OSU's Phillips could bookend career with upset
`Guys are depending on me'
STILLWATER — A handful of current Oklahoma State players were on the sideline as Tyreek Hill sped past them on a 92-yard punt return that gave OSU another game.
Only one player was on the field. He's the last active remnant of the play and of OSU's last victory in Bedlam.
Justin Phillips' career has had its unexpected twists. He played as a freshman on a team with little experience, then opted for the rare sophomoreyear redshirt when he was in line to be a backup again. Four years after Oklahoma State's 38-35 win over Oklahoma as a 19.5-point underdog, the linebacker will be one of the players leading the Cowboys on the same field in Norman as a 21-point underdog Saturday. It's a chance for his career to come full circle. A chance to clinch bowl eligibility on his rival's home field for the second time in five seasons. “Everybody wanted that extra game,” Phillips said. “Nobody wanted to leave the season early like that. So guys tuned in, locked in and just were ready to fight and go out there.”
Few casual observers had heard of Phillips entering Bedlam on Dec. 6, 2014. A freshman from Pearland, Texas, he appeared in six of OSU's first 11 games, recording eight tackles.
But he had played in only three Big 12 games, making six of his eight tackles during blowout nonconference wins over Missouri State and UTSA.
Then star linebacker Josh Furman got hurt against the Sooners. Phillips, who didn't start the game, came on in relief and recorded 10 tackles — one of four defenders to make double-digit stops.
As a reserve, he also played special teams, which means he was on the field for the return.
“We brought some pressure on the punt,” Phillips said. “We almost blocked it. Nobody got a hand on the ball and I turned around and saw (Hill) catch it. I was a young guy so I got caught looking at the play while on the field. I noticed my guy was going so I turned around and tried to block him and next thing you know Tyreek's running down the sideline and he toasted the dude, so that's what happened on my view.”
The victory was pure bliss for a desperate team. Oklahoma State entered Bedlam loser of five in a row. The win sent OSU to the Cactus Bowl, where it handled Washington, and set things in motion for 30 wins over the following three seasons.
While OSU isn't quite so desperate this week, there's still a sense of urgency after a 35-31 loss to Baylor last weekend. Oklahoma State, once again, goes to Norman in need of a sixth win.
Phillips stayed on script Tuesday, saying OSU was taking things “one game at a time.”
But he knows as well as anyone what a win over a favored OU team can do — both for a program and for a young team trying to forge an identity for years to come.
Though Phillips the 2015 the Bedlam changed his career.
“I didn't play much at all besides special teams that year,” Phillips said. “So it's one of those games I'm coming in and guys are depending on me. So I just went in there and gave it everything I had and just tried to help my team as much as I could.”
Taylor Cornelius was one of those players on the sideline. He redshirted the 2014 season — though, for a moment, he thought he was going to have to start when Daxx Garman was concussed.
But he remembered the thrill of watching Hill sprint down the sideline. And he remembered the scene after the game.
“When we came back (to Stillwater), we drove back on the buses and there was like a swarm of people outside the stadium waiting for us when we got home,” Cornelius said.
To have that again, but as the starting — and winning — quarterback?
“It'd be very cool,” Cornelius said. “Very, very cool.”
Oklahoma State linebacker Justin Phillips (left) hits Boise State quarterback Brett Rypien during the Cowboys' win on Sept. 15. Phillips, then a freshman, played in OSU's previous victory over Oklahoma, in 2014, and made 10 tackles.