Okung said he and his teammates will be ready to play Saturday afternoon when the Cowboys open their Big 12 Conference schedule against Texas Tech at Boone Pickens Stadium.
“The attitude wouldn’t have been the best but we’re fighters and that’s why we’re here,” said Okung. “Lifting all those weights and running all those sprints, we’re not made to quit. We’re made to go out there and play football, and keep fighting and keep pushing.
“I was walking around to class today, and we’ve got a lot of support. I think our fans are going to stick behind us,” Okung continued. “The attitude is going to pick up. It’s already picked up. We started yesterday at 3 o’clock in the weight room, and Coach (Rob) Glass said it’s time to flush ’em, so let’s go. People were fired up and ready to go. We’re ready for Big 12 play now. Everything else is behind us.”
OSU head coach Mike Gundy said Monday that he is too busy trying to get his team prepared for Saturday’s game against Texas Tech, 3-0, to know that Cowboy fans are frustrated with his squad.
“I never read the paper or watch TV or get on the Internet,” he said. “No (I don’t know what the fans are thinking), because when I go to work it’s dark and when I go home it’s dark.”
So what would the third-year head coach tell the frustrated Cowboy fans? “I’d tell them to come to the game and support the guys who bust their butt every week and play hard. That’s what I say,” Gundy said.
“I’ve said this, and we go through this when we lose a game … nobody likes to lose more than myself, our staff or our team. And nobody is more disappointed when we lose, but this is what we do. Part of what we do is we train young men that there’s not always things that happen the way we want them to in life, and if they quit and they listen to what people tell them they should or shouldn’t do, they’re going to have issues the rest of their life,” Gundy continued. “It’s just like you write an inaccurate article that’s bad, do they take you off the beat and put somebody else on it? Or do they say, go back in there and write a better article?
“What I’m saying is that it’s no different than what happens in life. We had a good week of practice last week, I thought we had good game plans and we performed well (in practice), we coached hard and guys gave good effort, and it didn’t work out for us. We turned the ball over five times, and we had issues with the inside run for a while, and we couldn’t get pressure on the passer.”
Gundy was shown on the sidelines as being calm, cool and collected throughout Friday night’s nationally televised game (ESPN2), but inside he was ragging mad at how his team was performing. The Cowboys turned the ball over five times (three fumbles and two interceptions) and were penalized 11 times for 96 yards.
“I have issues with two things,” Gundy said when asked about how frustrating it was to watch his team play like they did. “I have issues with running backs who put the ball on the ground when there’s not a lot of contact. In meetings we tell them, ‘I don’t care if Jack Tatum blows you up, you don’t fumble the ball.’
“Keith Toston put the ball on the ground twice to start the game, and basically just fed whatever you feed a hornet’s nest to start the game. Am I down on Keith? Well, I’m down on him for fumbling but we put him back in the game, and we’re going to put him in this week because we need him. He’s still young and he needs to learn to correct that mistake, but if that happens a whole lot more on, in my opinion, not really a contact situation then we’ll be forced to not play him as much, until he proves to us in a spring football setting, and a lot of collisions, that it won’t happen again.”
The Cowboys were one of the fewest penalized teams in the Big 12 a year ago but are averaging 72 yards (nine flags a game) through the first three contests, which ranks third worst in the conference.
“The penalties we’ve had … our numbers in penalties have gone up, and you go back and look at ’em,” Gundy said. “Russell Okung had two dumb penalties, we had some holding calls and we had a coach get ran into on the sidelines, and he did get cussed. Other than that we have to be smarter.
“That’s why we’re struggling on third downs because we’re in third-and-longs and not third-and-shorts,” he said. “Those are things that have to be corrected. That frustrates me a whole lot more than anything else because I know what’s going on internally in our program, I know where we’re at as a team, I know the attitude of the team, I know what’s going on with each position, we know what’s going on with the things that we have to weed through, so I don’t get frustrated at all the outside stuff because it’s just what we do.”
Sophomore Zac Robinson was 18-of-37 passing for 191 yards with two interceptions in his first start, replacing junior Bobby Reid at quarterback. Reid did not play a single down in the game.
“No, it’s not a divisive issue,” Okung said when asked if the quarterback change has caused any problems on the team. “Bobby and Zac, they’re both going to get the job done. We know that we’re lucky enough to have two quarterbacks who are very talented. They support each other. They have each other’s backs any ways. So, it’s not much of a divisive issue.”
One person the Cowboys are hoping to get back for Saturday’s game is senior running back Dantrell Savage, who has been sidelined with a groin injury and has missed the last two games.
“Anybody who thinks we’re not affected by him not being in the game probably hasn’t seen a lot of football. That’s just a fact,” Gundy said. “But I’m not going to ever come up to the microphone and say, ‘For the last three weeks, we’re not as good on offense because Artie Woods is not here, and Savage is not here, and Paschal Smith has been hurt, and Julius Crosslin hasn’t practiced in a month, and we lost David Washington, so we stink.’ I’m not going to do that. That’s not what I do, and that’s not what we tell the team.
“I’m going to come in here and say, ‘Here’s what needs to happen. Keith Toston needs to quit fumbling the ball, 24 (Kendall Hunter) needs to keep playing good, Zac Robinson needs to continue to improve and develop in his career, somebody is going to have to step in and play center and make calls in this game because Tech is going to come in here and play the game. They don’t care what’s going on with us, just like we don’t have issues with what’s going on with them.’” Gundy continued. “In a situation like that, that’s what you do. Unless somebody else has a plan, like the NFL where you can trade for people or something, I don’t have any answers other than I’ve got guys who are important in this program, and when one guy goes down or gets hurt, the other guy steps in and we practice him and get him ready to play in a game.”
Okung says Saturday’s starts a new season for the Cowboys.
“We’re 0-0 right now,” the Cowboy lineman said. “All the games we’ve played are all behind us right now. We’re in Big 12 play with a new, clean slate. As far as I’m concerned we haven’t played anybody yet. We have our goals – win the Big 12. That’s what we want to do, and we still have a chance to do that.”