By JEFF LATZKE
STILLWATER — When can an 84-point blowout be bad for the winning team? Just ask Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy.
The Cowboys (1-1) put up the gaudy shutout in their opener against Savannah State. Many starters were on the field for only about a dozen plays, and Gundy believes there was a carry-over effect leading into the 59-38 loss at Arizona last week.
The loss ended a two-year run in the Top 25, the program's longest ever.
"Unfortunately, in my opinion and I told the staff this, what contributed to it is it was 107 degrees for three days in a row and they hadn't been challenged because we hadn't really played," Gundy said. "They just went through the motions and they were good and not great. It was hot — it was real hot — and so they just didn't perform like they should."
Oklahoma State finished last season ranked No. 3 after winning its first Big 12 championship and the Fiesta Bowl. Savannah State had gone just 4-72 against lesser competition in the Football Championship Subdivision over the previous decade.
What set up to be a mismatch of epic proportions ended up exactly that way.
The Cowboys had such an advantage that most starters didn't play beyond the first quarter, and the second half featured walk-ons and other down-the-depth-chart players who still were putting up points and keeping Savannah State from getting anywhere near scoring.
When it came time to review the game tape and correct mistakes, there simply wasn't much to look at for the starters who'd be called on for much bigger roles against Arizona.
"It wasn't really a true tuneup. It was like an NFL exhibition where you just play a couple series and you're out of the game," defensive coordinator Bill Young said.
Oklahoma State came out the next week and raced to a 14-0 lead at Arizona, but then — during the time when the starters were already on the bench a week earlier — the Wildcats responded with 30 consecutive points to take control.
"We felt like we were ready," defensive end Cooper Bassett said, "and obviously we weren't."
Gundy is trying to get his team refocused for Saturday's home game against Louisiana-Lafayette (2-0) while still questioning what's happened over the past two weeks.
Oklahoma State had contracts to play Rice and Tulsa in 2012 before conference realignment started playing havoc with schedules, including sending the Big 12 to a nine-game league schedule — leaving room for only three nonconference games instead of four.
Gundy says he's not involved in picking opponents, although the athletic department will run names past him — including Savannah State.
"When they scheduled it, I didn't know. I didn't know who they were. I thought maybe it was like Troy or somebody," Gundy said, referring to the Sun Belt team that beat Oklahoma State in 2007. "I never knew who Troy was until we played them, then I thought, 'Well, that stings. Why did we schedule them?'"
Gundy has said his philosophy on nonconference scheduling would be to find the three easiest opponents possible, saving up for all the bumps and bruises of going through Big 12 play. But maybe now there's a limit to just how easy of a game gets scheduled.
"Our older guys probably could have used a little more work but that's the way it is. That's not an excuse," offensive coordinator Todd Monken said.
"That's when you're trying to look at down the road, if we had to do this over again. ... That doesn't mean we want to play Alabama the first game next year in Dallas but you're saying, 'OK, maybe a little bit more challenge.'"