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“Too many mistakes": Cowboys can’t overcome slow start, fall to TCU

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Oklahoma State quarterback Taylor Cornelius throws on the run as the Cowboys take on TCU in Amon G. Carter Stadium. 

FORT WORTH, TEXAS -- Mike Gundy simply shrugged.

Gundy, the Oklahoma State football coach, didn’t shield himself with imaginary explanations in the postgame press conference. He didn’t pretend to have a magical solution.

Gundy sat in front of a gray makeshift OSU backdrop, and a larger purple Texas Christian University backdrop loomed behind it. The Horned Frogs, though they entered the matchup with a losing record, spoiled the Cowboys’ last regular-season game. TCU gained bowl eligibility with a 31-24 victory against OSU on Saturday at Amon G. Carter Stadium.

The Cowboys’ struggles this season have baffled him. In a raspy voice, he willingly admitted that he couldn’t pinpoint what had caused his team to falter.

When Gundy and his players exited the field, purple fireworks popped in the night sky.

The Cowboys’ offense was far from explosive.

OSU finished with 280 yards of offense, 143 fewer than the Horned Frogs had.

On the last play of the game, Taylor Cornelius, the Cowboys’ redshirt senior quarterback, lobbed an incomplete pass toward Landon Wolf, a redshirt sophomore wide receiver.

Cornelius went 17-for-40 for 181 yards in his final regular-season matchup. Although he powered into the end zone twice, he threw no passing touchdowns.

“Looked like to me he was moving his feet all the time and never set his feet,” Gundy said.

In the fourth quarter, OSU’s offense tried to find the pieces for a comeback with Cornelius’ pair of rushing touchdowns, but it couldn’t gain enough fuel after starting with a nearly empty tank.

“We just came out lackadaisical,” Cornelius said. “We were in a daze or something. I don’t know what happened.”

The Cowboys (6-6 overall, 3-6 Big 12) scored no touchdowns before halftime. In the first quarter, Cornelius connected with Tyron Johnson, a wide receiver, in the end zone, but the play didn’t count because receiver Tylan Wallace was called for pass interference. OSU had to settle for a field goal attempt, so Matt Ammendola, a redshirt junior kicker, scored the Cowboys’ only three points of the first half.

Without offensive momentum, OSU’s defense had little time to rest. The Cowboy defenders held TCU (6-6, 4-5) scoreless until Jalen Reagor caught a six-yard pass from Grayson Muehlstein, the Horned Frogs’ fifth-year senior quarterback, with 1:09 left until halftime.

OSU also often had no choice but to bring Matt Hockett on the field.

Hockett, a redshirt senior, punted seven times, five of which were in the first half. Although the Cowboys have had their share of special teams blunders this season, Hockett handled his responsibility, punting for an average of 51.4 yards.

“If there’s one bright spot, he was awesome tonight,” Gundy said. “I thought he was excellent. Kept us in the game.”

That spark of positivity was clouded with miscues.

Chuba Hubbard, a running back, fumbled a lateral pass on the first play of the second half.

Logan Carter, a Cowboy back, was penalized for roughing TCU punter Adam Nunez in the third quarter.

On a fourth-quarter play, Cowboy defenders didn’t cover Derius Davis, gifting him the space he needed to snag a touchdown pass from Muehlstein.

After a difficult closing to the regular season, OSU must await its bowl-game fate. No matter where the Cowboys are headed, Gundy said he is grateful they’re going somewhere at the end of this roller-coaster season. As preparation for the bowl game begins, he and his players are still looking for answers.

"Sometimes, we just don't play to our full potential," Hubbard said. "Today, we just made too many mistakes. I believe we're better than this."

sports.ed@ocolly.com