Oklahoma State’s Mike Gundy steadies program after tumultuous 2020

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STILLWATER, Okla. — If Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy seems more calm, cool and relaxed in this high-stakes season, it is only because he withstood the heat in the summer of 2020.

Running back Chuba Hubbard, a Black player who was coming off a first-team All-America season, suggested he would boycott the program after Gundy was photographed wearing a T-shirt promoting the One America News Network – a far-right news channel that had criticized the Black Lives Matter movement. Hubbard felt wearing the shirt was insensitive just weeks after George Floyd was killed by police and as protests against racial injustice were taking place across the country. Hubbard had support from other players, prompting concerns from the administration.

Gundy, who is white, took a step back. He appeared with Hubbard in a video and apologized for the pain his wearing the shirt caused. He said he was “disgusted” once he understood how OAN felt about the Black Lives Matter movement.

“Black lives matter to me,” he said at the time. “Our players matter to me.”

Eighteen months later, the Cowboys and their quirky, outspoken coach are putting the finishing touches on one of the best seasons in program history. They have done it together, without any public signs of divisiveness or outbursts from their 54-year-old coach whose most viral moment until last year came when he was sticking up for a player.

Tylan Wallace, a former Oklahoma State receiver who now plays for the Baltimore Ravens, said Gundy made tweaks that bridged the disconnect with his Black players.

“After the whole incident, he had us sit down – the whole team in front of him – and asked us any questions that we had, any concerns, anything we wanted to get off our chest – tell it straight to him, upfront and personal,” Wallace said. “So, I think that was a huge step for someone to sit there and take everything that we had to ask him.”

Gundy didn’t stop there.

“After that, he really made a big emphasis on trying to get to know each other,” Wallace said. “Not just the players, but the staff and everybody in the program – just to make sure that we’re all close and nobody was misunderstood. I think the biggest thing that we got from that situation is we became closer – not only as a team, but as a whole organization.”

The players have continued to bond, and the wins have followed. If Oklahoma State beats Baylor on Saturday in the Big 12 championship game, the Cowboys might qualify for the College Football Playoff.

It all goes back to how he handled those tough days last year.

“To his credit, he took that situation and all the negativity and listened and made a few changes,” said Mike Holder, Oklahoma State’s athletic director back when Hubbard raised his concerns. “And I think it made it better in the process. And because of that, I think it’s showed itself in the results on the playing field.”

Gundy didn’t specifically address last summer when asked about it earlier this week, but he said he’s confident things are as they should be.

“We’ve got a great culture here,” he said. “You know, one thing people have to realize is we had six super seniors return this year to play. And if our culture and player-coach relationship wasn’t good, those super seniors wouldn’t have returned.”

The players have reiterated throughout the season that team chemistry is one of the reasons they have been successful.

“It’s just really simple,” receiver Brennan Presley said. “The guy playing next to me — I’m playing for him. You can see that with our team — no one’s being selfish. If another guy scores, everybody on the bench is cheering. … It’s really the culture that we’ve always had, and it’s being brought to light more because we’re winning this year.”

Gundy took a $1 million pay cut last year after Hubbard’s criticism. An internal review later found “no sign or indication of racism” in the program, though Holder said Gundy needed to improve his relationships with players.

On the field, Oklahoma State didn’t miss a beat. Last year, the Cowboys went 8-3 and beat Miami in the Cheez-It Bowl. This season, the Cowboys ran out to a 6-0 start, and Gundy was rewarded with a contract extension that will keep him on a perpetual five-year deal.

Gundy appears to be having the time of his life.

“It’s just fun for me to be along for the ride and be the coach and watch these guys practice during the week,” Gundy said after the 63-17 win over TCU. “Their focus, their discipline, their toughness, their willingness to exert themselves during the week and just play hard – they have a smile on their faces, they compete, they like each other. It’s a lot of fun for us as a coaching staff.”

Gundy’s example has been helpful in tough moments such as when Oklahoma State trailed rival Oklahoma in the second half before rallying for a 37-33 win.

