NCAA FB

Oklahoma State erases 21-point deficit to beat Notre Dame in Fiesta Bowl

Jan 1, 2022, 5:47 PM | Updated: 6:27 pm
Spencer Sanders #3 and Malcolm Rodriguez #20 of the Oklahoma State Cowboys celebrate after beating ...
Spencer Sanders #3 and Malcolm Rodriguez #20 of the Oklahoma State Cowboys celebrate after beating the Notre Dame Fighting Irish 37-35 in the PlayStation Fiesta Bowl at State Farm Stadium on January 01, 2022 in Glendale, Arizona. (Photo by Norm Hall/Getty Images)
(Photo by Norm Hall/Getty Images)

GLENDALE — It’s not how you start, but how you finish.

No. 9 Oklahoma State went down big to No. 5 Notre Dame in the first half of the Fiesta Bowl at State Farm Stadium on Saturday — 21 to be exact.

But even a 28-7 lead wasn’t enough for the Irish to hold on, as the Cowboys scored 30 unanswered points to win the game 37-35 to overcome the largest deficit in Fiesta Bowl history on New Year’s Day.

“So we picked a good day to have our best day on offense. Very proud of our guys,” OSU head coach Mike Gundy said postgame. “Quarterback (Spencer Sanders) was fantastic, obviously — over 500 yards of offense himself. And defense, kind of settled in on what to do.

“We went through some growing pains in the first quarter and a half defensively, trying to get things adjusted and communication. … Then we settled down, made good halftime adjustments. Obviously, played very well. The key to this game was Rob Glass, our strength staff, our conditioning. Our ability to play fast. In my opinion, we fatigued them and they never could play catch-up. We struggled early in the game with them.”

For fans of defensive football, look away now. This year’s edition featured a total of 1,156 yards, with OSU making up for 605 of that while ND came up with 551.

Notre Dame quarterback Jack Coan set a multitude of Fiesta Bowl records with his 68 passing attempts for 509 yards and five touchdowns (ties record). Four of those touchdowns and 358 of those yards came in the first half alone.

Meanwhile, Oklahoma State’s Sanders and WR Tay Martin also tied Fiesta Bowl and school bowl records with their four touchdown passes and three receiving scores, respectively.

Oddly enough, Martin had two big drops on back-to-back plays before the Cowboys started their comeback. He finished the day with 10 grabs for 104 yards and three touchdowns.

“Words don’t express how much it was eating me up, but it was great to have my teammates there supporting me through that time and just keeping me positive,” Martin said postgame of his two drops. “And I’m a vet, so I’ve been through those situations numerous times.

“So I know it’s the next play. But those things, it’s just a mental thing with those catches. You got to look every catch in. And I just tried to get back to the little things and do the best I can to help my team.”

Sanders’ 496 total yards of offense — 371 passing yards for four scores and 125 rushing yards on 17 carries — makes him just the second player in FBS history to have 350 passing yards, 100 rushing yards and four touchdowns in a bowl game. He was named MVP of the Fiesta Bowl.

“I wouldn’t really point fingers at me. It wasn’t really a bounce-back for me. It was really just I did my job,” Sanders said postgame. “I did my small part in this offense. There’s 11 of us out there.

“Basically, when I had the ball, I did my little job that time. But you got to realize too that those other 10 guys who played made that play as successful as it was. And obviously I play quarterback so the eyes are on me to get MVP. But honestly it doesn’t go to one person. I don’t really believe in MVPs.”

The game was really a tale of two halves, with OSU’s Gundy clearly winning the halftime adjustment battle over ND’s Marcus Freeman, who replaced Brian Kelly after he left for LSU at the end of the regular season.

“The coaches made fantastic adjustments at halftime,” Gundy said. “We challenged the team at halftime, that anybody that didn’t want to come back out and fight play by play, he can stay in the locker room. And they came out and they fought, competed, and couldn’t be any more proud of them.”

Notre Dame’s 28-14 halftime lead was built on an incredible first two quarters from the Irish offensively. Coan threw four of his five touchdowns on 342 passing yards in the first half alone, as ND only rushed for 16 yards on 14 attempts in the opening 30 minutes.

But that’s when the ballgame really flipped. After Oklahoma State scored on a four-play, 75-yard drive in 39 seconds to end the first half, OSU received the ball to start the second half and drove all the way down the field to cut Notre Dame’s lead to 28-21.

In what seemed like a second half role reversal, the Cowboys blew the doors off the Irish defense to the tune of 373 yards — balanced at 236 passing and 137 rushing — for 23 points. Meanwhile, Oklahoma State’s defense held Notre Dame to only seven points and 193 yards in the second half while also forcing one interception and one fumble, the latter of which featured All-American safety Kolby Harvell-Peel stealing it from the hands of Notre Dame running back Logan Diggs.

Weirdly enough, though, OSU couldn’t capitalize on either of the turnovers, as the Cowboys quite literally dropped the ball when it came to putting the nail in the coffin so to speak. In fact, Oklahoma State had two opportunities in the fourth quarter to take a two-score lead via a touchdown and came away with nothing.

With OSU up 31-28 with 12:41 remaining in the game, the Cowboys fumbled at the goal line for a Notre Dame touchback.

And after an interception from Oklahoma State senior linebacker Malcolm Rodriguez got the ball back with OSU up 34-28, Sanders’ one blemish of the day came on the ensuing drive as he coughed up the football at ND’s 11-yard line with 3:07 left on the clock.

Unfortunately for Notre Dame, the Irish weren’t able to get a first down after forcing their second red-zone turnover of the quarter despite dominating the game on third-down conversions at a 55% clip (11-for-20) compared to the Cowboys’ abysmal of rate 3-for-14 (21%).

ND’s defense kept OSU out of the end zone to only allow a field goal before Coan led the Irish 75 yards down the field on eight plays to score the final touchdown of the game and bring the final score to 37-35. Notre Dame had a decent onside kick attempt, but Oklahoma State recovered it en route to victory formation.

“This is clearly the biggest win in the history of the school,” Gundy said. “You’re in a New Year’s Day Bowl. You’re two top 10 teams — No. 5 team in the country. You’re playing Notre Dame.

“Biggest comeback in school history [and] in the Fiesta Bowl. The biggest win in the history of the school. As I’ve said for a month, we have a logo we can be proud of now at Oklahoma State from coast to coast.”

Penguin Air

NCAA FB

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