Many happy returns for 2011 Cowboys
STILLWATER — The stars aligned again for the 2011 Oklahoma State football team.
Weeden to Blackmon, just like old times.
On a day No. 18-ranked OSU held off No. 24 Baylor for a 24-14 victory inside Boone Pickens Stadium, memories of the past emerged, particularly in a halftime celebration.
The 2011 team — a team that won the Big 12 title, the Fiesta Bowl and made a case for playing in the national title game — reunited for a 10-year anniversary.
The celebration featured 50 former players and was capped by quarterback Brandon Weeden throwing a pass in the end zone to Justin Blackmon, a regular occurrence during that season.
It was a moment that drew a huge reaction from fans.
“It’s awesome to see Justin back,” OSU coach Mike Gundy said. “He was a fantastic player. And all those guys to come back was awesome. Our team performed well for them.”
Gundy was unable to really enjoy the reunion, though he did see a few on Friday night and exchange text messages with others.
Weeden also served as the VIP leader of the “Orange Power” chant in pregame, bringing his two sons on the field to a rousing ovation.
But Blackmon’s return sparked the crowd more.
A two-time Biletnikoff Award winner, Blackmon is regarded as possibly the best receiver in program history. His NFL career got off to a strong start, but fizzled after a series of arrests and an indefinite suspension by the league for violation of the league’s substance-abuse policy.
“It was good to have him back in town,” OSU offensive coordinator Kasey Dunn said.
Blackmon also met with the OSU receivers, a surprise from Dunn.
OSU superstar running back and Heisman Trophy winner Barry Sanders was also in town. He met the running backs following the game.
“I didn’t know Barry was coming back,” Gundy said. “Maybe he thought he was on the 2011 team.”
‘One heck of a play’
A week ago, OSU linebacker Devin Harper went after the quarterback, leaving a running back open for a big screen reception.
On Saturday, he nearly did it again — except this time the Cowboys were prepared.
With Baylor facing fourth-and-4 from its own 36 with just more than 8 minutes remaining, the Cowboys came up with a huge stop.
Baylor quarterback Gerry Bohanon ran to his right, drew Harper toward him and lofted a pass to running back Abram Smith, only for it to hit Evers’ body as he dove in an effort to break up the play.
It was the second-career pass breakup for Evers, a 6-foot-2, 295-pound redshirt senior from Bixby.
“I told him in the locker room, ‘That’s the Bixby pride I know,’” OSU linebacker Malcolm Rodriguez said.
OSU, clinging to a 17-14 lead at the time, ultimately punted on the following possession. But it was another statement by the defense, which held Baylor to 3 of 15 on third down and 1 of 3 on fourth down.
“One play that I think really exemplifies what we’re doing here is Evers when he made that play on the running back on fourth down,” OSU defensive coordinator Jim Knowles said. “You gotta look at that.
“That was one heck of a play.”
Oliver continues to impress
On paper, OSU appears to be getting thin at the leo position, its pass-rushing defensive end.
True freshman Collin Oliver is proving otherwise.
With no Trace Ford, Brock Martin or Tyren Irby due to injuries, the Edmond Santa Fe graduate made his first-career start and thrived.
He finished with five tackles — four solo — and two sacks. He also had three quarterback hurries.
“He’s gonna gain confidence each week,” Gundy said.
But there is a risk with Oliver playing so many plays. Gundy mentioned earlier in the week that Oliver gets fatigued. The bye week can only help Oliver.
“(He) doesn’t need that many plays yet, but we’re beat up at that spot,” Gundy said. “But he’s got to play. My concern becomes him healthy mentally and physically, he’s young playing in there in the trenches, so and so forth.
“He’s held up OK.”
A change at kicker
OSU kicker Alex Hale got the night off. As a result, UNLV walk-on transfer Tanner Brown got his chance.
Brown made a 20-yard field goal in the fourth quarter and all three extrapoint attempts.
But it was an unexpected change. Hale, who suffered a torn ACL last season, has struggled to start the season, making just 2 of 5 field goals as he’s worked through mechanical issues.
So, Gundy opted to give Hale the week off to continue working through those issues with the bye coming next week. The decision was made last Sunday.
“We want him to work this week, work next week, work the next week and we’ll see where he’s at,” Gundy said. “We haven’t lost confidence in him, but we felt like this would give him 20 days to work on his skill.
“Tanner did a good job kicking and we felt comfortable enough to use him in the game.”
Irby nearing return
Irby, a redshirt senior, should return to practice next week, according to Gundy.
Irby, who suffered a torn ACL last season, missed the past two games with a knee injury, but it does not appear to be a major issue.
“He didn’t have any structural damage,” Gundy said. “He just had a deep bruise and he’s working through it. I would be shocked if he’s not back out there in a week.”
OSU was also without running back LD Brown (knee) and receiver Bryson Green (hand) for a second straight week. Running back Dezmond Jackson also missed his third straight game with a leg injury.