OSU pounds Georgia at their own game
September, 5, 2009
By Tim Griffin | ESPN.com
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin
STILLWATER, Okla. -- When he went back home to Florida the last few months, Oklahoma State safety Lucien Antoine heard a lot of doubters about Big 12 football.
It was understandable. After all, the Big 12 had the reputation for big passing games and pillow-soft defenses.
And considering the way the Southeastern Conference had statement victories in bowl games, few would have thought the Cowboys or any team from their conference could have matched their rival's defensive intensity.
"People were telling me they think the SEC has all the good teams," Antoine said. "We get tired of people saying their conference is better than (ours) just because people think they are more aggressive."
The Cowboys lived up to Antoine's claims with a punishing defensive performance, beating the Georgia Bulldogs in an impressive 24-10 statement victory.
In a sense, they went out and beat the Bulldogs at their own game.
"The game was played very much like what you see in the SEC," Oklahoma State Mike Gundy said. "I don't think anybody would have predicted that."
Coupled with Baylor's victory at Wake Forest and Missouri's convincing beatdown of Illinois, it was a good day for the Big 12 and its much-maligned defenses.
After Georgia went 80 yards for a touchdown on the first possession, the Bulldogs were limited to 177 yards during the rest of the game. They produced 95 yards rushing as the Cowboys forced three turnovers and notched two sacks.
"We play defense just like they do," said Antoine, who earned the nickname of "The Punisher" as a player in junior college. "But I think today, we played harder than they did."
Antoine played up to his nickname and more with a team-high seven tackles. His crunching hit forced a fumble by Georgia redshirt freshman running back Carlton Thomas late in the first half. The turnover helped turn around the momentum of the game, igniting a run of 17 unanswered points that kick-started the Cowboys' finish.
The strong defensive outing surprised Gundy, who was hoping for a big effort but wasn't sure how his team would play.
"I'll be honest with you," Gundy said. "I didn't think we could play this well."
Gundy's concern was understandable. The Cowboys were torched for 61, 56 and 42 points in three late losses last season. And they ranked 93rd in total defense, 107th in sacks and 109th in pass defense.
To restore confidence in his battered unit, Gundy hired former Oklahoma State player and veteran defensive coordinator Bill Young.
Young has the reputation as the “Horse Whisperer” of defensive coordinators, rebuilding shattered units with positive reinforcement. He was a member of Mark Mangino’s original staff at Kansas, leaving there after leading the Jayhawks to a 2008 Orange Bowl victory over Virginia Tech.
“This is what we’ve been harping on since we got here,” Young said. “We have some talent and some good players. And we’ll be a good defense later in the season.”
It was hard not to consider them as one Saturday. They handcuffed the Bulldogs and held them to a field goal after the early score, forcing turnovers that sparked two scoring drives that catapulted the Cowboys to the victory. Georgia's wide receivers produced three receptions for 10 yards.
“You kind of get what you ask for,” Young said."Nobody has stressed turnovers more than we try to. We teach drills to strip the ball and get picks. We’re happy with three, but we would like four or five.”
The Cowboys did it with a makeshift group missing starting free safety Markelle Martin and starting middle linebacker Orie Lemon.
But they persevered and showed a little toughness while doing it.
“We are a different defense than last year,” said middle linebacker Donald Booker, who filled in with a strong performance in place of Lemon. “Everybody doubted us, but we just fed off it. We proved we can be a physical team, too.”