Game poses many questions, few solutions

Mike Finger
Daily Texan Staff

STILLWATER, Okla. -- They were the kinds of words that Orangebloods expected to hear this season in postgame locker rooms. Texas fans knew that there would be blowouts, and they figured that coaches would eventually be thanking the victors for not running up the score.

But they never would have thought it would be their own coach doing the thanking.

In a moment that epitomizes the progression of two different football programs, the head coach of a team that has won three national championships and 26 conference titles thanked Oklahoma State for calling off the hounds in the Cowboys' 42-16 romp.

"I really think [OSU coach Bob Simmons] had a lot of class in the way he handled the game," Longhorns head coach John Mackovic said. "At the very end they kind of pulled everybody off. I really have a lot of regard for someone like that."

After being ranked No. 10 in the country as little as three weeks ago, Texas has been thrust into a desperate downward spiral, falling from a possible national contender to a team that will have its work cut out for it if the Horns hope to receive any kind of bowl invitation.

Texas had already suffered one lopsided loss this year before Saturday, a 66-3 shellacking at the hands of UCLA, and the Horns didn't look overly impressive in wins over Rutgers and Rice. And while their disappointing start appears to place them in the lower echelon of Division I football, players insist that the team is better than it has looked on game days.

"I feel like we're a good team that's struggling," said running back Ricky Williams, who the Cowboys corralled for 79 yards on 16 carries. "We've shown flashes of brilliance, we just make way too many mistakes."

Among those mistakes and marks of underachievement on Saturday:

* The Horns' defensive unit continued its dismal performance against the run, yielding 289 yards and four rushing touchdowns. Oklahoma State ran the ball at will throughout the contest, and its relentless domination of Texas' front seven was the main reason that the Cowboys handily won the time-of-possession battle, 36:08-23:52.

Defensive coordinator Bobby Jack Wright's new 4-3 scheme was supposed to avoid that kind of result, but a combination of injuries and underexecution has caused a severe lack of production. Adjustments to the defensive lineup made after the UCLA loss have been unsuccessful, and Mackovic said the coaching staff is running out of options.

"You have to be able to stick with what you believe in even when it doesn't look good to someone else," Mackovic said. "Our defense doesn't look good now, and I'll be the first to admit it. We've just got to stick with it and find the right formula."

* For the fourth time in as many games this year, Texas dug itself in an early hole on Saturday with an abundance of first-quarter penalties and mental mistakes. In fact, Oklahoma State had already jumped out to a 15-0 lead by the time the Horns earned their initial first down, and Texas managed to move the sticks only once more before halftime.

Then, when the Horns received great field position at the OSU 41 to begin their first possession of the second half, a holding call pushed Texas back across midfield and a pair of incompletions forced a punt.

"That's the story of the year for us," Mackovic said. "We just haven't made the plays."

* The Texas offense, once considered to be one of the premiere fireworks-producers in the nation, sputtered miserably against the Cowboys. Quarterback James Brown turned in a solid performance, but his inexperienced wide receivers dropped at least eight passes on the day, forcing the Horns to rely on Williams for yardage.

That proved to be difficult, however, because the Oklahoma State defense was able to stack the line of scrimmage after the Horns were ineffective through the air. The result -- a 240-yard total offense output, which represented the Horns' lowest total since 1994.

"It's impossible," Williams said of Texas' attempts to move the football. "When you can't pass, you can't run."

But the Horns still have seven games to play in the regular season, and although things look bleak, there is still the possibility that something positive can be salvaged. That glimmer of hope, along with pride, are the only things that Texas is clinging to.

"There's not a man on this earth that wouldn't be down after losing a game," linebacker Dusty Renfro said. "But we've just got to come back and persevere. That's what football's all about."

Win turns tables from '97 debacle

Jeff McDonald
Daily Texan Staff

STILLWATER, Okla. -- Blame it on Kool and the Gang.

As the Lewis Field public address system blared the '80s pop classic "Celebration" in the waning moments of Oklahoma State's 42-16 win over the visiting Texas Longhorns, jubilant OSU players -- accompanied by 43,100 of their closest friends -- couldn't help but take the song's lyrics to heart.

With 4:21 to play, OSU defenders Jamal Williams and Brandon Ashley sacked UT's James Brown, and then lauded their own efforts a bit too vigorously, drawing a personal foul penalty for taunting.

Never mind that it was the Cowboys' third revelry-related infraction of the afternoon. There was just too much to celebrate for the home team to keep quiet.

"Sweet victory," OSU coach Bob Simmons said in his squad's raucous postgame conference room. "We haven't won a big game in a long time."

