LUBBOCK, Texas – Linebacker Devin Harper came back for this reason.
Tyler Lacy ran stadiums in the offseason for the same purpose. On Saturday, nestled in northwest Texas, Oklahoma State achieved its season-long goal. The Cowboys clinched a spot in the Big 12 Championship game for the first time in school history.
OSU soundly shut out Texas Tech 23-0 at Jones AT&T Stadium in Lubbock, Texas, and with the help of rival Oklahoma defeating Iowa State earlier Saturday, the Cowboys were able to claim a spot in the title game on Dec. 4.
“Every day, all the early workouts, the late workouts, they always preached it,” Harper said. “Now it is happening. We’ve got to follow through.”
The game itself was what fans had come to expect from OSU (10-1, 7-1 Big 12) in recent weeks. The defense remained in the limelight and put up its most impermeable game to date. The unit tallied 12 tackles for loss and allowed just 108 total yards of offense, its lowest amount this season.
The most resounding stat, a zero in the TTU (6-5, 3-5) points column, is the first time since 1995 the Cowboys have shutout a conference opponent, and Saturday was the first time Tech had been held scoreless since 1987.
“I’ve been telling them all year ‘Don’t play small, play big’,” defensive coordinator Jim Knowles said. “They believe right now.”
The offense carried over its efficacious football from the past several weeks, despite several injuries. Center Joe Michalski remained on the starting line after Danny Godlevske was unable to return and left guard Tyrese Williams started in place of Josh Sills. Williams himself sustained an undisclosed injury, ushering Sills into the game.
Wide receiver Brennan Presley was relegated solely punt returns, elevating freshman John Paul Richardson into his starting Y-spot. Richardson, who has steadily gained playing time this season, caught six passes for 41 yards and a touchdown in Presley’s absence.
Sanders had another clean game, throwing no interceptions. He completed a touchdown pass, as well as ran another one into the end zone, accounting for both OSU touchdowns. The Cowboys’ performance sent fans toward the exits before the fourth quarter had even started.
“Life is good for that group that had a bunch of new faces out there,” offensive coordinator Kasey Dunn said.
The journey to Arlington, Texas, for the Big 12 Championship is guaranteed, but everything else isn’t. The Cowboys will be the first to say so.
“For these guys to be able to find a way to get in that game is a big accomplishment,” coach Mike Gundy said. “They did it. This is their team, not the coaches’ team. We had several players come back for the super senior season, and this is why they came back.”
OSU made it clear after the game that near-perfect football will be needed to continue ascending.
The next obstacle arrives in seven days. OU, an aide to the Cowboys' mission this week, will look to be the downfall of said mission next weekend. Despite being marred with inconsistent play, the Sooners remain in the hunt for the second spot, needing a win to confirm it.
Barring a loss to Texas Tech, Baylor would take the second spot in the title game if the Cowboys defeat the Sooners. OSU beat Baylor 24-14 earlier this season, and a second win against the Bears would hand the Cowboys a Big 12 title, 12-1 record and a commanding resume for the College Football Playoff.
OSU, picked fourth in the Big 12 preseason poll, has already propelled itself the conversation of CFP contender. Steadily gaining national praise, coach Mike Gundy said he expects the team, currently slotted into the No. 9 rank, to rise to No. 7 with Michigan State and Oregon losing.
Two crucial games await OSU in the coming weeks. As imminent as they are, Saturday wasn’t about worrying or planning. Saturday was about celebrating.
The planning can wait a night. Come Sunday, when coaches arrive at their offices and players to practice, then it will commence.
Until then, the Cowboys won’t let the significance of the title game berth be understated.
Saturday is a day to celebrate. Celebrate Harper’s decision to return. Celebrate Lacy’s stadium steps he ran in the summer.
Saturday was a season-long philosophy come to fruition.
“That means everything,” Knowles said. “It is a culmination of a lot of hard work. All we know is the next game in front of us, so we will worry about that when we get there, but I’m really happy for the players and the program.”