Oklahoma State saved its best drive for when it was least expected.
After jumping out to a 27-3 lead, the Cowboys' offense went into hibernation with four consecutive three-and-outs, allowing UT-San Antonio to creep back into the game and draw within a two scores early in the fourth quarter of OSU's eventual 43-13 victory.
Then – with pressure beginning to mount – OSU's offense woke up and did so with authority.
On the first play of the drive, Daxx Garman connected with Marcell Ateman on a 43-yard strike down the left side. Two snaps later, Desmond Roland broke out to the right for an 11-yard burst. On the next play, Garman threw a 22-yard dart to David Glidden through three defenders down to the 1-yard line before Roland punched in his second TD of the day.
Five plays, 78 yards, 1:27 off the clock and one giant gut punch delivered to a scrappy UTSA squad in search of its first statement victory in its four-year existence as a program.
OSU used that quick-strike drive to spark an impressive finish to an otherwise up-and-down performance in Saturday's victory against the Roadrunners in Boone Pickens Stadium.
A big reason for the high-and-low nature of the win was Garman, who was often uneven in his first career start at quarterback for the Cowboys.
Garman completed 16-of-30 passes for 315 yards and two touchdowns but the numbers don't accurately convey the performance. The junior signal caller threw deep early and often, never quite looking comfortable in the intermediate passing game and struggling in the short game until the final two drives of the contest. But growing pains are to be expected for a quarterback who hasn't started a game since 2009.
On the bright side, Garman does have a big arm and he put it on display, connecting on six passes that covered at least 32 yards but he has a lot of improvements to make before conference play begins in a week and a half against Texas Tech. And the offense overall needs to improve around their new quarterback, as J.W. Walsh is likely sidelined for two months.
“We have a lot of work (to do). We should have had 600 yards of offense,” coach Mike Gundy said. “We missed some opportunities for big plays, and we missed some blocks and things like that. Our offense relies on the run and throw both. We're very balanced, and if we're not effective in one area, we have to manufacture a way to be effective in the other. We didn't square up in the blocking game. We missed some deep throws. There were several of them that were right off the fingertips of our guys. We need to hit more of those throws, and we have to square up guys in the running game.
“I thought our schemes were good, but we just have to be better and kind of look at what we're doing. That's what you go through when you have some young guys.”
Overall, the offense put up 477 yards of total offense and nine different Cowboys hauled in at least one reception, led by four grabs for sophomore Marcell Ateman for 70 yards. Brandon Sheperd and James Washington both turned their only grabs of the evening into touchdowns covering 18 and 33 yards, respectively.
RELATED: Instant Analysis: OSU 43, UTSA 13
Desmond Roland was impressive in his first game back from injury despite subpar blocking, rumbling for a workman-like 95 yards and two touchdowns on 21 carries. Rennie Childs chipped in 44 yards on 13 attempts, while Tyreek Hill put up 29 yards on seven carries.
But, for as hit-and-miss as the offense was in the victory, the defense was absolutely suffocating.
The Cowboys were bigger, stronger, faster, deeper and frankly just better than the Roadrunners on that side of the ball and put UTSA back on its heels, particularly in the first half.
After two quarters of play, OSU had limited UTSA to just 84 yards of total offense and three points that only came about as a result of a long punt return that put the Roadrunners in scoring position.
Overall, OSU stifled the visitors into just 206 yards of offense and held them to 73 rushing yards on a paltry 2.1 yards per attempt.
And it was a performance aided by all the talk of how efficient and how physical UTSA was heading into the game.
“We knew what these guys could do. We came in tonight with a mindset of knowing that we had to be more physical than them. We knew they would cut us a lot and try to get quick to the edge so we did a great job of executing our game plan,” linebacker Ryan Simmons said. “We were forcing the ball when we needed to and getting pressure when we needed to so we did a great job today, overall."
For UTSA (1-2), freshman QB Blake Bogenschutz came in for starter Tucker Carter, who left with an undisclosed injury after completing 7-of-15 passes for 51 yards, and sparked a decent stretch for the Roadrunners, scoring their only touchdown of the game on a 24-yard run.
But the Cowboys were flat out dominant for the most part, especially on third down where they limited UTSA to just 3-of-17 on third-down opportunities. OSU was also routinely in the backfield, recording three sacks, nine tackles for loss and countless hurries.
And the defensive showcase ended with a fitting exclamation point when corner Ashton Lampkin jumped a route on the final play of the game and intercepted a pass in stride for a 50-yard touchdown return as time expired.
Kicker Ben Grogan was another bright spot for the Cowboys with arguably his best career performance to date, connecting on all three field goal attempts, highlighted by a 47-yarder as time expired in the first half.
Next up for the Cowboys is a Thursday night tilt with Texas Tech in the conference opener for both teams on Sept. 25.