And for a school that hasn't had a winning season since Barry Sanders left in 1988, this one was as big as they come.

The Cowboys' 5-0 start in 1997 is their best in 10 years, and gives OSU an early edge in the Big 12 South title race, one game ahead of Texas A&M. Oklahoma State is also just one win away from qualifying for a postseason bowl bid.

No wonder ecstatic Cowboy fans pelted the stadium carpet with oranges after OSU touchdowns and then stormed the field as time expired.

"We're a changed team from the past," said defensive back R.W. McQuarters, whose first quarter 78-yard punt return gave OSU a three-score lead and seemed to put the clamps on any hope of a Longhorn comeback. "We're playing with a lot of motivation, a lot of confidence and a lot of emotion, and we're going to continue to play that way."

It was McQuarters who had complained publicly and vociferously about what he perceived as a lack of respect for his undefeated ball club. He had lambasted the press, who had chalked up much of OSU's early season success to the Cowboys' cupcake schedule.

Directly before playing Texas, OSU had entertained Southwestern Louisiana, Fresno State, and Northeast Louisiana, not exactly a murderers' row of opponents.

As a result Oklahoma State was one of the few unblemished Division I schools unranked in the Associated Press top 25 poll.

So as much as anything, this game was about national recognition, and McQuarters and company finally got it. Courtesy of the 26-point blowout win, OSU leapt into the latest AP poll released Sunday, appearing at No. 20.

It is the Cowboys' first venture into ranked territory since finishing the 1988 season in the No. 11 slot.

"Now people are going to have to take notice," OSU defensive end Andrel Waddle said. "That's what we set out to do, make people notice us."

Oh, and then there's that little matter of revenge.

A year ago Texas whipped the Cowboys 71-14 in Austin, and though it was downplayed throughout the week by Simmons' last-year-was-last-year rhetoric, OSU players say they never forgot.

Along with the 83-point turnaround Saturday came a heavy dose of satisfaction.

"We definitely went out with that game on our minds," said junior cornerback Trent Alexander, who recorded a sack and two fumble recoveries on the afternoon. "We weren't going to let that happen ever again."

But the flavor of revenge may have set most sweetly with Waddle, a Columbus High School product who had been recruited by both Texas and OSU.

Waddle, who added two tackles to the Cowboy effort, said he spent the aftermath of last year's Texas contest soul searching, questioning his decision to head north of the Red River.

Saturday, those questions were answered, probably for good.

"I'm just happy to be on this side," Waddle said.

At least OSU didn't run up the score -- and Texas coach John Mackovic praised Simmons for as much after the game.

The Cowboys won, simply, by dominating each and every phase of the game. Defensively, OSU held Texas to 240 yards of total offense and forced three turnovers in all.

Offensively, Oklahoma State rode the back of freshman quarterback Tony Lindsay, who accounted for 211 all-purpose yards, including TD runs of 11, 1 and 55 yards. The Cowboys hoarded the ball for more than 36 minutes of the ball game, and almost 12 minutes of the second period.

In addition to McQuarters' game-breaking return, kicker Tim Syndes chipped in a pair of field goals for the special teams' effort. OSU also dusted off the old Swinging Gate play to pick up a surprise two-point conversion after Lindsay's second score.

"We were doing what we wanted," junior receiver Sean Love said. "We ran when we wanted, we threw when we wanted. But we had lots of confidence going into the game, so it was no surprise at all."

That confidence is something that had been missing from the sleepy college town of Stillwater for almost a decade. Until recently, Simmons' two-plus seasons at OSU have been hallmarked by a team rebuilt from scratch, just trying to survive with the big dogs of the Big 12.

Now, talk is of the Cowboys taking Texas' place as the king of the conference.

"Until someone knocks us off, I guess we are the team to beat in the South," Simmons said. "And I don't know why we shouldn't think conference championship. This team thinks it's a good football team, and it's playing that way."

Stillwater Slaughter

Texas' woes continue after a 42-16 thrashing at the hands of OSU

Brian Davis
Daily Texan Staff

STILLWATER, Okla. -- As Toby Keith's rendition of "Should Have Been A Cowboy" blared over the loudspeakers, dozens of Oklahoma State students poured over the wall and headed to the goal posts.

They gave it a brief fight -- much more than the one that Texas had just put up -- but after a few minutes, they realized it just wasn't worth it.

No, check that. Texas just wasn't worth it.

Stumbling again in the first quarter, the Longhorns fell behind by 22 points before allowing the Big 12's feel-good team of 1997, OSU, to cruise to a 42-16 win Saturday in front of 43,100 fans at Lewis Field. The Longhorns are now reeling at 2-2 after dropping the conference opener, but the Cowboys are streaking at 5-0 and need only one more win to qualify for a postseason bowl berth.

