NEW ORLEANS (AP) — Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy watched a once-promising season end on a downward spiral, with the No. 13 Cowboys getting tricked and trampled by 16th-ranked Mississippi.
Oklahoma State struggled on both sides of the ball in a 48-20 loss in the Sugar Bowl on Friday night, with perhaps the low moment coming when the defense was completely fooled on a trick play that produced a touchdown by an offensive lineman catching a backward pass.
The loss was Oklahoma State’s third straight after a 10-0 start. The last two were blowouts, starting with a 58-23 drubbing by Oklahoma to cap the regular season.
“What I told the team was that we needed to do a better job of coaching. I may have fatigued them the way we practiced,” Gundy said. “And they made a lot of plays. So you tie all of that together and you end up in a game like this.
“I just don’t want to take away from this team and the guys coming together and winning 10 football games,” Gundy added. “It’s not easy to win 10 football games and we’re proud of them for that. We were a little beat up late in the year, and that showed up at times.”
Cowboys quarterback Mason Rudolph, who is trying to work his way back from a foot injury that required surgery in November, was held to 179 yards passing and was unable to lead his unit into the end zone before he was relieved.
“It’s hard to come back from something like that a short period of time,” receiver David Glidden said. “Mason is a competitor and he wanted to be there for his team and do the best he could. … Personally, in an injury like that, I think he left it out there for us.”
The Cowboys didn’t score until backup quarterback J.W. Walsh’s 2-yard TD run late in the third quarter. Walsh added another TD on an 8-yard run, but it far too late.
Ole Miss (10-3) still had a four-touchdown lead after the Cowboys’ first TD and then widened the margin to 48-13 on Chad Kelly’s fourth touchdown pass, which tied a Sugar Bowl record. Laquon Treadwell caught Kelly’s 14-yard scoring strike for the receiver’s third TD, which also tied a Sugar Bowl mark.
Playing in the high-octane Big 12, Oklahoma State’s defense was giving up 429.5 yards per game. The Cowboys yielded 554 yards to the Rebels, with 347 coming through the air.
Most of the damage came after the first quarter, when the Cowboys briefly held their only lead at 3-0 and didn’t fall behind until Kelly’s 31-yard pass to a wide open Cody Core along the left sideline in the final minute of the quarter.
The Rebels added touchdowns on three of their next four possessions, capping the half by having Kelly roll right and briefly stare down receivers in that direction before pivoting than lobbing the ball back to his left. Left tackle Laremy Tunsil hauled in what was technically a lateral and trotted into the end zone, where he was mobbed by teammates and the many red-clad Ole Miss fans went wild.
“You study film, you play the percentages,” Ole Miss coach Hugh Freeze said. “We felt comfortable with the lead we had at that moment and really thought that could be somewhat of a dagger to end the first half.”
Stone faced, Gundy took off his headset and handed it to support staff.
“The snowball started downhill on us in the second quarter,” Gundy said. “We couldn’t slow them down from big plays on offense and they started running trick plays, kind of like what we did last year in our bowl game.
“Offensively, we couldn’t establish a running game,” Gundy added. “We became one-dimensional … so if was tough for us to play catch-up.”
The Cowboys hopes’ of staging a comeback were essentially snuffed out when punt returner Jalen McCleskey was stripped by the Rebels’ Terry Caldwell, and Breeland Speaks recovered for Ole Miss at the Oklahoma State 40. Three plays later, Jordan Wilkins ran 36 yards for a touchdown.
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