Saturday, October 29, 2011
OSU defense keeps defying its doubters
By David Ubben
STILLWATER, Okla. -- Wednesday afternoon, Oklahoma State safety Markelle Martin and linebacker Shaun Lewis were trying to mind their own business, working out on their own time outside of scheduled team workouts.
They looked up ... and got fired up.
"No D in Stillwater" read the TV report while talking heads laid out the case that Martin and Lewis' unit could be the reason an Oklahoma State national title run ran off the rails.
Martin and Lewis relayed the analysis to their teammates.
"That fire was lit," Martin said. "And we shined."
Said Lewis: "You don't need a pep talk after that."
And for the Cowboys' defensive rebuttal?
"They said everything they needed to say out there on that field," Lewis said.
Just ask Baylor, a team Oklahoma State beat 59-24 on Saturday at Boone Pickens Stadium. The Bears entered Saturday as the nation's No. 2 team in total offense and a squad scoring 44 points a game.
When the third quarter ended, Baylor trailed 49-3.
Five times in the first half, Baylor reached Oklahoma State territory. It didn't score, thanks to a goal-line stand on the opening drive, two interceptions, a turnover on downs and a missed field goal.
Markelle Martin and Oklahoma State upended Robert Griffin III and Baylor, which trailed 49-3 through three quarters.
Coach Mike Gundy said he's "not sure" why his team is so good on its side of the field, but not all the time. Martin says it boils down to matchups.
"We do a good job of communicating, and at that point, we understand it's not so much space we're worried about, it's just 1-on-1, you versus the guy in front of you," he said. "Our guys have a lot of pride about themselves and we do a good job of staying sound and staying physical at that point."
Oklahoma State forced five turnovers from an offense that had turned it over just 10 times in six games before Saturday. The Cowboys won't cede their national lead in turnover margin at plus-19 after Saturday's win, but don't cry coincidence. It's too common to be crazy.
This same team forced 12 more turnovers than it committed in an 11-win season a year ago, too.
"They harp on it in practice; that's literally all you hear in practice," said quarterback Brandon Weeden, who threw for a casual, clean 274 yards and three touchdowns while his running backs rolled for 327 yards and five touchdowns on 27 carries. "Get the ball out! Get the ball out! That or, attack the football! Coach Gundy's done an unbelievable job of training our corners to go up and get it, to play the ball like a receiver. That's where it comes from. It's unbelievable."
Slowing the offensive wrecking ball that is Baylor quarterback Robert Griffin III is unbelievable, too. Griffin somehow had never scored a rushing or passing touchdown against the Cowboys until a 72-yard fourth-quarter touchdown pass to Terrance Williams against Oklahoma State's second-team defense.
He'd thrown just two interceptions in Baylor's first six games. Oklahoma State picked him off twice Saturday.
"If he'd come out early, we wouldn't have to worry about [stopping him] for one more year," Gundy joked.
That touchdown cut Oklahoma State's lead to 56-17 and came after the Cowboys' third one-play touchdown drive of the game, an 81-yard run from reserve freshman running back Herschel Sims.
The touchdown was Griffin's only one of the day, despite entering Saturday's contest with 22 touchdown passes in six games.
Oklahoma State's raw defensive numbers aren't gorgeous. OSU's defense gave up 622 yards, including 446 through the air. But lots of them were late, and turnovers can change a likely win into a blowout in a flash.
"Statistically, on paper, we're not very good," Gundy said. "But productivity, scoring-wise, against teams we play? We're pretty good."
Baylor ran 14 plays inside Oklahoma State's 5-yard line. It didn't score until the very last one, when Oklahoma State led, 59-17.
The Cowboys are the only Big 12 team that hasn't given up 30 points this season, and with arguably the nation's top offense, that's plenty good enough to keep from waking up from this dream season in Stillwater.
"There'll be a day, hopefully not in the near future, when our offense will struggle, and we can't be doing what we're doing defensively," said defensive coordinator Bill Young.
When (if?) that day comes, is Oklahoma State up to the task?
Uh, well, it did come. The Cowboys scored just three points in the first half against Texas A&M this year, a team that averages just fewer than 40 points a game this year.
It didn't give up a second-half point until the Cowboys had already turned a 20-3 deficit into a 30-20 lead with just more than two minutes left in their 30-29 win.
Whether the defense is down big or backed up in its end zone, it's done what's necessary to keep the Cowboys undefeated. Saturday against Baylor was no different.
Doubt the Cowboys if you must, especially their defense. That's easy.