Berry’s OSU report card: Mike Gundy’s conservative decision-making paid off vs. Kansas

Berry’s OSU report card: Mike Gundy’s conservative decision-making paid off vs. Kansas

Berry Tramel: Give Gundy credit; none of the decisions backfired, and OSU won. But the third- and early-fourth-quarter field goals looked dubious at a time OSU seemed to need touchdowns, not field goals.

Berry Tramel

By Berry Tramel

| Oct 14, 2023, 9:07pm CDT

Berry Tramel

By Berry Tramel

Oct 14, 2023, 9:07pm CDT

OSU beat Kansas 39-32 in a wild Big 12 game Saturday that included great offense by the Cowboys, timely defense by the Cowboys and interesting game-management decisions by Mike Gundy. Let’s start the OSU report card with the latter. 

Gundy decisions: B. Gundy by nature is a conservative coach. That played out Saturday. With 27 seconds left in the first half, facing 4th-and-6 from the KU 41-yard line, Gundy ordered a punt, rather than trying a 58-yard field goal or running another play. That effectively ended the half. Then facing 4th-and-2 from the KU 9-yard line, with Kansas leading 32-24 midway through the third quarter, Gundy ordered a 26-yard field goal. Gundy also settled for a 21-yard field goal when OSU faced 4th-and-goal from the KU 4-yard line, with the Jayhawks leading 32-27 early in the fourth quarter. Finally, with 19 seconds left and OSU up 36-32, Gundy called for Alex Hale to kick a 42-yard field goal. Give Gundy credit; none of the decisions backfired, and OSU won. But the third- and early-fourth-quarter field goals seemed dubious, because at that point the Cowboys had not slowed the Jayhawks, and OSU seemed to need touchdowns, not field goals. And the final decision was curious; KU’s best chance for a miracle win was off a blocked field goal. Run Ollie Gordon up the middle on 4th-and-1, and you might just make the first down. And either way, there’s no blocked field goal.

Alan Bowman: A. The OSU quarterback was a supporting actor in this Cowboy drama, but Bowman was solid throughout. He completed 28 of 41 passes for 336 yards and two touchdowns. Bowman made good decisions. His only dubious pass was on an out pattern to Blaine Greene near the goal line that KU cornerback Cobee Bryant could have turned into a 95-yard touchdown return, had he not dropped the ball. Bowman avoided KU’s pressure; four of his 13 incompletions came on throwaways to avoid a pressuring Jayhawk, and Bowman’s only sack came on a 3rd-and-17 play that was going nowhere anyway.

Pass defense: C. This C  seems like a 36 on the ACT, considering the game’s first 34 minutes. At that point, KU quarterback Jason Bean had completed 16 of 21 passes for 292 yards, including touchdowns of 47, 30, 44, 49 and 42 yards. But the rest of the game, Bean completed just seven of 13 passes, for 118 yards, no touchdowns and two interceptions. Defensive coordinator Bryan Nardo adjusted by making sure OSU wasn’t fooled by KU’s odd alignment of a split receiver on the line of scrimmage, inside a fellow receiver, which twice confused the Cowboys and allowed tight end Mason Fairchild to roam free for wide-open touchdowns. Safety Kendal Daniels ignited the defensive rise with a leaping interception near the goal line on a fade pattern, and true freshman safety Dylan Smith intercepted a tipped pass early in the fourth quarter.

Pass rush: A. Jayhawk quarterbacks Jalon Daniels and Bean had been sacked a combined six times in six games. Then OSU sacked Bean five times Saturday alone (the official statistics recorded four, inexplicably not counting a Bean scramble that lost a yard and cost Cameron Epps a sack). Collin Oliver had 2½ sacks, Nick Martin one and Xavier Benson a half sack. In addition, Oliver tipped two Kansas passes at the line of scrimmage and DeSean Brown tipped one. Bean is reputed to be KU’s fastest player and is hard to corral, but the Cowboys kept him mostly contained. Bean’s scrambles never led to big yardage, though he threw two of his five TD passes out of scramble mode.

Ollie Gordon: A. The star-tailback-in-the-making had a monster game – 168 yards on 29 rushes, plus 116 yards on six catches. Not since Gerald Hudson(!) in 1989 had a Cowboy reached triple digits in both rushing and receiving. Gordon broke tackles and ran relentlessly. He opened the game with a 50-yard gain off a screen pass, which set up a touchdown, and his one-hand grab of another screen pass begat a 19-yard play that set up the go-ahead touchdown late in the game.

Run defense: B. KU entered the game averaging 232.3 rushing yards per game, sixth in the nation and second among Power Five teams. OSU gameplanned to shut down the Jayhawk running game – and did. The Jayhawks gained 118 on 23 designed running plays. That’s still a healthy return, 5.1 yards per carry, but OSU forced more passing than the Jayhawks prefer. That eventually led to interceptions and sacks that derailed KU. Kansas runs the old-fashioned option, with Bean and a trailing halfback, but three first-quarter option pitches totaled just six yards, and KU never went back to it.

Red-zone offense: B. The Cowboys were efficient. They scored on all six of their drives that reached at least the KU 20-yard line. But OSU settled for three field goals, to go with three touchdowns. An extra touchdown would have made things easier down the stretch for the Cowboys, who ran the ball well all day but not in the red zone – 15 yards on eight carries. Ollie Gordon gained 166 yards on 25 carries outside the red zone but just two yards on four carries inside the red zone.

Kicking game: B. OSU played well in the special teams. Hale made four of five field-goal tries (though he missed wide right from 43 yards in the fourth quarter), and the Cowboys either blocked (Xavier Ross) or disrupted two KU extra points. Gundy lauded KU’s kickoff coverage coming into the game, but Presley produced kickoff returns of 29 and 22 yards. And OSU twice punted the Jayhawks inside the 20-yard line. Still, Elijah Collins fumbled on a kickoff return, and teammate Jaden Nixon fortunately recovered. 

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Berry Tramel is a 45-year veteran of Oklahoma journalism, having spent 13 years at the Norman Transcript and 32 years at The Oklahoman. He has been named Oklahoma Sportswriter of the Year by the National Sports Media Association. Born and raised in Norman, Tramel grew up reading four newspapers a day and began his career at age 17. His first assignment was the Lexington-Elmore City high school football game, and he’s enjoyed the journey ever since, having covered NBA Finals and Rose Bowls and everything in between. Tramel and his wife, Tricia, were married in 1980 and live in Norman near their daughter, son-in-law and three granddaughters. Tramel can be reached at 405-760-8080 or at [email protected].

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