“The whole team knows we have to stay composed,” said linebacker Devin Harper, one of the super seniors. “We had our ups and downs, and when we’re down, everyone is there to pick each other up. Coach Gundy tells us all the time that leaders have to lead, and we do, no matter the circumstances. We’re going to lead and fight no matter what.”

Getting to this point seemed unlikely after Hubbard’s stand. But the foundation that Gundy had set years earlier provided avenues to work through the crisis.

“The players feel that the coaches care about them,” Gundy said. “They know that we listen to them and we’re not against making changes to modernize the organization and the culture we have here.”

Holder said Gundy’s willingness to face those “unpleasant truths” made Gundy a better man.

“I think all of this just shows Mike Gundy’s growth, not only as a coach, but as a person,” Holder said. “I think it really bodes well for now, but more importantly, in the future, because I take this as a sign that his best coaching days are in front of him.”

No. 2 Michigan beats Purdue 43-22 for Big Ten crown

Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports
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INDIANAPOLIS – Donovan Edwards ran for 185 yards and a score, J.J. McCarthy threw three touchdown passes and No. 2 Michigan beat Purdue 43-22 on Saturday night for its second straight Big Ten title and a likely No. 2 playoff seed.

College football’s winningest program has the first 13-win season in school history. Two more victories would give the Wolverines (13-0, No. 2 CFP) their first national championship since 1997.

And with injured star Blake Corum sidelined by a season-ending left knee injury, Edwards stole the show for the second straight week.

After shredding rival Ohio State for 216 yards and two scores last week, Edwards broke open this game with a 60-yard on the first play of the second half to set up one score. He added a 27-yard TD sprint on Michigan’s next series to make it 28-13.

Purdue (8-5) never recovered from Michigan’s quick, seven-play onslaught after it trailed 14-13 at halftime.

But quarterback Aidan O'Connell and receiver Charlie Jones helped the Boilermakers make it interesting for a while.

O’Connell was 32 of 47 with 366 yards and two interceptions after missing some practice time early this week to mourn the death of his oldest brother. Jones, who lost to Michigan in last year’s game while playing for Iowa, had 13 receptions for 162 yards.

It just wasn’t enough.

Michigan showed no signs of a hangover after last week’s rout over the Buckeyes, taking a 7-0 lead on its opening possession with a 25-yard TD pass from J.J. McCarthy to Colston Loveland.

Purdue answered with Devin Mockobee’s 1-yard scoring run to tie the score then took the lead on Mitchell Fineran’s 33-yard field goal.

Michigan answered by taking advantage of an offside call on fourth-and-6 by going for the first down, picking it up and eventually converting the drive into a 7-yard TD pass from McCarthy to Luke Schoonmaker. They never trailed again.

Edwards big run set up Kalel Mullings‘ 1-yard TD plunge before Edwards celebrated his own scoring run.

All Purdue could muster was three more field goals.

McCarthy was 11 of 17 with 161 yards and one interception.

Corum posted a message on Twitter on Saturday morning to say his knee surgery went well.

THE TAKEAWAY

Purdue: The Boilermakers’ magical season ended with a solid showing in the championship game where they played better than most expected. Still, they won the Big Ten’s wild, wild West, both trophy games and should be bound for a warm-weather bowl game.

Michigan: Yes, the Wolverines may have already locked up a top-two seed thanks to losses by Southern Cal and TCU. Michigan now has back-to-back conference crowns for the first time since 2003-04 though the hard part remains – ending its national title drought.

DIALING UP TRICKERY

Brohm played one season in the now defunct XFL and has acknowledged that experience helped him understand how to inject personality and creativity into play calling. It was on full display Saturday.

A surprise end around set up Purdue’s first score, a fake punt helped keep its second scoring drive alive and then Mockobee sprinted 25 yards on a fake flea-flicker in the third quarter.

UP NEXT

Purdue: Will find out its bowl game, destination and opponent Sunday.

