Offseason more promising after huge victory

Monday, November 26th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

Suddenly, the future looks brighter for Oklahoma State's football program.

The Cowboys won just four games this season, their fourth straight losing season and 12th in the past 13 years. But by upsetting then-No. 4 Oklahoma 16-13 on Saturday, the Cowboys gave themselves a huge boost heading into the offseason.

``I think our guys knew that they're a much better football team than their record,'' first-year coach Les Miles said.

``I have to plead to being naive some,'' he said. ``I always thought we had a chance. I thought we had a chance with every team we played. I really believe that our kids felt the same way.''

The Cowboys began the year determined to win enough games to get to a bowl game. But a harbinger of things to come occurred on the second play of the first game, at Southern Mississippi.

After OSU completed a long pass on first down, tailback Tatum Bell went up the middle on second down _ and fumbled the ball away. Turnovers and other mistakes doomed the Cowboys in a 19-7 loss.

After beating Louisiana Tech in the home opener, the Cowboys faced another test _ one they thought they could pass _ when they visited Texas A&M. But they didn't get it done, losing 21-7 to drop to 1-2.

They evened their record by beating Northwestern State of Louisiana, but the season began falling apart one week later when Missouri visited. In a game the Cowboys knew they had to win, they opened a 14-0 first-half lead before Missouri rallied in the second half to go ahead. OSU then put together a rally of its own before losing in three overtimes.

That started a string of six games _ five of them losses _ in which the Cowboys gave up at least 424 yards of offense. Texas wore them out through the air and on the ground, Iowa State ran up and down the field, Colorado had its way running and passing. Texas Tech threw for 440 yards, Baylor for 315.

The Colorado game was as frustrating as any because Oklahoma State had a 19-7 lead in the third quarter. The lowlight came when OSU give up a 2-point conversion from 33 yards away.

``It's been a long, hard year for us, because we felt good about our players and things didn't go our way,'' offensive coordinator Mike Gundy said. ``The one thing you have to say about our players is this: They never gave up in any game throughout the season.''

Oklahoma State ended a five-game losing streak by beating Baylor in Week 10, although that was hardly anything to brag about. Baylor was the worst team in the Big 12 and gained 517 yards against the Cowboys.

But that game also provided the first extensive playing time for freshman quarterback Josh Fields, and he responded by going 10-of-18 for 161 yards and two touchdowns.

Starter Aso Pogi aggravated a leg injury in that game and wound up playing just the first three series against Oklahoma before Fields took over. Fields finished the day 19-of-38 with one interception and one touchdown _ the game-winner to Rashaun Woods in the final two minutes.

``He plays with nerve and passion and really he typifies this team,'' Miles said. ``He and Aso will have a donnybrook this spring, I promise you.''

Fields is one reason to be excited about next year. Woods, a sophomore, is another. His 80 catches broke the school record of 74 set by Hart Lee Dykes in 1988.

The play of a veteran offensive line was a disappointment, as was the running of Bell, who has tremendous speed but needs to improve his field vision and take better care of the football.

The defense loses linebacker Dwayne Levels, who led the Cowboys in tackles and tackles for loss. But the unit has most everyone else coming back. And OSU will need to replace punter Scott Elder, who had a tremendous senior season.

After winning only four games, there is much work to be done. But that fourth victory gave a glimpse of what can happen when everything clicks.

``What it will mean to us is that in the offseason, we will hopefully develop those habits that will enable us to be a consistent winner,'' Miles said. ``And we'll go forward from here.''