STILLWATER — Long has Oklahoma State football been reliant on its offense to win football games in the Big 12 Conference, but with injuries at quarterback and along the offensive line, the Cowboys have turned to the defense for its clean start to the season.
OSU has the top defense in scoring through the first two weeks of games, giving up an average of 10 points per game.
And it has been needed, as the Cowboy offense is averaging just 21.5 points per game, which ranks only ahead of Kansas among Big 12 offenses.
“We have a really good defense, and what you don’t want to do is screw that up and turn it over and create a situation where you’re scoring against yourself,” Oklahoma State offensive coordinator Kasey Dunn said after Saturday’s game. “… We want to be an aggressive football team, but sometimes the situation doesn’t allow for it or call for it.
“We’ve got a puppy at quarterback and we’ve got a really, really stout defense right now, so you it’s one of those things you can grind it out. It feels like playing old school SEC football.”
The defense even helped out the struggling offense in the Big 12 opener against West Virginia by putting up some points of its own in what ended up being a two-touchdown game.
Early in the second quarter, with the WVU offense showing signs of life after the Cowboy offense had just scored, OSU defensive end Trace Ford was able to capitalize on the constant pressure the Pokes put on WVU quarterback Jarret Doege throughout the game. Ford came up with a strip sack that was scooped up and returned 56 yards for a score by defensive lineman Tyren Irby.
It was one of five sacks of Doege a week after managing to get just one sack against Tulsa – on the Golden Hurricane’s final offensive play – with five quarterback hurries.
The Oklahoma State defense coupled those sacks with nine quarterback hurries and 11 tackles for a loss, holding the Mountaineers to just 68 yards rushing.
“We were great in that area, it was a big focus for us,” defensive coordinator Jim Knowles said following the game. “… That was something we worked hard on this week, the players bought into it. We have to be able to pressure the quarterback, and sometimes in Big 12 play takes that thought process away from you, and I thought we got after it (Saturday).”
With the talent up front able to create havoc in the backfield, the experienced secondary was able to couple it was some some big plays as well, including four-year starter Rodarius Williams, who recorded a career-high four pass breakups – with Kolby Harvell-Peel coming up with another.
However, it wasn’t completely clean for the defensive backfield against WVU.
It did give up a 70-yard touchdown catch and run to Winston Wright, and another 41-yard chunk play to T.J. Simmons. However, the remaining 174 passing yards for the Mountaineers was spread out over 18 completions for just under 10 yards per catch – a far cry from the typical double-digit numbers seen from most Big 12 offenses in normal years.
“Everybody on defense is playing good. We've asked them to give great effort, we're going to play a lot of guys,” Cowboy coach Mike Gundy said Monday. “… At this point they're playing fast. They're coming together as a group and they're playing reckless. They can have success if they practice hard each week.
“If they bust their butt and practice hard, and come together as a group, run around, they can keep playing well. They start to listen to people tell them how good they are and not practice as well, they'll get 40 (points) hung on them. That's just the way it is.”
The numbers are likely to look just as good after Oklahoma State’s first road game.
The Cowboys will travel this week to play a Kansas team that is averaging 18.5 points per game with 347.5 yards of offense per contest – which actually is more than the 313 offensive yards the Oklahoma State offense has averaged the first two games.