Saturday, Oklahoma State welcomed the nations No. 2 offense to Stillwater. Led by Heisman candidate Trevone Boykin and Biletnikoff candidate Josh Doctson, TCU came in ranked third in offensive points per drive at 3.54 and ranks third in passing offense.
Enter Oklahoma State's secondary. The Pokes defensive backfield was up to the task Saturday, shrouding the TCU receivers in coverage and forcing Boykin into tough throws. They took away the deep ball and made TCU settle for short passes even when they were down three scores to the Cowboys.
Ok, before you look at the box score and think I'm crazy. Yes, Boykin managed to sling it. He passed for 445 yards, which is higher than TCU's average yards per game this year. He's a really good quarterback and TCU has a really good offense. But the Cowboys defense held the Horned Frogs to 29 points for the game and picked off Boykin four times.
As we've heard from Gundy and Spencer all along, we really need to stop looking at total yards when evaluating defenses in the Big XII. Oklahoma State's defense played 110 plays Saturday but only gave up 29 points. Conversely, Oklahoma State ran 53 offensive plays and scored 49 points. The Pokes held TCU to 1.7 OPD or points per drive on offense, in contrast from the 3.54 average I mentioned above.
Three of the interceptions were snagged by linebackers (Chad Whitener had two and Jordan Burton had one), but it was the smothering coverage of the secondary that forced Boykin to make ill-advised throws and caused him to hold on to the ball long enough for Ogbah to get in his face.
Redshirt sophomore safety Tre Flowers did have an interception on a very nice read. He squatted down in the middle of the field and read Boykin's eyes perfectly. He ended the game with ten tackles (seven solo) and a pass breakup. Although that was just his second pick of the season, he has 60 tackles (48 solo) and five pass breakups through nine games.
Across from Flowers, his partner junior safety Jordan Sterns is no slouch. He tallied nine tackles (five solo) and a pass breakup. He's sitting at 73 tackles (50 solo), one tackle for loss and three pass breakups for the season. Aside from the raw numbers, the speed and power of these two guys allows Glenn Spencer some flexibility out of the base set they run.
They weren't alone. Freshman Kenneth Edison-McGruder got some burn and came up with a couple of tackles. As did Jerel Morrow and Deric Robertson. Morrow and Edison-McGruder are a couple of young guys who add that much talked about depth and whose roles should increase moving forward.
It was the help from the safeties that allowed Ashton Lampkin and Kevin Peterson to cover so well down the field. Before leaving late in the second quarter, Josh Docston was often seeing double and triple coverage. Still Boykin had trouble connecting with his second and third options. This forced him into some bad throws, which this opportunistic defense took advantage of.
Let's talk about that. It's a label that OSU's defense has been tagged with over the years. We know the team motto, #WTIB. But I think on the surface that term opportunistic discounts the fact that this defense is designed to put the opposing QB in those tough situations.
Oklahoma State doesn't just force a lot of turnovers by chance. The defensive backs and linebackers aren't just lucky. The defensive as a whole is designed to force giveaways. In fall camp, the Pokes started devoting specific practice reps to forcing turnovers. It's something the coaching staff has emphasized because they know how much of a difference it can make.
It's pretty simple. Take away the bad guys' chance to score and let your boys have a try. When you look at an offense like TCU's (or Baylor's and OU's for that matter) that's a potential 14 point swing. The Pokes are first in the nation in points off of turnovers with 121 and fourth in turnover margin at 1.33. That's a big part of why Oklahoma State is 9-0.
The conductor of this masterpiece is Glenn Spencer but it's up to the players to execute. The coaching staff puts these guys in a position to make plays and coaches them well individually. The point I'm trying to make is that you don't just recruit the fastest guys out there and then say, "Go get the ball". It's much more complicated than that, even if Gundy tries to downplay it.
One of OSU's defensive strengths is it's discipline. Knowing when to go for the ball. Knowing when to contain. Tackling well in space. Against TCU, the Cowboys looked as good as we've seen them in those areas.
While the safeties played well, so did the linebackers. But the linebackers are only as good as the defensive line lets them be. The pass rush would not be effective if the secondary didn't cover well down field. As we continue to look at each position and how they impact the game, it's important to remember that each player is just a cog on a wheel of this defensive machine. Saturday night, that machine was well-oiled and humming.