August 20, 2008

Pokes driven to correct recent close losses

Horseshoes and hand grenades.

Those are the sports where getting close counts.

But in football?

Nope. Close just means your loss is that much more painful.

And over the course of the last two seasons, Oklahoma State and its fans have experienced plenty of pain. So much, in fact, that the Cowboys' season-ending win totals could have been vastly different given a couple more scores. Three touchdowns worth, to be exact.

In six games over the course of the 2006 and 2007 seasons, OSU lost by a combined 21 points. The games in question? Kansas State (31-27), Texas A&M (34-33, OT), Texas Tech (30-24) and Oklahoma (27-21) in '06 and A&M (24-23) and Texas (38-35) in '07. All of those were games OSU either led in late and lost, or hung close the whole way and didn't finish.

There's that pesky word: finish.

If the Cowboys had "finished" those games, their last two seasons could have been significantly better. How does an 11-2 and 9-4 record sound to you? Because if those games had gone OSU's way - and nothing else changed - the Pokes would be seen as a program to be reckoned with, head coach Mike Gundy would have an overall record of 24-13 and two likely better bowl games to its credit.

Instead, the Pokes are seen as an also-ran, Gundy has a record of 18-19 and OSU appeared in two lower-level bowls. Football is a game of inches, but it's also a game of points and OSU either didn't score enough or allowed too many at crucial moments. It's been a vexing ordeal and if you thought the pain you felt as a Cowboy fan was bad, just imagine being on the playing field in a helmet for those excruciatingly close outcomes.

"That still sticks in our head," said offensive lineman Andrew Lewis. "A&M beat us by like one point two years in a row and that just kind of fires everybody up still. And Texas, that loss right there. We still have it in the back of our minds that we could have had a lot better season last year. We were a few points from having a much better record last year."

He isn't the only player who has a good memory when it comes to the close losses.

"For instance, the Texas and Texas A&M games. We win those two, we're fighting for the South," Damien Davis said. "So those games we lose by one point and let them come back, those are the games we focus on in every practice. Finish, finish, finish, finish."

Finish. There's that word again. Hear it any more and you'd think you were in-processing Finlanders on Ellis Island.

"We've just got to finish," Jamie Blatnick said. "It's just so frustrating. I was redshirted last year so it was even more frustrating because I felt like I could maybe get out there and do something. When you're just sitting out there and there's nothing you can do about it, it just hurts."

"We kind of just want to get over the hump," Zac Robinson said. "It's been frustrating these last few years with those games."

If there's a silver lining in those losses, it's that the toughest lessons are often the ones best-remembered. This group is older and more experienced now. Conventional wisdom would state that those tough losses will serve as a reminder to not let it happen again.

But will it work that way if OSU is in another tight, end-game situation this year?

"It's a good experience to learn from," Blatnick said. "This year, we're not going to have any fourth quarter - none of that. It's not going to happen. We're just going to finish this year."

The losses also serve as a reminder to what could have been.

"I think it shows how close we were to the Big 12 championship, because we were right in the mix if we had won those games," Andre Sexton said. "So I think it's something where when you're that close, you just have to learn to finish it and I don't know if we were ready for that as a whole last year as a team."

An interesting point. Maybe the team wasn't ready for anymore than it got last season? Perhaps. In any event, the past can't be changed. Last year's errors can serve as this year's motivation. If OSU gets nine or 10 wins this season, you could safely assume that the almosts of the past two years were building blocks for the success of 2008. Orange Country will just have to see if the team has actually learned from those games.

"We felt like we've been right there in the mix of the South (last year)," Robinson said. "So now it's just a matter of going out and finishing those games."

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