By any measure, Oklahoma State’s football team over-achieved this season.
The Cowboys were one game away from winning the Big 12 Championship and they played in the Sugar Bowl despite being picked as low as No. 6 in the conference in the preseason.
OSU lost to Mississippi 48-20 in the Sugar Bowl on New Year’s Day but that doesn’t diminish a 10-3 season for the Cowboys.
“That was a tough game for us,” said OSU coach Mike Gundy. “They’re a good football team. We knew that before coming in. And the snowball started downhill on us in the second quarter, and we couldn’t slow them down from big plays on offense. And they started running trick plays, kind of like what we did last year in our bowl game. And, offensively, we couldn’t establish a running game.
“And at that point, we became one dimensional, which we talked about that before, against a good team that runs well. So it was tough for us to play catch up. They could play three-man rush and drop eight in coverage being ahead by more than two scores and then three scores. And there’s not a lot of places to throw the football.”
Ole Miss had 554 yards of total offense (235 rushing, 347 passing) while holding Oklahoma State to 366 (63 rushing, 303 passing).
“So we hate that we didn’t play as good as we wanted to,” Gundy said. “We wish we could have played better. In looking at it, I probably over practiced them. We probably worked too much and didn’t give them a chance to catch their breath. We had watched tape. And, obviously, I had watched tape. And I had a lot of respect for Ole Miss, their athleticism, and then their football team. And in hindsight maybe we overworked a little bit.”
QB Mason Rudolph started the game after missing nearly all of the regular season finale against Oklahoma due to an injury. Rudolph, who was questionable coming into the ballgame, hit 18-of-31 passes for 179 yards before being lifted in favor of J.W. Walsh late in the third quarter. In addition to his two touchdowns and a team-leading 74 rushing yards, Walsh was 9-of-14 form 124 yards.
“He was close. He wasn’t his old self,” Gundy said of Rudolph. “The concern we had going in was just the number of practices he has been able to get really quality work. His health improved considerably over the last week. Going into it, for the most part as you guys know, before we left, J.W. got all of the work to a certain extent. So we got some out of it. He made some plays. Two things contributed to us having a tough time in the second quarter. As I mentioned, we got behind two scores. And they were able to play all pass. But he was able to give us some play tonight.”
Walsh accounted for at least one touchdown in every game this season. He finished the year with 13 scores on the ground and 13 through the air. Walsh ends his OSU career with the ninth-most completions (299), ninth-most passing yards (3,917) and sixth-most passing touchdowns (36) in school history. He was also responsible for 26 touchdowns in 2015, a mark that ties for the eighth-most in a single season at Oklahoma State.
“I said the same thing after the last two games of the season,” Gundy said. “I just don’t want to take away from this time and the guys coming together and winning 10 football games. It’s not easy to win 10 football games. We’re very proud of them for that. We were a little beat up late in the year, and that showed up at times. So as a coaching staff we have to have a tremendous commitment to recruiting to continue to build some depth. And I think, when you’re in games like this, the depth becomes very, very important.”
Jordan Burton recorded a sack in the first quarter to bring his season total to 3.5. Vincent Taylor recorded his fifth sack of year two plays later. Oklahoma State has recorded multiple sacks in 12 games this season. The Cowboys entered the bowl season ranked fourth nationally with 3.2 sacks per game, a mark that also leads the Big 12. OSU finished the bowl game with two sacks.
Defensive end Emmanuel Ogbah ended the season with the most quarterback hurries in school history (26) and is now ranked fourth in total career tackles for loss (40) and fourth in career sacks (28.0). This season, Ogbah had 13 sacks, a mark that qualifies for the third-most in a single season in school history. His 17.5 tackles for loss also tie for the sixth-most in a single season.
The Sugar Bowl marked the final collegiate game for 17 Cowboy seniors, including Jimmy Bean, Corey Bennett, Kris Catlin, Trace Clark, Kameron Doolittle, Josh Elias, David Glidden, Colby Hegwood, Michael Hunter, Miketavius Jones, Kevin King, Kevin Peterson, Bryant Reber, Jeremy Seaton, Brandon Sheperd, Ryan Simmons and J.W. Walsh.
That group of seniors had one of the best runs in Oklahoma State history, highlighted by a Big 12 championship and three trips to games now referred to as New Year’s Six bowls in the last five years.
“I was proud of our team,” Gundy said. “We competed right until the end. I didn’t see anybody that laid down. I told them that in the locker room. Sometimes life doesn’t go the way you want it to. But we have to give them credit, their game plan, their coaches, their players. They made plays. We had a chance to stay in it early. We dropped a couple passes in the second quarter to convert some drives. We had a big pass. We had a callback. We had a hands to the face where we were going to be first down on the 25 or so. That hurt us at that time. It put us in a long, long yardage situation. And then we missed a couple of throws.
“So, we told our seniors that we appreciate everything they have done and that they will always be a big part of our team, Oklahoma State University. And the young guys, they will get a week or so off here and get back to school. And we’ll get back to work in the off season, and start working as a coaching staff and recruiting and get ready to roll for next year.”