Cow­boys’ fourth-down magic ends at worst time

The Oklahoman (Sunday) - - COWBOY POSTGAME - Jenni Carl­son jcarl­son@ ok­la­homan.com

Tay­lor Cor­nelius felt great about the play call.

Sure, Ok­la­homa State was fac­ing fourth down late in the fourth quar­ter. Yes, Bay­lor might get the ball back with more than a minute and a half left in the game.

But the play the coaches set­tled on is one the Cow­boys have run for years — quar­ter­back rolls out on a naked boot­leg, then dumps off a short pass to a re­ceiver in the flat. Thing is, even if the call hadn’t been for a base play, as Cow­boy coach Mike Gundy called it, Cor­nelius prob­a­bly would’ve liked it.

“We were ex­e­cut­ing so well dur­ing that drive and the drive be­fore,” he said, “we just thought we were bet­ter than them and we could get those yards.”

Oh, that the Cow­boys had.

Pos­i­tive vibes turned into neg­a­tive yards, and eight plays later, the Bears were cel­e­brat­ing an im­prob­a­ble come­back. Bay­lor 35, OSU 31.

On a day so many things went wrong for the Cow­boys — penal­ties by the dozen, in­clud­ing nine by the de­fense, and

spe­cial teams blun­ders that cost 13 points — the Cow­boys fit­tingly put the game in the of­fense’s hands when it hung in the bal­ance. The of­fense wasn’t per­fect Satur­day, but it was eas­ily the best thing go­ing for the Cow­boys.

Af­ter a three-and­out punt on its open­ing pos­ses­sion of the sec­ond half, OSU scored touch­downs on its next three drives. And none of them were gimmes.

Eleven plays, 80 yards. Seven plays, 51 yards. Fif­teen plays, 79 yards.

The of­fen­sive bal­ance was mag­nif­i­cent. Four­teen passes, nine of them com­pleted for 134 yards and one touch­down. Twenty runs for 93 yards and two touch­downs.

A sim­i­lar mix bore out over­all as the Cow­boys passed for 311 yards and rushed for 212 yards.

So when the Cow­boys got the ball back with 5:43 left, any­one who bleeds or­ange had to feel pretty good. Not great, of course. The Bears had scored on back-to-back pos­ses­sions and cut the lead to three.

But then Jus­tice Hill ripped off a 9-yard run to open the drive. He went right, saw trou­ble and re­versed the play. When he did, he got a big block from Cor­nelius and turned noth­ing into some­thing.

Next came a Cor­nelius run, a cou­ple runs by J.D. King, a pass to Ty­ron John­son, then a cou­ple more runs by King.

Af­ter a Cor­nelius run on third down left the Cow­boys 2 yards short of the sticks, Gundy took a time­out with 1:37 left. OSU was go­ing for it. “You get a chance to get a first down, the game’s over,” Gundy said. “If you punt it, they are go­ing to get it on the 20.”

That as­sumes a touch­back, but the way OSU’s spe­cial teams was play­ing, as­sum­ing the worst is solid.

The play Gundy and of­fen­sive co­or­di­na­tor Mike Yur­cich set­tled on had Cor­nelius fak­ing a hand­off to Hill, then rolling right. Tight end Je­lani Woods would line up on the left side of the line, roll right as well, then pop into the flat.

“You want to try to play to the quar­ter­back’s strength,” Yur­cich said. “Corn­dog, with his abil­ity to throw on the run, we called a naked play be­cause it suits him the best. Hadn’t called that play all day, and was a good com­ple­ment to what we were run­ning.”

The Cow­boys had run out of a sim­i­lar for­ma­tion ear­lier in the game.

But as Woods rolled right, Bay­lor de­fen­sive line­man James Lynch hit him. That slowed Woods’ route and threw off the tim­ing, but worse, Lynch pres­sured Cor­nelius and forced him back­ward.

Bay­lor de­fend­ers swarmed him for a 9-yard loss.

Bay­lor sud­denly had a short field and an en­er­gized crowd and a head of steam and ... well, you know the rest.

“I should’ve thrown the ball away,” Cor­nelius said. “I tried to make some­thing hap­pen. It was just stupid on my part.

“Ob­vi­ously, hind­sight is 20-20, but if we get that, ev­ery­body’s talk­ing about how great a call it was.”

The de­ci­sion was right, but in hind­sight, all the Cow­boys will see is the re­sult.

Bay­lor’s Jalen Hurd gave OSU’s de­fense the fits with seven catches for 96 yards and a touch­down.

[AP PHOTO]

Bay­lor’s safety Blake Lynch sacks Ok­la­homa State’s quar­ter­back Tay­lor Cor­nelius in the sec­ond half.

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