Michigan: Waiting to see where its headed and who it will face in the national semifinals.

Klubnik, No. 10 Clemson rout No. 24 UNC 39-10 for ACC title

Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports
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CHARLOTTE, N.C. – Backup quarterback Cade Klubnik completed 20 of 24 passes for 279 yards and a touchdown and ran for another score and No. 10 Clemson reclaimed the Atlantic Coast Conference championship with a 39-10 victory over No. 24 North Carolina on Saturday night.

Cornerback Nate Wiggins broke up two passes in the end zone, blocked a field goal and returned an interception 98 yards for a touchdown to help the Tigers win their seventh ACC title in eight seasons.

Clemson (11-2, No. 9 CFP) won six straight ACC championships from 2015 to 2020 before failing to reach the title game last season. But coach Dabo Swinney‘s Tigers rebounded in a big way, going 9-0 against ACC foes this season to reach the Orange Bowl.

They have Klubnik to thank for that.

With Clemson down 7-0, Swinney benched two-year starter D.J. Uiagalelei after the Tigers failed to pick up a first down on their first two possessions, Swinney turned to Klubnik, a 5-star recruit from Austin, Texas. He responded by leading the Tigers to four straight scores and a 24-10 lead at halftime.

Clemson stretched it to 39-10 heading into the fourth quarter.

It wasn’t the first time Swinney has turned to Klubnik.

He benched Uiagalelei in the second half against Syracuse and Klubnik responded by leading the Tigers to a come-from-behind 27-21 victory. Swinney also turned to Klubnik against Notre Dame, although the results were the opposite with the freshman throwing a Pick 6 in a 35-14 loss.

Swinney has never been shy about replacing veteran QBs with less experienced players. He did it in 2014, sitting Cole Stoudt for Deshaun Watson, and again in 2018 replacing Kelly Bryant with Trevor Lawrence.

ACC player of the year Drake Maye was limited to 268 yards passing and turned the ball over three times for North Carolina (9-4, No. 23 CFP), which was seeking its first ACC championship since 1980 when Lawrence Taylor was wreaking havoc on quarterbacks.

Maye got things started on the right foot for the Tar Heels, capping an 11-play, 78-yard drive with a 3-yard touchdown run for a 7-0 lead on UNC’s first possession.

But the Tar Heels repeatedly sputtered on offense inside the red zone after that, the biggest blow coming when Maye misfired near the goal line and Wiggins – who had struggled in Clemson’s 51-45 win over Wake Forest – returned his pass for a touchdown to give Clemson a 32-10 lead with 5:05 left in the third quarter.

Klubnik provided an immediate spark for Clemson.

He led the Tigers on a nine-play, 71-yard drive, culminating in a 1-yard TD pass to Davis Allen. After Maye’s fumble, Klubnik caught a 19-yard pass from Phil Mafah to set up Mafah’s 4-yard touchdown run – Clemson’s second TD in a span of 40 seconds.

Klubnik then showed off his arm strength with a 68-yard pass to fellow freshman Cole Turner to set up his own 1-yard TD run for a 21-7 lead.

END OF AN ERA

This is the final year the ACC will feature its two division winners playing for a championship. In future years, all ACC teams will be lumped together and the two teams with the best records will advance to the title game.

THE TAKEAWAY

North Carolina: Maye garnered plenty of Heisman Trophy talk during the season, but the Tar Heels offense has stalled resulting in a three-game losing streak. But as long as Maye doesn’t transfer – and there are no indications he will given his family history at North Carolina – the Tar Heels have a good chance to get back to the ACC title game next season.

Clemson: The Tigers have set a high bar by winning national championships, so as much as they will enjoy getting back atop the ACC mountain there will be plenty of talk over whether Swinney cost his team a chance at a spot in the College Football Playoff by not turning to Klubnik at quarterback earlier in the season. It seems Uiagalelei might be a logical transfer portal candidate.

UP NEXT

Clemson will play in the Orange Bowl, while North Carolina awaits a bowl bid.