In a pivotal game on Oklahoma State’s schedule, coach Mike Gundy wasn’t afraid to gamble.
With the Cowboys facing fourth-and-1 on their very first drive against the nation’s stingiest rush defense, Gundy made a quick decision – so fast that he seemed to catch Texas off guard – and told his offense to go for it.
Zac Robinson kept the ball on a quarterback sneak, picking up 2 yards and extending a drive that appeared destined to be a three-and-out.
“We knew possessions were going to be key, and we didn’t want to turn it over if there was a gettable fourth down or we felt like we had a play loaded up that would fit,” offensive coordinator Gunter Brewer said. “We wanted to play fast.”
And they did. Even though Robinson threw a career-high four interceptions in the 41-14 loss to Texas on Saturday, there was no mistaking that speed.
What seems like a snap decision as the No. 18 Cowboys (6-2, 3-1 Big 12) rush up to the line is actually an involved thought process that starts early in the week. Gundy said he’d already decided before the Texas game that OSU would be aggressive on fourth downs in short or medium yardage.
The plays that will be called are already on a script.
The Cowboys ended up going for it on fourth down three times in the first half, converting twice. Robinson also completed a 7-yard pass to Justin Blackmon on fourth-and-4 and Hubert Anyiam dropped a potential 32-yard touchdown pass on fourth-and-8.
“At least we gave ourselves a chance to play a team that was extremely talented and we had a chance – if we’d have executed – to do exactly what we wanted to do,” Brewer said.
On the season, Oklahoma State has converted eight of its 14 fourth-down attempts to rank right in the middle of the Big 12 in both success rate and attempts.
“Personally, I always want to go for it – no matter where we’re at,” redshirt freshman guard Lane Taylor said. “I think the fourth downs, it’s really good to keep the momentum going.”
Of course, players also realize that the coaches are sticking their necks out when they make those gambles.
“If we convert it, they’re heroes. It’s a good call,” offensive tackle Brady Bond said. “It’s their decision, and it’s our job to execute it.”
That was never more the case than on that first try against the Longhorns. The ball was spotted at the Cowboys’ 28-yard line, and Texas would have taken over in field goal range with a stop.
“I guess they trust us quite a bit,” Bond said.
One of the secrets to success is speed, capitalizing on a time when their opponent is unsure whether to send out their punt team or leave the defense on the field.
“I think any time you can make a quick decision at the tempo that we play at, whether it’s fourth down, first down or second down, it really doesn’t matter anytime you have a play loaded up that’s ready to go,” Brewer said. “Especially on fourth down, because they’re wondering whether you’re going to go for it or not.”
The variables in Oklahoma State’s game plan will change for Saturday’s game at Iowa State (5-4, 2-3). Against a Texas team leading the nation in scoring, Gundy felt OSU needed to get the most out of every possession.
While two of the three attempts on fourth down were successful, none actually netted the Cowboys any points. Dan Bailey missed a 45-yard field goal to end the first possession, and the drive including Blackmon’s conversion ended with the first of Robinson’s interceptions.
“Every game we approach differently. We felt like the last game, if we had a fourth down situation, we’d like to look at it,” Bond said. “That’s just part of our offense. We have the option to get up there and see what they’re going to give us, and if we feel like we have a good opportunity to convert, we’ll go ahead and run the play.”