5 things to know about Oklahoma State, Notre Dame's Fiesta Bowl opponent

Tyler James
ND Insider
Running back Jaylen Warren, who couldn't play through ankle and shoulder injuries in the Big 12 Championship, is Oklahoma State's leading rusher.

Notre Dame has been playing college football since 1887. Oklahoma State has been playing since 1899. 

Yet the two teams have never met on the gridiron. That will change on Jan. 1 when the two play in the Fiesta Bowl at State Farm Stadium in Glendale, Ariz., at 1 p.m. EST on ESPN. 

What will the AP/CFP No. 5 Irish (11-1) be up against? Here are five things to know about the AP/CFP No. 9 Cowboys (11-2). 

1. A Big 12 Championship was just inches away 

And maybe even a trip to the College Football Playoff. Oklahoma State entered Saturday’s Big 12 Championship ranked No. 5 by the playoff committee and needing a victory over then-No. 9 Baylor to make its best case for a playoff spot. 

The Cowboys fell just short, literally. Trailing 21-16 on fourth-and-goal at the one-yard line, running back Dezmon Jackson tried to win a race to the pylon against Baylor safety Jairon McVea and dove just short of the goal line with 24 seconds remaining in the game. 

Oklahoma State couldn’t complete it comeback effort after trailing 21-3 in the second quarter. The Cowboys had won their previous five games before the Big 12 Championship including a 37-33 victory over rival Oklahoma the week prior. Oklahoma State beat Baylor 24-14 earlier in the season on Oct. 2. 

2. The Cowboys are built on defense 

Oklahoma State has limited its opponents to fewer than 21 points eight times this season. That’s made it easier for the Cowboys to pick up victories while ranking No. 51 in the FBS in scoring offense (30.6 points per game). 

The Oklahoma State defense is all-around stingy. It finished Saturday ranked No. 3 in total defense (278.4 yards per game), No. 5 in rushing defense (91.2 yards per game), No. 8 in scoring defense (16.8 points per game), No. 12 in passing yards allowed (187.2) and No. 16 in passing efficiency defense (116.81). 

That success extends on third- and fourth-down conversions too. Opposing offenses have only converted 26.1% of their third-down attempts, which is second-best in the FBS. Oklahoma State has allowed offenses to convert 30.8% of their fourth-down attempts, which ranks sixth. The 197 first downs allowed this season are the ninth-fewest in the country. 

3. Mike Gundy keeps winning 

Oklahoma State head coach Mike Gundy was named the Big 12 Coach of the Year for the second time. He was first given the awards in 2010. That’s how long Gundy has been successful at Oklahoma State. 

OSU coach Mike Gundy waves to the crowd before last Saturday's 37-33 win against OU in Stillwater.

Gundy, who played quarterback for Oklahoma State from 1986-89, took over as the program’s head coach before the 2005 season. Since then he’s won at least 10 games seven times. His only Big 12 title came in the 2011 season, for which he was named Eddie Robinson Coach of the Year. 

Gundy has compiled a 148-69 record in the 17 seasons of his only head coaching job. Only three active coaches have won more games at their current schools: Nick Saban at Alabama (182), Kirk Ferentz at Iowa (178) and Dabo Swinney at Clemson (149). 

Oklahoma State has won 112 games since the start of the 2010 season, which is 11th-best in the FBS. Notre Dame won 113 games in that same time span under former head coach Brian Kelly. 

4. Malcolm Rodriguez covers a lot of ground 

Linebacker Malcolm Rodriguez chose to play an extra season at Oklahoma State due to the extra year of eligibility available through the NCAA for those who played in the 2020 season during the COVID-19 pandemic. Rodriguez has made the most of his extra time with the Cowboys. 

Oklahoma State's Malcolm Rodriguez (20) will play a crucial role in containing the OU run game in Saturday's Bedlam matchup.

Rodgriguez leads Oklahoma State with 112 tackles. His 68 solo tackles are the 12th-most in the FBS. His 14 tackles for a loss are only one behind Oklahoma State pass rusher Collin Oliver. 

Rodriguez’s remaining production includes nine quarterback hurries, three forced fumbles, two fumble recoveries, two sacks and two pass breakups.  

The 5-foot-11, 225-pound former safety has a knack for tracking down the football. Rodriguez, a first-team All-Big 12 selection, recorded at least five tackles in 21 of his last 22 games. 

5. Jaylen Warren’s status will be important 

Oklahoma State running back Jaylen Warren didn’t record a single carry against Baylor in the Big 12 Championship Game. He remained sidelined after being on the field for the first play of the game. He was unable to play through ankle and shoulder injuries. 

Warren entered the game as Oklahoma State’s leading rusher with 237 carries for 1,134 yards and 11 touchdowns. The Utah State transfer was named the Big 12’s Offensive Newcomer of the Year for his performance this season. 

Warren rushed for more than 100 yards in five games for the Cowboys with his season-high coming against Boise State with 218 yards. 

Follow ND Insider Tyler James on Twitter: @TJamesNDI.