Texas head coach Tom Herman meets with Oklahoma State's Mike Gundy following Oklahoma State's 38-35 win in Stillwater, Okla., on Oct. 27, 2018. [NICK WAGNER/AMERICAN-STATESMAN]

Kirk Bohls

American-Statesman Staff

Column

Bohls: OSU’s got the names on offense and lots of game on defense waiting for Texas

Posted October 26th, 2020

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Story highlights
  • They may not be household names outside Stillwater, but Oklahoma State sits at No. 6 in the nation largely because of players like top tackling safety Tre Sterling and mobile linebacker Malcolm Rodriguez and best pass-rusher Calvin Bundage.
  • “We’re playing good football,” Mike Gundy said Monday. “We still have a few more mistakes in games than I would want. We need to play better the next three to four weeks, and we have to minimize those mistakes to be as successful as we want to be.”
  • Oddly enough, Oklahoma State’s only a minus-one in turnover margin, which ranks just seventh in the Big 12 and speaks to how well the defense is playing otherwise without a glut of takeaways.

Tailback Chuba Hubbard, probably Canada’s biggest export since Dan Aykroyd or John Candy or Rachel McAdams, led college football in rushing last year and finished eighth in the Heisman voting.

Wideout Tylan Wallace is the latest in a long line of great Oklahoma State wide receivers that includes the likes of Biletnikoff winners Justin Blackmon and James Washington as well as Dez Bryant. Wallace is the only Big 12 receiver to average more than 100 yards a game.

Quarterback Spencer Sanders returned from a Week 1 ankle injury and threw for 235 yards and a pair of touchdowns last Saturday. His backup, freshman Shane Illingworth? Oh, he’s completing 73.5% of his passes.

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Yet, it is the Cowboys’ defense that has everyone talking. They’re ranked 19th in the nation. Alabama? The Tide’s D is a distant 64th.

They may not be household names outside Stillwater, but Oklahoma State sits at No. 6 in the country largely because of players like top tackling safety Tre Sterling and mobile linebacker Malcolm Rodriguez and best pass-rusher Calvin Bundage.

Yeah, Oklahoma State is that loaded.

But since Mike Gundy’s offense has yet to hit on all gears, it’s been his experienced, ball-hawking, man to man-playing defense that has paced the Cowboys to a 4-0 record as the league’s lone undefeated team.

“We’re playing good football,” Gundy said on Monday. “We still have a few more mistakes in games than I would want. We need to play better the next three to four weeks, and we have to minimize those mistakes to be as successful as we want to be.”

The Cowboys have yet to play Texas, Kansas State and Oklahoma — three teams that are 10-5 — so they’ve got plenty of dangerous opponents left ahead of them.

They give up an average of only 12 points a game, which ranks fourth in the country among teams that have played more than three games. They’re a big blitzing team that especially loves to zone blitz, and their secondary is such a strength that they’re comfortable playing man-to-man defense.

But that could also make them vulnerable to crossing patterns and quarterback draws from Sam Ehlinger because they have their backs to the line of scrimmage.

Oddly enough, Oklahoma State’s only a minus-one in turnover margin, which ranks just seventh in the Big 12 and speaks to how well the defense is playing otherwise without a glut of takeaways.

“They’re playing elite defense, not just in our league but in the country,” said Texas’ Tom Herman, whose team visits Stillwater on Saturday. “It’s chaos up front. They are going to be in multiple fronts with multiple blitzes, but the main thing will be man coverage. And when you have skill position players like they have that are one touch away from a house call, those are two key ingredients to a championship recipe.”

Without question, they are a complete team and are playing the best defense in the league, a combination that makes OSU the conference’s only threat to reach this year’s College Football Playoff.

As TCU’s Gary Patterson said on Monday, “you’ve got to be a complete team to win a national championship. You got to be able to do all three phases if you want to be successful. Now that they have their quarterback back, he gives them that element back.”

Texas hasn’t gone up against a great defense yet, especially one like Oklahoma State’s with nine starters that are upperclassmen. In fact, of the top 22 on both sides of the ball, 18 are juniors or seniors.

“And six of those on defense are redshirts,” Herman said. “They’ve got a bunch of four and fifth-year guys who have been in the system for years and years. No. 31 (junior Kolby Harvell-Peel) is as good a safety as there is in the league, and 94 (sophomore Trace Ford, who started as a freshman) is a great rusher. They’re as good as it gets in our league.”

No defense has played in sync as much as the Cowboys’. They’re as good up front as they are in the back end.

They’ve taken down the quarterback 15 times in four games with nine players claiming at least one sack. Bundage has 3.5.

Texas, on the other hand, has no one with more than 1.5 sacks by freshman Alfred Collins, who doesn’t even start but will down the road sooner than later.

Iowa State’s Matt Campbell came away impressed with the suffocating Cowboys.

“They have a very veteran defense,” said Campbell, whose Cyclones averaged a paltry 4.8 yards a pass attempt and totaled just 162 yards passing with elite quarterback Brock Purdy. “And they don’t make a lot of mistakes.”

And when they do, they still got those explosive offensive weapons to fall back on.

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