By Jason Elmquist
CNHI News Service
STILLWATER – When Oklahoma State looks across the field at Boone Pickens Stadium today, the Cowboys will look at a mirror-image of themselves with Texas Christian University.
Both teams are on their second starting quarterback – both with the capability to make big plays with their feet, while showing inconsistencies with their arms – and have sputtered at times on offense.
But there is one similarity that many wouldn’t have expected. Both have been in ball games due to their defenses – something that is nothing new for the Horned Frogs, but has been a weakness for the Cowboys the past few years.
“From one end of the defense to the other end, they’re just really good. They play hard and don’t allow too many gaps, so it’s our jobs to get them out of position and get us some yards,” OSU senior offensive lineman Parker Graham said. “You look at their numbers, and they’ve been sacking a lot of people. They’re all big, strong and athletic, and they’re going to play as hard as they can.”
Over the past several years, dating back to their time in the Mountain West Conference, the Horned Frogs have built their reputation on defense. In the program’s first year in the Big 12 Conference, TCU was near the top of most statistical categories on defense – and was a large reason the Horned Frogs were voted to finish third by the media in the conference preseason poll, receiving the second-most first-place votes with nine.
That defense has still been stellar – even in the team’s two conference losses – it just hasn’t been enough to counteract TCU’s struggles on the offensive side.
“Their schemes haven’t changed. It’s like most teams in our league it stays the same but they’re in the right spot on defense,” OSU coach Mike Gundy said. “They’ve got some guys that can get to you in a four-man rush. Their linebackers understand gap responsibility. Their corners are good players, and their safeties are good tacklers.”
Perhaps the most surprising efforts from the TCU defense have come since losing defensive lineman Devonte Fields, the Big 12 Preseason Defensive Player of the Year and the only unanimous selection to the All-Big 12 preseason team, to a foot injury he sustained against Texas Tech on Sept. 12.
Even in the absence of Fields, the TCU defense is giving up less than three touchdowns a game. The most points scored on the Horned Frogs were 37 by LSU in the season opener – and just 20 points in conference losses to Texas Tech and Oklahoma.