, Muskogee, OK


November 7, 2013

Cowboys leaning on defense

STILLWATER  — Its potent offense received much of the attention for No. 15 Oklahoma State’s big win last Saturday over Texas Tech. The Cowboys’ defense also played a significant role in the 52-34 victory in Lubbock.

In fact, the defense has been consistently strong all season, unlike the offense that has seen multiple quarterback and primary running back changes from week to week, and is a major reason they’ve won four straight.

Despite the fact that the No. 25 Red Raiders executed 97 plays from scrimmage utilizing their fast-paced spread offense, Oklahoma State (7-1, 4-1 Big 12) limited them to 27 points (seven came courtesy of an interception return), 12 under their season average, while also generating three turnovers.

“We knew there were going to be a lot of plays and we were going to have to get a lot of stops,” first-year defensive coordinator Glenn Spencer said. “We’re out there stopping them on the 18th series of the game, acting like it was the first series of the game. We got good players, we got high-character kids, and they came through.”

While the Cowboys rank 45th among 123 FBS schools in total defense, that figure is skewed by the fact that they’re also fourth-to-last in offensive time of possession, meaning their defense is on the field a lot. A more meaningful barometer is that they are 28th in scoring defense (third in the Big 12) allowing 21.4 points per game, while their 4.72 yards-per-play defense ranks 12th overall.

They are also ninth nationally in third-down defense (30.2 percent), 10th in takeaways (22), and 14th in red zone defense (71.4 percent).

The two consistent anchors of Oklahoma State’s defense have been senior linebackers Caleb Lavey and Shaun Lewis, each of whom has been named Big 12 defensive player of the week this season, and both delivered strong performances again last weekend.

Lavey had four tackles, two for losses, and added his third interception of the season, while Lewis had five tackles, forced a fumble, broke up two passes and also had his third interception of the year.

“They’ve played so many games and have so much experience that they can move faster and play faster,” coach Mike Gundy said. “There’s just no substitute for experience and maturity and both those guys are having really good seasons. As a coach, it just thrills you to death to see it, because they’re great kids. That maturity and that leadership is why our defense is having success.”

A prime example of the defensive resilience came midway through the fourth quarter, when Texas Tech wound up with first-and-goal from the 2.

With a chance to cut the Cowboys’ lead to 11, Tech had four plays (and an OSU offside penalty) but could not get into the end zone. On fourth-and-goal from the 1, Lavey stepped up and dropped Kenny Williams on the 2, turning the ball over on downs.

“It’s not always easy to do,” Gundy said. “We’re just very proud of our players. When you’re at play 100 and on the road and the other team’s this far from scoring and you hold them, that’s pretty impressive. But they’ve got to come back and do it next week.”

On paper, it would appear that the defense should have a lopsided advantage when against Kansas (2-6, 0-5) on Saturday, particularly because the Jayhawks haven’t scored 20 points in a game since their season opener against South Dakota.

But games aren’t played on paper, and the defense still has to put in the work, because Oklahoma State’s ability to limit opposing offenses will likely determine its fate this year, with its following three games coming against Big 12 powers Texas, No. 5 Baylor and No. 12 Oklahoma.

“They did what they had to do to win the game, and they know that is irrelevant now,” Spencer said. “They played at a high level on Saturday, and it wasn’t some magic dust that caused it. It was that, in their mind, they made a decision. You want to play to your maximum ability and play for each other. Why shouldn’t the same process that led to that last week happen again this week?”

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