January 03, 2012
Fiesta Bowl: Oklahoma State 41, Stanford 38 (Overtime).
OK, you can relax: I've packed away my usual anti-BCS harangues for the new year, and I'm not going to make some futile plea for sanity on Oklahoma State's behalf. Tonight was too close a call for that — and frankly, considering the help the Cowboys needed from Stanford kicker Jordan Williamson down the stretch, too lucky a call. At any rate, though, that shouldn't be necessary. The Cowboys' resumé speaks loudly enough for itself, and more loudly after tonight than at any other point in the history of Oklahoma State football.
The comeback in the desert was OSU's 12th win of the year, a school record, and its fifth against a team ranked in the top 25 of the final BCS standings, more than any team in the country except LSU (also with five). It was the Cowboys' second over a team ranked in the top ten. Along with their regular season blowout over Baylor, vanquishing the mighty Andrew Luck gives them wins over the Heisman Trophy winner and the Heisman runner-up. They beat Oklahoma by five touchdowns. They won their first outright conference championship since 1926 and their first BCS bowl game. Whether they come in second or third in the final polls, it will be the best landing in school history.
And yeah, they did it with a kind of terrible defense. Oklahoma State came into the night ranked 106th in total defense and 85th against the run, and lived down to both numbers: Stanford racked up 588 total yards, pounded out 240 yards rushing and held the ball for nearly 42 minutes. The Cardinal put together five sustained touchdown drives, four of them milking at least four minutes off the clock. In his final game, Andrew Luck was nearly flawless, hitting 27 of 31 passes for 348 yards (that's good for an obscene 11.2 yards per attempt) and two touchdowns. Stepfan Taylor ran for a career-high 176 with two scores on the ground.
Even its biggest calamity of the night — a botched handoff that gifted Oklahoma State a goal-to-go situation in the third quarter — only cost Stanford a field goal. The Cardinal outgained OSU by 175 yards, didn't give up a cheap touchdown on defense or special teams and only yielded a field goal off two turnovers. They held the Cowboys to four yards rushing. They didn't rack up big stats in garbage time. They never trailed until the final snap of the game. There was nothing "misleading" about it: By any conventional measuring stick, Stanford rolled in typical Stanford fashion. It just didn't make the kicks.
But Oklahoma State was its usual explosive self, too, awakening from bouts of hibernation long enough to deliver big plays in the second and fourth quarters — five touchdown drives covering at least 60 yards, all of them completed with a little less than two minutes off the clock, and all of them starring a big play from their uncoverable star, Justin Blackmon. Three of those scores Blackmon took in himself, first on 43 and 67-yard strikes from Brandon Weeden in the second quarter, then on a 17-yard crossing route that briefly tied the game in the fourth; the other two, he set up with big gains on must-have fourth down conversions. If they opened up a new round of voting for the Heisman tomorrow, Blackmon would have a prominent place on the short list.
The only clear edge he might have on Andrew Luck in that hypothetical tally is the final margin on the scoreboard tonight, which boils down to a single fact: At the end of a night featuring 1,000 yards of offense, at least a half-dozen soon-to-be draft picks and brilliant performances by two of the brightest stars in college football, Stanford's kicker pushed two chances to be the hero in the fourth quarter and overtime wide left, while Oklahoma State's kicker — one of the goats of the Cowboys' only loss in the regular season — sent his sailing right down the middle.
If that's not decisive enough to lift Oklahoma State to No. 1 in any of the polls or induce system meltdown over its absence from next week's championship game, it certainly is to allow the Cowboys to bask in a Big 12 title and the best season in school history while they still have the chance. For those distinctions, at least, there is no controversy.
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