STILLWATER, Okla. (AP) — It isn't often a team gains confidence following a defeat, but for Oklahoma State, being able to compete on a level playing field with No. 1 Florida State last Saturday night provided a nice boost.
Despite falling 37-31 to the defending national champion Seminoles at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Tex. — after trailing 17-0 midway through the second quarter — the Cowboys (0-1) feel good about themselves heading into their home opener this weekend against Missouri State.
"We saw our team grow a little bit and mature," said OSU coach Mike Gundy. "I wasn't really sure how a number of players would react, and I think we learned that they'll fight and compete. We were in a really tough situation at one point, being down 17 points to a really good football team, and they kept their focus. I was proud of them for that."
One of the youngest teams in the nation after losing 32 letter-winners off last year's 10-3 squad, the Cowboys have just six players with more than 10 career starts.
But following their performance on a big stage against an elite opponent, Oklahoma State has transformed from a team with a lot of uncertainty to one brimming with confidence.
"To go in there with all those young guys against the best team in the country, and for us to come out and battle back the way we did, that showed a lot about our team character," said junior quarterback J.W. Walsh, who completed 15-of-27 passes for 203 yards and a touchdown with an interception, while also rushing for 51 yards and two TDs. "We were a confident football team coming in, but when you play a game like that, and show that you can be down and come back, that helps your confidence even more."
Among the youngsters playing key roles in their first major college football action, running back Tyreek Hill gained 44 yards on eight carries, 62 yards on a team-high six receptions, and averaged 23 yards on six kickoff returns.
Sophomore running back Rennie Childs contributed 47 yards rushing on 10 carries. On defense, the Cowboys started seven newcomers, with significant impacts made by safety Jordan Sterns, defensive end Emmanuel Ogbah, cornerback Ashton Lampkin, and linebacker Seth Jacobs.
"There were a lot of unknowns because there were a lot of people in the game that we had never gone into a fight with before," acknowledged Cowboys' defensive coordinator Glenn Spencer. "I loved the way they responded emotionally. I thought they were focused and mentally into everything that happened."
Of course, now that the players have demonstrated how good they can be, expectations have gone up a notch. Still, Gundy wasn't ready to proclaim that the Cowboys are now a powerhouse.
"We have a long way to go and a lot of work ahead of us," Gundy said. "We really don't (know how good we are), until the middle of October. We have to play a number of games in a row, we have to get some players beat up and injured, other guys have to step in and play, they have to get tired, hurt, deal with adversity - all those things that really identify a team. So in five or six weeks, we'll know a lot more."
After such an emotional performance, there is always the possibility of an intensity letdown, especially with Oklahoma State getting ready to face a much lesser opponent.
But Gundy does not believe his team will fall into such a trap against Missouri State, which is coming off a 34-27 comeback victory over Northwestern State on the road.
"I don't think it will be an issue with this team, I think the older players do a good job of providing leadership to the young ones," Gundy said. "I think they're very focused. I think they got a lot of pride in themselves."