"We thought we could handle them, but we did not," Texas head coach John Mackovic said after saying he appreciated how the Cowboys did not try to run up the score.

But after OSU pinned 424 total yards of offense and a back-breaking 78-yard touchdown on a punt return by OSU's R.W. McQuarters on the Longhorns, Texas felt lucky enough just to be able to run out of town.

Texas was again outcoached and manhandled along the lines. OSU's option attack and a full-throttle blitz confused the Longhorns and left many in a state of shock. UT was even fooled on the Swinging Gate, a wild point-after-touchdown play that OSU ran to perfection.

"We're 2-2 and not 4-0, and we're not playing like we should and like we can," Texas center Ryan Fiebiger said. "Hopefully we can look at the tape and see what's wrong, because I don't think we know what's wrong."

The only thing going in the right direction on Saturday was OSU's program, which has made a complete turnaround from last season's 71-14 loss in Austin at Texas' hands. OSU was the dominator this season, paced by quarterback Tony Lindsay's touchdown runs of 11, 1 and 55 yards.

"It was a sweet victory," OSU head coach Bob Simmons said of the 83-point swing from last season's debacle to Saturday. "Our bunch of kids are very confident about who they are and where they want to take this program."

For the Longhorns, the entire team struggles when the offense can't find its niche. Texas' first-quarter blues continued against the Cowboys as UT couldn't find the end zone and halfback Ricky Williams managed four yards on six carries.

Making matters worse, Brown was betrayed by receivers Bryan White and Jamel Thompson all day as passes bounced far and wide off of their hands and chests. All told, the tandem missed eight passes, including one by Thompson that would have set up UT's shop inside OSU's 5. Brown finished 13-of-34 for 154 yards.

"I just play my position and I try to throw the ball to where it's supposed to be," Brown said, trying to protect his teammates. "I can't get mad at anyone. On the first play of the game, I pulled out early from the center. They do things, and I do things. We just have to correct them as a team."

Oklahoma State used excellent field position to take a commanding lead on Lindsay's 11-yard touchdown run and a touchdown drive that was set up by a 26-yard reception by OSU tight end Alonzo Mayes. McQuarters' 78-yard punt return brought the crowd to a fever pitch as UT players could be seen dipping their heads on the sideline.

"The disappointing thing for us is that we're not playing as well as we're capable of playing as a football team," Texas defensive coordinator Bobby Jack Wright said. "All you can do is continue to work hard and improve or you can quit. And there is no choice.

"There's a lot of good teams still left out there, and we've got a lot of work ahead of us."

There wasn't much the Longhorns could do in the second quarter as OSU kept the ball for an astonishing 11:34. When on offense, the result was three punts and a critical fumble by Brown that set up an eight play, 28-yard drive touchdown drive polished off by fullback Kevin Brown's one-yard dive.

Trailing 29-0 to start the second half, UT punter Mark Schultis continued his personal workout with two more punts before UT caught the day's first break. Brown connected with little-used Courtney Epps for a 24-yard touchdown as OSU cornerback Kevin Williams simply fell flat on his face.

UT's Williams, who finished with 16 carries for 79 yards, got his only touchdown of the game on a 21-yard dash in the early stages of the fourth quarter, but the Cowboy damage had already been done.

"Defensively, I'm at a loss for words to explain everything. We thought we could play the run effectively, but we did not do that," Mackovic said after surveying the program-examining loss.

"We just have to accept the fact that we didn't do the things we needed to do. But I told them that they don't need to leave here with their heads down. They need to get up and get ready to go. There is no reason for [the players] to accept that all is lost."

Afterwards, many wanted to know how a Texas team that blew past Nebraska for the Big 12 Championship has fallen so far to have been embarrassed by Oklahoma State?

"You can't go by what they did last year," McQuarters said. "Last year, they won the conference championship, and where are they now this year? They're 2-2."

And the Horns are fortunate to be a .500 team as Rice simply ran out of time while knocking on Texas' door as time expired. Just when the Longhorns are full of doubt, along comes the Red River Shootout and all of the emotional hoopla associated with the Texas-Oklahoma matchup.

Saturday's game in the Cotton Bowl in Dallas will be a huge factor in the conference standings as both teams are now 0-1 in Big 12 play after the Sooners dropped their conference opener against Kansas on Saturday 20-17.

"If we don't win, we won't have any chance to go on and win a championship," Texas linebacker Dusty Renfro said of UT's new-found win-or-else attitude.

"If we win the rest of them, what can they do? We'll be in San Antonio."