’s slide to the Texas or Pop Tarts Bowl to prepare for whatever they do next?
Does a game against Texas A&M Dec. 27 entice Gundy’s starting 22 to show up in Houston? What about a matchup with North Carolina State Dec. 28 in Orlando?
Coach who can put up his feet and crack a beer: Sarkisian
Gundy has credited Bryan Nardo for hanging tough and making critical adjustments in his first year coordinating defense against FBS competition. That’s fair given the Cowboys’ 9-4 record and appearance in Arlington.
Also fair: Sarkisian had Nardo chasing ghosts in building a 35-14 halftime lead.
Sark turned loose nine different receivers, including Outland Trophy finalist T’Vondre Sweat on a sneaky 2-yard touchdown, on an OSU pass defense that had no answers aside from Nick Martin’s second-quarter interception.
That helped Quinn Ewers to a first-half stat line unseen in a game against either OSU or Oklahoma since Joe Burrow passed the Sooners silly at the 2019 CFP semifinal Peach Bowl.
Coach headed straight back to the film room: Gundy
The head coach’s checklist between now and their bowl game:
✅Reestablish some confidence in Nardo and the defense
✅Find a way to get Ollie Gordon reestablished against defenses that have been keying on him for over a month
✅Figure out a way to light a fire under a team that has been outscored 106-39 over its last four first halves
✅Navigate any changes brought by portal season
✅Come up with gameplans to improve on his 11-6 bowl record
SportsCenter highlight: Martin’s interception
Texas had 28 points and 292 yards after its first four drives. Someone wearing black had to do something as a matter of honor if nothing else.
Enter OSU’s most honorable defender.
Ewers figured he had Xavier Worthy on a short pass over the middle on third-and-13… except Martin had dropped back into short coverage, a rare moment in which Nardo outfoxed Sarkisian.
Martin grabbed his second interception of the season and returned it 27 yards to Texas’ 3-yard line. He would have scored had Worthy not run him down.
OSU did score two plays later on Alan Bowman’s touchdown pass to Rashod Owens, making the score 28-14 and salvaging a little first-half pride.
Name to remember: Sesi Vailahi
OSU was without Gordon backup Jaden Nixon for undisclosed reasons Saturday, meaning Vailahi got two carries and two catches in relief of the Cowboys’ workhorse. It was his only action all season besides carrying four times while mopping up OSU’s 45-3 loss at UCF Nov. 11.
“Shout out to him,” Bowman said. “He played at a high level when we needed him.”
Vailahi is a true freshman from Salt Lake City who, according to his OSU bio, chose the Cowboys over BYU, Nevada, Idaho State, Utah State and Southern Utah.
“I don’t think anybody in this room expected us to be here at the beginning of the season. I think we were picked ninth in the Big 12 preseason… We came up short today, but just to be here is pretty special.” – Bowman
Could you repeat that?
“You guys gave me nice and easy questions, and I appreciate you.” – Gundy, friend of the media, toward the end of his postgame press conference