Cowboys cap rough finish to regular season with loss to West Virginia

Nov. 27—It would've been easy for Oklahoma State football coach Mike Gundy to be upset in the aftermath of his team's 24-19 loss to West Virginia on Saturday afternoon at Boone Pickens Stadium.

The defeat in the regular-season finale marked the Cowboys' second losing streak of the season after not having one in three years. It marked their first losing record in Big 12 Conference play since 2018. And it marked the end of a program-record 14 consecutive wins at home

As easy as it could've been, Gundy wasn't upset.

"The only time that I would get frustrated was if our guys weren't competing and playing hard," Gundy said following OSU's first loss to West Virginia since 2014. "I understand the situation. I know what's going on, so it gives me a little bit of an advantage."

The circumstances Gundy and Co. dealt with against the Mountaineers (5-7, 3-6 Big 12) were the same ones that plagued the Pokes throughout the latter half of the regular season — and then some.

OSU (7-5, 4-5 Big 12) started a quarterback other than redshirt senior Spencer Sanders for a third time this season, and the defense allowed momentum-swinging plays at the most inopportune times, all in the thick of sporadic, heavy rainfall.

"I don't know, maybe people want me to be upset and throw a fit about losing, but I just don't see it that way with where we're at," Gundy said. "I wanna win. ... It's important to me to win also, but it's important for me in my position to understand where we're at and what's going on."

True freshman quarterback Garret Rangel started in place of Sanders, who missed his third start in four weeks with a shoulder injury that Gundy said isn't "black and white." Rangel got the nod in Sanders' first absence, too, going 27 of 40 for 303 yards passing with two touchdowns and three interceptions during the Cowboys' Week 9 loss to Kansas.

WVU entered the contest with the 114th-ranked pass defense out of 131 FBS schools, allowing opponents to throw for an average of 270.4 yards per game. Rangel was primed to match — if not surpass — his performance against the Jayhawks.

But the conditions grew worse and worse as the game went on, and Rangel couldn't connect with his intended targets on deep shots dialed up by Cowboys offensive coordinator Kasey Dunn.

"The matchups were in our favor," Dunn said. "We left some things out there, no question, that might have been changers for us.

"The hardest part, for me, is I just felt like we had this one. I felt like the Cowboys didn't get beat today. I felt like we kind of beat ourselves. I know when I look back at the tape there are gonna be enough opportunities in there for us to score points and win the game."

Rangel eventually finished with 178 yards passing while completing 18 of 42 passes (43 percent). But he wasn't under as much duress as he was against Kansas, and it's in large part because the Cowboys were able to run the ball as well as they have all season.

Already without starting running back Dominic Richardson, and with second-string Jaden Nixon leaving due to injury, freshman Ollie Gordon and redshirt sophomore Deondre Jackson were called upon. And they answered.

Gordon had the best performance of his young career with 17 carries for 136 yards — the most by any OSU ball carrier this season — and a touchdown. Jackson was complementary to the tune of 56 yards on 12 attempts. Combined, the duo averaged more than six yards per carry.

"You have to be able to run the ball just, you know, to open up the passes," said Cowboys wideout Braydon Johnson, who was honored before the game for Senior Day. "The fact that we could do that and come out early, it gave us a great chance to be able to open up, throw the ball and get the win."

Dunn wanted to keep running the ball in the fourth quarter. It was effective, a stark contrast to the weeks prior, but the Cowboys didn't have the time to keep putting the ball on the ground while trying to cut into the Mountaineers' 5-point lead.

It was an advantage WVU built on three plays, really.

After a misfired punt gave the Mountaineers a short field in the first quarter, sophomore quarterback Garrett Greene used the first play of the possession to find a seam on the left side of OSU's defense and take off for a 36-yard touchdown.

And on the opening drive of the second half, Mountaineers running back Jaylen Anderson broke through that same left side for a 54-yard touchdown. He did it again on the next drive, too, sifting through Cowboys defenders for a 57-yard score.

WVU amassed 327 yards of offense against OSU, and 147 of them came on those three plays.

"They just caught us in some things and had the right call," Cowboys safety Jason Taylor II said. "That happens sometimes. You kind of just gotta try to fight through that and not let that happen. But, you know, it happens sometimes."

The Cowboys allowed the Mountaineers to rush for 250 yards, their second-highest total of the season. But they were stifling in the passing game, holding WVU to 77 yards on 23 attempts, with Taylor II intercepting Greene in the second quarter.

None of that matters, though. Those three plays, especially the two by Anderson in the third quarter, were the difference.

"The bad news is, they count," Gundy said of WVU's explosive scores. "Other than that, we played pretty good."

Once a top-10 team with College Football Playoff aspirations, the Cowboys don't have to worry about who will and won't be available next week. While the Big 12 Championship is being played, the Pokes will be watching from home after being on that stage just a season ago.

On the heels of four losses in their last five games of the regular season, OSU doesn't have anything to prepare for until the program receives its bowl bid. It's an unwelcome end to a season that started with so much promise.

Gundy didn't waste much time giving the players the week off after the loss. The season started on the first day of September, and each week has been a grind ever since. But when the Cowboys eventually find out what lies ahead, Gundy expects them to lock in and leave everything on the table.

"You don't get these days back," Gundy said. "You get to play one more game in a bowl game. They need to enjoy that process and go play their ass off."