The Cowboys pointed all spring and summer to their nonconference date with Southern Mississippi. The 28-6 defeat hung on them Saturday night by the No.22 Golden Eagles will not be easily dismissed.
The loss wasn't as difficult to accept as the way it was administered. OSU outgained Southern Miss, 303-250, held the visitors to minus-7 rushing yards and had six sacks.
But Southern Mississippi quarterback Jeff Kelly completed nine of 11 passes on third-down plays for 102 yards. The Golden Eagles built a 14-3 halftime edge and were never threatened.
Oklahoma State fans booed the Cowboys' play calling â€“ only five first-half passes were thrown. And they were especially upset that OSU went for a field goal on fourth-and-6 at the Eagles' 12 with 9:49 left and the home team trailing, 21-6.
"I appreciate our fans," coach Bob Simmons said. "We're disappointed, too. I thought we were ready and the outcome could have been different. But we can't sit and dwell on it. ... We have the whole season left. There is no reason to panic. But there is a sense of urgency to be better."
Much of last week's pre-game talk was how the Southern Miss game would be a barometer of the Cowboys' season. Simmons' charge this week has been to get his players to focus on Saturday's 11 a.m. challenge at Texas.
"I see all our players with their heads held high," said linebacker Terrence Robinson, a Tyler John Tyler product. "Nobody is down or giving up. This game is over with and we have to go on."
A victory over Southern Miss, said Simmons, "would have given us a jolt of adrenaline. But no coach spends time dwelling on games they think they should have won."
On the positive side, said Simmons, "We've been able to move the ball up and down the field. The flip side is, we've got to put the ball in the end zone."
Oklahoma State advanced inside the Southern Miss 30-yard line six times and was inside the 20 four times, but settled for two field goals. Seth Condley missed two field goals and the Cowboys threw a pair of interceptions.
Alternately, OSU defensive backs twice dropped passes that hit them in the numbers.
The Cowboys currently rank No. 1 nationally in rushing defense, but are No. 92 in passing defense. An inexperienced secondary would have been greatly helped by the return of cornerback Alvin Porter, but his appeal was denied Wednesday by the NCAA's satisfactory progress committee.
Simmons said his defensive coaching staff can help the secondary by "mixing up schemes ... The biggest way to help our defense is to disguise what we're doing."
The sixth-year coach admits being concerned about Texas' passing ability â€“ the Longhorns currently are the nation's No. 5 passing team â€“ but says he can't put all his defensive eggs in that basket.
"At this point, they're throwing the ball well," he said. "But they may go back to running more. Hodges Mitchell is a heck of a back. You've really got to account for him."
Charlie Smith is a free-lance writer based in Tulsa.