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Guerin Emig: Cowboys give their fans reason to think bigger with first-half blitz of K-State
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Guerin Emig: Cowboys give their fans reason to think bigger with first-half blitz of K-State

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STILLWATER — Oklahoma State’s winning formula is established. Make sure Jaylen Warren touches the ball on offense. Put the game in the hands, or rather teeth, of the defense.

So it was Saturday night at Boone Pickens Stadium, site of OSU’s 31-20 triumph over Kansas State. So it has been over the Cowboys’ 4-0 season.

A nice start punctuated by an impressive result against a K-State team that came to Stillwater 3-0. That is indisputable.

But then so is this, evident by Saturday’s first half: The potential is there for so much more.

The Cowboys who shook off a 99-yard kickoff return for a touchdown and shot to a 31-10 second-quarter lead can do more than win eight or nine games and compete for an Alamo Bowl berth.

That OSU team can play for a Big 12 Conference championship. Just look around.

Perennial Big 12 champ and perpetual Mike Gundy nemesis Oklahoma can’t get out of its way offensively. Iowa State looks fraudulent. TCU just lost to SMU. Texas?

Yeah, the Longhorns dropped 70 on Texas Tech Saturday. But seriously, are we really going to trust the Horns to have staying power given their weaknesses of the past decade?

Now look at the first half in Stillwater Saturday night. Look at OSU’s first offensive snap. Warren got his first touch of the night, but look how it came — on a nifty misdirection screen pass from Spencer Sanders, with half the Cowboys’ offensive line providing the convoy to a 47-yard gain.

It was an imaginative call by Kasey Dunn, the second-year offensive coordinator who was hamstrung by injuries and the pandemic last season and has been hampered by more injuries this season. Here, Dunn found a way around K-State’s defense, discovered a new method to slip Warren the ball, and in doing so found a way to jump-start the stalled part of OSU’s football team heading into Saturday night — the passing game.

The 47-yard completion seemed to energize quarterback Spencer Sanders. He kept his balance and ran for 12 yards two plays later. He faked a handoff to Warren and danced into the end zone another three plays later.

An active Sanders gives OSU another dimension. A confident, accurate Sanders dropping back to pass gives the Cowboys an even bigger one.

Here was Sanders in Saturday’s first half, hitting Tay Martin with a 14-yard strike from the pocket on OSU’s second drive. Then, three snaps later, here was Sanders seeing an open Brennan Presley in a soft spot of K-State’s defense, hitting his piston of a receiver, and watching Presley pinball off a couple would-be tacklers into the end zone.

Gundy called Sanders “consistent” and “competitive” in postgame. Indeed.

There was more of that in OSU’s third drive, with Sanders zipping a 23-yard seam route ball to Blaine Green and later lofting a 7-yard fade to Martin for another touchdown. It was 28-10 at that point, with K-State’s only highlight being Malik Knowles’ 99-yard kickoff return for a score.

It was 31-10 after OSU’s fourth drive, covering 88 yards to Alex Hale’s 20-yard field goal. The Cowboys had the ball four times at that point, with drives of 75, 73, 90 and 88 yards and three touchdowns and a field goal to show.

Gundy praised Dunn’s first-half plan afterward. He said Dunn was figuring out ways to work around continuous health challenges, mostly at receiver but also at running back.

Yes on both accounts.

Martin’s return from his ankle injury is a big help. Presley’s activity with the ball in his hands is just as big.

An offensive line that is getting stronger and more cohesive every week is bigger. That protects Sanders, and a protected Sanders is both comfortable and capable enough to complete passes to multiple receivers, Warren included.

Warren is the constant of course. Warren and that defense. Those are the two most obvious reasons to think big if you bleed orange.

I suggest you think bigger as of Saturday night. Because that was a revived Sanders quarterbacking an offense with more weapons and a sturdier line. Taking advantage of sharper play-calling.

The second half was a bit of a downer, but then the score was 31-13. It’s OK to finish games ugly with a defense playing so assertively.

My advice would be to soak in that first half. Scan the rest of the conference.

“I’m excited to see how much more we can progress,” Sanders said late Saturday night.

OSU fans should be just as excited.

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Sports Columnist

I'm the proud father of Gretchen and Holden. Devoted husband to Christy, who has been my best friend since biology class at Booker T. Washington. I covered the OU Sooners for 15 years. That was both challenging and rewarding. Now I get to write columns.

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