STILLWATER, Okla. — The fresh idea of Oklahoma State as a dazzling blockbuster capable of upending the natural order of college football went into the alleged autumn of 90-degree temperatures on Saturday and then spent the hours fizzling.
As it did, a cobwebbed old idea resurfaced.
Remember that crafty old schemer, Mr. Patterson from TCU? The one standing over there so long (17 seasons) he's practically part of the Fort Worth topography? Well, this Gary Patterson has seen some gaudy offenses in his 57 years. He can defuse your dazzle with his old bale of wiles forged as a Kansas State safety-linebacker and a TCU defensive coordinator. He can bring his under-Frogs into your happy house and dim the lights, then speak oddities such as, "We've always been a better underdog." He can leave your team's head coach to describe himself at least three times afterward as "out-coached."
That's what Mike Gundy kept saying after No. 16 TCU won at No. 6 Oklahoma State in a manner not very close, then sort of close, then ending justly at 44-31. The 56,790 witnesses arrived all amped to see a Broadway offense with senior quarterback Mason Rudolph, who enjoyed the company of four 100-yard receivers a Saturday earlier at Pitt, which had turned their Cowboys into a national fascination. And many of those witnesses filed out at the end of the third quarter.
They missed an almost-comeback as they left and processed some fresher things looking ahead. Those things include that some starch went out of the game booked for Nov. 4 here, when Oklahoma visits for a contempt-a-thon. Some starch went into a game the following week, when TCU (4-0) goes to Oklahoma. Meanwhile, the Cowboys (3-1) said they would not give up on the distant idea of the four-team College Football Playoff, especially with the season still young.
They seemed upbeat, still, while reiterating the old truth that just infused itself anew, the one about Mr. Patterson from Fort Worth, whose team not only had flummoxed Rudolph and his 72-percent completion ratio into a 6-for-14 first half and an uneven 22-for-41 game, but did the other side of the trick just as well. The Horned Frogs possessed the ball for 39 of the 60 minutes, rushing for 238 discouraging yards.
That meant Cowboys spent a lot of time waiting.
"It was definitely kind of weird, you know, because we had five, six possessions in the first quarter last week," Cowboys running back Justice Hill said. "We didn't have that many [two], so we were just sitting over there. But it's a part of the game, you know."
"You know, Coach Patterson, he's a great defensive coach," Cowboys center Brad Lundblade said. "So they had a couple of schemes that we hadn't really seen that we weren't really prepared for that I think they just did a good job of scheming us up. Credit to them."
"I think," Gundy said, "sometimes when you have game plans, when the game's over, I think, as a head coach, and really as an assistant coach, you have to look and say, 'Okay, everything we put together for this game wasn't good.' And I think in this game, their packages for what we do, versus our packages for what they do, I thought they were better. I mean, it's happened before. It's happened before and we won a game. So I'm not so naive to think we always have a better plan than everybody each week."
Cowboys offensive coordinator Mike Yurcich restated, "Tempo is our identity," and then asked what a tempo team does when it lacks the access to its tempo, he said, "That's a hell of a question." A tempo tantrum would not help, and, as Rudolph put it, the patient, intermediate routes just felt all gummed-up as well. TCU lured Oklahoma State into running, and the Cowboys felt obliged to try to take advantage, and that didn't help much either.
Rudolph, of course, looks like an American dream standing in the pocket with his 6-foot-5 frame and his 230 pounds and his polish. And anyone seeking that sight got plenty of it on Saturday, because sometimes he had to stand in the pocket, and stand more in the pocket. Clearly nothing looked all that thrilling downfield, and he had both a fumble plucked from behind and a stinging interception just after halftime — one that looked like some dying bird, gone to rest in the unsuspecting arms of Chris Bradley, a 275-pound defensive lineman.
"We had a lot of, kind of, the turbo, tempo plays, that we try to take advantage of, and you saw the first one there to James" Washington, for an early and gorgeous 86-yard touchdown, Rudolph explained. "And they made a great adjustment and started double-covering those guys, and we kind of got behind the chains there. We were trying to take shots, and they were doing a good job of taking it away, taking the deep stuff away, and we didn't really have as many answers in the intermediate game. It's a collective offensive deal. There were mistakes across the board. And TCU played great."
As he spoke, Oklahoma State had seen the brightness of its comet fade some in this four-month national chase, and it seemed everybody had forgotten about the old master over there talking on the other side.
"Our program has had our times when we've been relevant," Patterson said, "and that's what you want to do. You want to win enough ballgames that people take notice." That said, he said, "It was also an advantage for us that no one was giving us a chance." And: "We play a lot better like that."