OSU defense looking to prove its worth

December, 30, 2011
12/30/11
9:45
AM ET
The numbers aren't pretty.

Surely, you've heard it by now.

"Oklahoma State: winning in spite of an awful defense since 2010."

If only, right?

Well, not quite. Especially in 2011.

Bill Young and his Oklahoma State defense have waged a year-long battle against perception and raw numbers.

[+] EnlargeNigel Nicholas
Mark D. Smith/US PresswireThe Oklahoma State defense has played much better this season than its statistics suggest.
"It gives up 445 yards a game?! There are 106 teams in college football who give up fewer! And the pass defense? That's 265 yards per game on its own! That's 102nd!"

Well, yeah. But things are not as bad as they appear.

"We’re playing a little bit better defensively than maybe some people realize, but the problem, it’s a blessing on one side and problem on the other, is our offense," Young said.

The offense is big on providing wins, but bad for defensive numbers that offer fuel to those questioning the Cowboys' credentials.

"We’re a real fast-tempo offense and we score a lot of points and score a lot in a hurry, but what happens is it just multiplies the number of opportunities you have to play on defense," Young said. "We played several ballgames this year where we’ve played well over 100 snaps, which if you look at Texas and other teams that run the ball a lot, Kansas State? They’re playing about 55-60 snaps per game. So you’re playing two games, everybody else is playing one game."

That's one reason for the big numbers. Another?

Oklahoma State has faced four of the nation's top six quarterbacks in total passing yards. The result?

It held Arizona's Nick Foles to just 14 points in a 23-point win. It jumped out to a 49-3 lead on Heisman winner Robert Griffin III and Baylor, eventually winning 59-24.

Texas Tech's Seth Doege managed just six points in an embarrassing 66-6 loss to the Cowboys -- in Lubbock.

Oklahoma's Landry Jones was missing Ryan Broyles, but his team trailed 44-3 until a late touchdown run in the game's final three minutes.

Is that not good enough?

The biggest reason for those defensive performances has been turnovers. The Cowboys have forced 42 this season, six more than any other team in college football. It's scored 181 points off those turnovers, 37 more than any team in college football.

"That’s something we put a lot of emphasis on and take a lot of pride in it," said Young, whose defense forced 34 turnovers last season, fifth-most in the FBS. "We have a two-whistle system, where the first whistle is where the offense can stop running, and the second whistle, we’ll quit trying to strip it, but up until then, we’re doing everything we can to take the ball away."

It has paid off, but the turnovers have helped to produce big leads, which have also impacted the defense. Oklahoma State has been the victim of benching its own starters, too. Football Outsiders calculates an advanced defensive statistic called Defensive S&P+, which calculates the defensive success rates of every one of a team's plays, but only when a game is within 24 points in the first quarter, within 21 points in the second quarter, and within 16 points in the second half.

In that comprehensive stat, Oklahoma State ranks 32nd.

It's far from elite, but it's far from an embarrassment, and an improvement on the deceiving total defense statistic. The pace of Oklahoma State's offense handcuffs the defense's ability to put up any reasonable numbers in the stat. The same is true of many defenses across the Big 12.

The simple fact: Big 12 defenses face a whole lot more plays than defenses from other leagues. Why wouldn't they give up more yardage?

Young isn't pretending his defense is on par with the titans that pollsters deemed worthy of meeting again in the national championship. But it's not as bad as the numbers suggest.

"We’re blue collar and we just go to work every day and work hard and try to do good things," Young said.

It's done enough this season.

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