Stillwater at night. I knew better, but I still predicted we’d win a game in Stillwater at night. We did not. After scoring exactly zero points in the first half despite two defensive turnovers and being lucky to go into halftime down 14, the Bears rallied in the second half to make it 17-14, getting the ball several times with the opportunity to take the lead but never succeeding in doing so. This was a game we absolutely could have won and didn’t.
The primary culprit? The offense, particularly the rushing offense. Oklahoma State keyed on the run from the start of the game, snuffing out Baylor’s early-down momentum based, I assume, on our obvious tendency to want to run the ball in that situation. We tried and failed to run on first down repeatedly, setting up long second downs that turned into impossible third downs (at least for us). We went into halftime with a grand total of 6 rushing yards and 2 first downs. OSU, on the other hand, was able to run at will, racking up over 160 yards on the ground on 33 attempts in the first half. They finished with 229 on 57. When you can’t run the ball or stop the run, things typically go poorly, and that was the story of the first half. Unless or until we opened things up offensively, we were going to struggle when we couldn’t run the ball. And it’ll happen again unless things change.
The crazy things is that it didn’t have to be this way. It was evident from the start that we were not going to have success running against 7 and 8-man fronts on early downs. OSU was daring Gerry to throw (or, rather, for us to let Gerry throw) and after a big play to Drew Estrada on the first series, we just ... didn’t for a long stretch of the game. By the time we did, we were down 14. Later, it became clear that we were not going to have success in short yardage on third downs, either, and we killed several drives trying. Instead of taking what OSU was giving and throwing to set up the run, we were dead-set on running the ball to set up the pass. Case in point—on the first drive of the second half, after a moderate amount of success, we ran for it on 3rd and 8 around midfield, got a couple of yards, and punted. What was the best-case scenario for that decision, get 4 or 5 and then go for it? What made us think we might? The same thing happened a few minutes later after an interception on the next OSU drive, where Baylor came out with an end-around to Drew Estrada—suddenly a major focus of the offense—that lost 2 yards, threw the ball out of bounds on second down, and then tried to run Gerry on third and 12, losing 3 more yards. That “drive” ended with a punt from the OSU 36 yard-line, something that should never, ever happen. A later drive—the one after we went for it on fourth down—we tried to run wide on third and 2 after having passed to make it that short. We didn’t get it.
You can hide behind the “well, they had to have a reason” logic all you want; I don’t buy it, and it doesn’t do any good. If we can celebrate the coaching staff’s decisions when things go well, we can question them when things go poorly. Just being a coach and having more information than we do does not make you bulletproof, particularly when it appears the book is out on what you want to do and how to stop you from doing it.
I don’t want to overstate things here and make it seem like the sky is falling. It isn’t. Baylor is still 4-1 (2-1) on the season, and we were underdogs in this game. We won’t be ranked tomorrow, which stinks, and any chance we had at getting Gameday against BYU in two weeks might be out the window, but the season isn’t over. I’m still extremely impressed with what we’ve seen of Gerry Bohanon when we’ve been allowed to see it—I just wish they’d take the training wheels off a bit and believe that a game like tonight, when you’re on the road, can’t run the ball, and need to change things up, was the perfect time. Even if he struggles, he needs those learning experiences. After struggling in the first half, the defense kept the game close and gave the offense the chances it ultimately squandered. Abram Smith still looks like a hell of a player.
But we have issues, and chief among them are decision-making (discussed above) and penalties. One of the reasons we lost this game was that Matt Jones lost his mind on OSU’s game-icing TD drive. That was one of nine Baylor penalties on the night and set up the Cowboys to get to the final margin.
You find out the most about a team the first time things really go against them, and tonight was that night. What they do now will define the rest of the season. We’re back against WVU on Saturday.