AMES, Iowa — In regards to the limitations of Oklahoma State’s passing game and run-blocking, this could be a nitpicked Cowboys victory.
Instead, all scrutiny should be shelved for at least a couple of days.
On a day when Oklahoma and Texas were beaten as Big 12 road favorites, Malcolm Rodriguez and the 10-point-underdog Cowboys scored a 34-27 road win over a ranked opponent — the No. 23 Iowa State Cyclones, who never had the lead during their homecoming contest at jam-packed Jack Trice Stadium.
OSU entered with a 1-3 conference record and redshirt freshman quarterback Spencer Sanders had committed eight turnovers in back-to-back losses to Texas Tech and Baylor. No team in college football was more starved for a positive outcome.
The biggest of all plays was provided by Rodriguez, a junior linebacker who, with 6:47 left in a tie game, intercepted Brock Purdy’s 60th pass and got the winning score on a 26-yard return.
It was Rodriguez’ most impactful play since his days at Wagoner High School, where he was the most accomplished Bulldog of all time.
Before the Iowa State trip, Rodriguez explained during a post-game interview in the Cyclones weight room, “(Mike Gundy) challenged us to do more preparation. I feel like we did that. The defense made a lot of big stops there at the end.”
Recording its fourth consecutive win in Ames, OSU committed only two penalties and finished plus-2 on turnovers.
There were field goals of 40 and 49 yards by senior Matt Ammendola, who rarely kicks from a grass surface but did so beautifully Saturday.
“Good ingredients,” Gundy said, “for much better football.”
The Cowboys offense totaled only 55 plays (25 below its average), converted only twice on 12 third-down snaps and got 34% of its total yards on two touchdown plays — a 71-yard catch-and-run by Tylan Wallace and a 65-yard sprint by Chuba Hubbard.
Subtract Hubbard’s big play and the run game amounted to only 88 yards on 30 attempts. If this offensive performance had been combined with multiple turnovers, OSU would have been doomed.
Instead, there was but one OSU turnover — a Sanders interception in the third period. Iowa State took possession at the OSU 24, but the Cowboys defense gave up only a field goal.
It was a recurring theme: on three occasions when Iowa State threatened to score a touchdown, there were two field goals and a missed field goal.
Those immeasurably valuable responses came from an OSU defense that only a few days earlier was embarrassed by Baylor.
This time, Gundy’s ultimate ingredient was his defense.
At Iowa State, the Cowboys defense was the reason for the positive outcome.
“We have times where we’ve disappointed,” linebacker Amen Ogbongbemiga said. “We’re getting tired of those moments. To come out (with a strong defensive performance) — it’s a big deal. I’m so proud of everybody.”
Cowboys defenders had an important flurry of pass breakups just before halftime. A second flurry of critical coverage plays happened in the final seven minutes.
First, there was the Rodriguez touchdown.
“Sure, I was excited at first,” he said, “but we had to go back out there.”
The defense had to go back out there because the offense followed the Rodriguez score with two three-and-out possessions. Purdy was given opportunities to drive his team to a tying touchdown — or a go-ahead TD, if Cyclones coach Matt Campbell had been in the mood to gamble on a 2-point conversion try.
With 2:14 remaining, Ogbongbemiga intercepted a Purdy pass near midfield. With 19 seconds left, safety Tre Sterling got an interception.
No one saw this coming — that the same Purdy who was intercepted only four times before Saturday would throw three picks against the Cowboys.
“Big ups to our secondary,” Ogbongbemiga said, “for standing up and shutting that down.”
Whether this was a signature win depends on what Oklahoma State does with it.
The November schedule includes next week’s home game against TCU (a Saturday winner over Texas), a home game against Les Miles and the Kansas Jayhawks, a trip to West Virginia and a Bedlam home game against the no-longer-invincible Oklahoma Sooners.
During a happy plane ride back to Stillwater, Gundy and his players probably weren’t thinking of the November schedule. They were probably and deservedly thrilled with having conquered the favored Cyclones, and having done it in an improbable manner — with defense.