The Oklahoma State Cowboys came into the opener with the Florida State Seminoles as heavy underdogs, and with good reason. The Cowboys had to replace eight starters on defense, and it was hard to fathom the possibility of them keeping up with the Florida State offense.
As it turned out the Cowboys did keep up, but that had more to do with Florida State’s struggles than anything else.
The Cowboys should have left that game feeling more confident about their prospects in Big 12 play, certainly, but they probably didn’t hang around with Florida State because they are an elite team. The Seminoles struggled Saturday night, the way teams often do in the first week of the season. They were rusty, and it showed.
But the Cowboys did not shut down Florida State’s offense, and they did not shred FSU’s defense. The Seminoles put up nearly 500 yards of total offense, while Oklahoma State’s best hope in this game — their offense — managed only 364 yards. The Seminoles were also clearly better in yards per play, with an average of 6.7 compared to 5.2 for Oklahoma State.
The things that kept the Cowboys in the game were the little things that are so often overlooked in games like this. They were opportunistic on special teams and capitalized on good field position. Oklahoma State out-gained the Seminoles 205-to-55 in kick return yards which, combined with Jameis Winston‘s two interceptions, helped the Cowboys work against a short field fairly regularly. The Cowboys scored 10 of their 31 points after drives of fewer than 40 yards. They also got seven more points on one big 55-yard touchdown pass.
But the big moment that made the game truly uncomfortable for the ‘Noles came after a 39-yard drive that J.W. Walsh capped off with a three-yard touchdown run. That play closed the gap to 37-31 with 1:55 to go in the game.
Without the Cowboys’ excellent field position on that drive, Florida State may have won 37-24, with the possibility that the margin of victory could have grown even more. Then there wouldn’t be quite as much talk about the Cowboys scaring the Florida State; it would just be slightly surprising that the game wasn’t more of a blowout.
The Cowboys could still be a very good team in 2014, but they haven’t proven that they can compete for a Big 12 title yet. The did give the Seminoles a scare this week, but when the Cowboys have to face the Baylor Bears and the Oklahoma Sooners, the Bears and the Sooners won’t have to shake off any rust, which could make for a very different outcome for Oklahoma State.