Mike Gundy wasn't in the mood for moral victories after Saturday's loss to Florida State.
Those go by the wayside when you have the eighth-most W's in the country since 2008, but the Cowboys' coach did see some big positives from his young squad at AT&T Stadium in OSU's closer-than-anticipated 37-31 loss against No. 1 FSU.
“Whether you lose 80-10 or 37-31 it's still a loss but what I have mentioned leading up through the month was that I needed the guys to play hard,” Gundy said. “I needed them to understand and execute the game plan and I needed them to be physical and tough ... I'm going to say they played that way tonight.
“That goes back to we had great leadership from our veteran players ... then we had freshman running down the field and playing hard and I couldn't be more proud of them. A lot of them were playing high school football in their last game and now they're out here playing against the defending national champion. That's a little different.”
As the quote indicates, Gundy expected growing pains. And OSU definitely had them.
J.W. Walsh had his first pass snagged by a defender and returned for a touchdown, Ben Grogan missed an opportunity to get OSU on the board with a shanked field goal in the first quarter, OSU's offense slogged its way to a paltry 28 yards of offense in the first quarter, the defense was gashed by a few early pass plays, and the Pokes fell behind 17-0 in short order with very little sign of righting the ship.
The game was seemingly headed the way of a lopsided defeat — an outcome widely expected across the country — but this Cowboy team didn't quit. That was the effort Gundy wanted.
After the initial miscues were out of their system, this inexperienced Oklahoma State team settled in and rallied behind a strong defensive effort, a gutsy final three quarters from the offense, a dynamic debut from Tyreek Hill and came within a few missed opportunities of shocking the college football world in an eventual eventual one-score loss against the defending national champions.
And one widespread factor in the Cowboys' ability to claw back was their resolve.
“You don't ever know what to expect with so many young players on the field," Gundy said. “But we never saw any fear in any of their eyes.”
That fearless attitude helped OSU break through its early onslaught of mistakes.
After FSU marched 94 yards in just eight plays to take its 17-0 lead, OSU answered with a stout 11-play, 75-yard scoring drive capped by a one-yard Desmond Roland blast into the endzone that seemed to finally get the Cowboys into their groove.
And from there, the game was on.
The Cowboys immediately forced Florida State into a three-and-out and then turned a timely interception of Jameis Winston into a field goal as time ran out in the half to head to the locker rooms down 17-10 and with confidence swelling.
The Seminoles then tested that confidence instantly in the third, marching down the field to start the quarter but the OSU defense stiffed in the red zone, holding them to a Robert Aguayo field goal.
Then the Cowboys answered with their best — and fastest — drive of the day.
Walsh connected with David Glidden across the middle for 19 yards to start things off followed by a 2-yard rush from Roland. Then Walsh dropped back and pump faked a swing pass to Hill, which the Cowboys had been running with success all game long, and the bait worked. FSU's defensive backs bit hard on Hill and Walsh found a wide open Glidden sneaking behind the secondary for an uncontested 55-yard TD strike to climb within 20-17, putting the Noles firmly on upset alert.
But the rally would be derailed by a second wave of turnovers, one of which was an inexcusable botched snap in punt formation that gave Florida State possession in great field possession and allowed FSU to get up by double digits again after Winston rumbled for an acrobatic 28-yard touchdown.
OSU would strike back to get within three on a 24-yard scoring scamper from Walsh early in the fourth and, despite allowing an FSU field goal on the ensuing drive, had a chance to go for a go-ahead touchdown on a drive that started with 5:08 remaining, but Walsh was flipped on a hard hit by P.J. Williams and lost the ball, giving the Noles possession. And Winston wasted little time taking advantage, connecting for a 50-yard strike to Rashad Green that proved to be the dagger for all intents and purposes with 3:38 remaining.
OSU added a late TD on another designed Walsh run but FSU was able to run out the clock on its next possession.
The mistakes were costly and this contest certainly registers as a missed opportunity but a lot of good can be taken from it moving forward, as well.
Hill, the Big 12 Preseason Newcomer of the Year, was as good as advertised, racking up 278 all-purpose yards through rushing, receiving and return yardage.
Walsh did everything he could for the Cowboys, shaking off a terrible start to finish 15-of-27 passing for 203 yards with a TD and added 51 yards and two scores on the ground.
And the defense, which featured seven new starters, played extremely well, making Winston look very human despite the reigning Heisman winner throwing for 370 yards. OSU forced him into two interceptions and limited him to 1.8 yards per carry.
Maybe there are no moral victories anymore for OSU but there is plenty from this game to build on and things to fix that can be addressed — namely the punting unit — with two very winnable games next up on the docket for the Pokes, starting with the Cowboys' home opener against FBS foe Missouri State next Saturday.