Exceeding Expectations: The Story of the 2021 Cowboy Football Season

Oklahoma State’s 2022 football team has accomplished more over the season than most thought it was capable of. Voted fourth in the preseason Big 12 poll and left out of the AP preseason Top 25, the Cowboys were safely under the radar and headed into the year.

By the end of the season, the Cowboys had set a school-season record with a total of 12 wins, finishing the regular season only atop the Big 12, winning the PlayStation Fiesta Bowl after beating No. 5 Notre Dame and were the only team in the FBS to have three wins over 11-win teams.

In addition, OSU set a school record with seven home wins, recorded its third perfect home season since 1960, tied a school record with five wins over AP Top 25 opponents, and placed it at No. 7 for its third best ever result in the latest AP poll.

The OSU defenses made headlines all season for holding opponents to numbers not seen in Stillwater for decades.

The Cowboys finished the year among the FBS leaders in sacks (No. 1 with a school record 57), tackles for loss (No. 2 with a school record 114), third down defense (No. 4 with 28.8%), fourth Down Defense (No. 4 at 29.6%), Hasty Defense (No. 5 with School Record 87.6 yards per game), Total Defense (No. 5 at 297.9 yards per game), Scoring Defense (No. 9. with 18.1 points) per game) and more.

linebacker Malcolm Rodriguez and safety Kolby Harvey Peel earned All-America honors as he anchored a unit with nine seniors in the starting grid. They were joined by cornerbacks Jarrick Bernard Converse and Christian Holmes and defensive purposes Brock Martin and Collin Oliver as selections for all conferences. Oliver was also the unanimous Big 12 Freshman of the Year and a Freshman All-America pick.

OSU was also efficient on offense, protecting the ball and playing complementary football for most of the season to gain field position and control the game. The Cowboys were number 9 in the FBS with only 1.14 sacks allowed per game and number 12 in the FBS with 328 first downs won. When it came to playing only in Big 12 games, the Cowboys were No. 1 in the league in hasty offense, No. 2 in total offense, and No. 3 in scoring offense.

quarterback Spencer Sandersoffensive lineman Josh Sillswide receiver Tay Martin and returnee Brennan Presley were All-Big 12 honorees on offense, with Martin taking on over 1,000 receiving yards and driving back Jaylen Warren (the Big 12 Offensive Newcomer of the Year) with over 1,000 rushing yards.

As successful as the season was, it started tense. The Cowboys narrowly escaped defeat in the season opener at home to Missouri State without Sanders as starting quarterback, then followed that by passing both Tulsa in Stillwater and Boise State on the road with less than a touchdown.

However, all three games were still Cowboy wins and they laid the foundation for the strength and toughness that would come to define a team that made remarkable improvements over the course of the year. In fact, “Find a Way” was… Mike Gundy‘s main rallying cry from spring 2021 to the end of the season, and it couldn’t have been a better way to sum up the group’s efforts.

Those first three wins established OSU with a first-class defense that was reliable even in difficult situations, and an offense that gained a foothold as both old and new players entered the program.

When conference game arrived, the Cowboys got underway with a 31-20 win over Kansas State, a 24-14 win over Baylor and a 32-24 comeback win over Texas, marking the first time in school history that OSU had defeated the AP. -ranked defeated opponents in three consecutive games.

The piece took the Cowboys 6-0 en route to a road game with the preseason AP top-10 Iowa State, and they nearly went 7-0 if not for a three-point loss to Ames, including a controversial fourth place in ISU territory on OSU’s latest and potential game-winning drive.

Finding a renewed focus and further drive for success after the adversity, Oklahoma State channeled it into its best football in years with a five-game winning streak to close out the regular season.

Starting with a dominant Homecoming win over Kansas, OSU defeated the next four opponents by a combined score of 165-23, beating KU by a score of 55-3, West Virginia by a score of 24-3, TCU by a score of 63 -17 and Texas Tech by a score of 23-0.

The piece marked the first time since 1934 that the Cowboys held consecutive opponents to three or fewer points, OSU’s first conference shutout since 1995, the first time TTU was knocked out in Lubbock since 1987, the two lowest total offense totals (108 vs. TTU and 133 vs. WVU) for an OSU opponent since 1999 and the only time in the past two years that an FBS team has kept three opponents (KU, WVU, and TTU) within 150 yards in a season.

With that kind of momentum, the Cowboys entered the regular season finale Bedlam matchup with a spot already secured in the Big 12 Championship game and a favorite against the top-10 Oklahoma. It was only the third time in the 116 meetings of the programs where both teams were in the AP top 10, and the game more than lived up to the hype.

In a game that featured a special teams touchdown for both OSU and OU, five turnovers and 70 points, the Cowboys overcame a nine-point fourth-quarter deficit to take a 37-33 win over the Sooners. The win capped off with a crawling sack from Oliver on the game’s final Sooners offensive within OSU territory.

The win capped an 8-1 conference record for OSU, placed the Cowboys alone on the final Big 12 regular season standings for the first time since 2011, and was celebrated with thousands of fans storming the field at Boone Pickens Stadium. It also sent the Cowboys into their first conference championship game in school history with a lot of momentum, knocking the Sooners out of the game to be replaced by the Baylor Bears.

The 2021 Dr Pepper Big 12 Championship Game was played the following week at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas, and the Cowboys came in at No. 5 in the College Football Playoff rankings with a strong chance of making it to the CFP for the first time. with a win over Baylor.

As much momentum as the Cowboys gained from their five-game dominant winning streak, they were forced to play the game (beyond the first two snaps) with no Big 12 Offensive Newcomer of the Year Jaylen Warren.

Early turnovers and limited options left the Cowboys 21-3 in the second quarter against a BU team that finished in the FBS top 10 in scoring defense. Still, the Cowboys dug deep again and found a way to narrow the deficit to five points in the final quarter. OSU’s final run went 89 yards to the Baylor 1-yard line with less than 30 seconds to go, but a fourth dive at the pylon of run back Dezmon Jackson was inches short of target as the Cowboys missed the conference title and a potential CFP berth by the narrowest margin possible.

Despite the heartbreaking finish, Oklahoma State gathered and prepared for a New Year’s Six game with No. 5 Notre Dame in the PlayStation Fiesta Bowl 2022 – the first meeting between the programs.

In another slow start, OSU fell behind again, trailing 28-7 with less than a minute to go in the top half.

As it has done over and over again throughout the year, Oklahoma State found a way to get back into the game. This time, the Cowboys found a way to win.

OSU tied the game at 28-28 via three Sanders-to-Martin touchdown passes in under 15 minutes and scored 30 consecutive points to get away with the 37-35 win in the biggest comeback win in history. both Oklahoma State and Fiesta Bowl.

Sanders earned Offensive MVP honors for a total of 496 yards in offense with 371 passes and a career-high 125 rushing, and Rodriguez was a fitting choice for Defensive MVP after recording an interception in the fourth quarter with a game- high 11 tackles, two pass breakups and a quarterback rush in the final game of his storied collegiate career.

The unlikely comeback Fiesta Bowl victory was the perfect exclamation point to a 12-2 season that is arguably one of the greatest in Oklahoma State football history.

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