NCF Nation: Orie Lemon

It's a different year this time around. Most of the guys on this list would already be signed to a team -- albeit with brief contracts -- and ready to work toward a future in the NFL.

But this year, if you're not already aware, NFL teams had to turn out the lights after the draft reached its completion on Saturday evening. Players drafted can't have contact with their new teams, and teams aren't allowed to make offseason moves.

That means no signing of undrafted rookies, creating uncertain futures for these guys. Undrafted guys have plenty of value -- for example, last year's leading rusher among rookies, LeGarrette Blount of Oregon, went undrafted -- and here are a few guys looking for their shot in the future once the lockout ends. (It'll end eventually, right?)

Here are the Big 12 players that were productive in college and would be in camps, but thanks to the lockout, now have their futures on hold.

Tim Barnes, C, Missouri

Barnes was the first-team All-Big 12 center in 2010, but extended a streak of four consecutive Missouri centers to earn that honor and go undrafted. Barnes had more athleticism than his predecessors, but it wasn't enough to get drafted. You won't find a much more knowledgeable center, but a lot of that knowledge might not transfer well to the next level.

Kevin Rutland, CB, Missouri

Rutland was one of the Tigers' team captains last season, but his overall position skills weren't on the level of the cornerbacks drafted ahead of him.

David Sims, S, Iowa State

Sims has great speed at 204 pounds, but his 5-foot-9 frame isn't ideal for a safety. His past didn't help him, either. He enrolled at Oklahoma originally, but didn't qualify and went to junior college. After winning Big 12 Newcomer of the Year in 2009, he was suspended for the season opener in 2010 and stripped of team captain status after racking up charges on a Des Moines woman's debit card.

Orie Lemon, LB, Oklahoma State

Lemon was what you'd want in a linebacker mentally and physically when he was healthy, but his torn ACL last season hurt his draft stock. He's a big hitter, too, but at 242 pounds, NFL teams didn't love his speed.

Dan Bailey, K, Oklahoma State

Simply put, kickers don't get drafted too often. Bailey, who won the Lou Groza Award last season as the nation's best kicker, should get his shot at some point.

Colby Whitlock, DT, Texas Tech

Whitlock has great size at more than 300 pounds, but his lack of speed concerned NFL teams, who also weren't in love with his pass-rushing ability or overall athletic ability. I've been a fan of Whitlock's technique during his time in Lubbock, but measurables are more apt to get you selected.

Jerrod Johnson, QB, Texas A&M

Not a snub, per se, as it was pretty obvious that Johnson struggled in the events leading up to the draft, especially at the Senior Bowl. But Johnson likely would find a shot somewhere, and it's still shocking to see a player with Johnson's resume go undrafted. Coach Mike Sherman knows the kind of football mind Johnson has, though, and can sell his NFL connections on it. There's no question he'll end up in a camp once the option is available.

Cowboys, Aggies host pro days

March, 10, 2011
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Von Miller "officially" ran a 4.53 40-yard dash at the NFL scouting combine last month, despite clocking a 4.46 in his first run that would have been the best mark among linebackers.

Miller got another chance on Wednesday at Texas A&M's pro day, and officially clocked a 4.50 40-time that would have been just .01 behind Martez Wilson's 4.49 time as the best among linebackers.

At the combine he solidified his status as a sure top-10 pick, and he was impressive again on Wednesday.

"Is there anything else anyone wants?" Miller said while smiling, according to a release. "I’m ready to keep going. Whatever they want, I’m ready to do it."

Miller improved his time in the 40-yard dash, the three-cone drill and the 20-yard shuttle.

Texas A&M quarterback Jerrod Johnson also showcased his throwing arm, which scouts haven't seen much of since Johnson was benched midway through the season after being unable to fully recover from offseason shoulder surgery.

"I’m ready to go. I’m about healed," Johnson said. "I’m ready to get back on a team, so I’m looking for somebody to give me the opportunity and I’ll make the most of it. I say I’m about 95 percent healed (from shoulder surgery). I’m about ready to go. I still need some strengthening, but I’m fine.

Representatives from 14 NFL teams were on hand in College Station.

Representatives from 22 teams were in Stillwater to see Oklahoma State, where a pair of defensive linemen stole the show.

Defensive end Ugo Chinasa ran 40-yard dash times of 4.78 and 4.76, which would have ranked ninth among defense ends at the combine. Defensive tackle Shane Jarka bench pressed 225 pounds 34 times, which would have ranked fourth at the combine.

Linebacker Orie Lemon also improved his 40-time from 4.99 at the combine to 4.76 on Wednesday. He still would have been outside the top 15 with the 4.76 time, but it helped show scouts he's not nearly as sluggish as he looked in Indianapolis. He had 133 tackles in 2010, second-most in the Big 12.
The NFL scouting combine concludes today, but the defensive line and linebackers took their turns under the microscope on Monday. Here's a look at how the linebackers did. We looked at the defensive linemen this morning.

Position ranking in parentheses when available.

[+] EnlargeVon Miller
AP Photo/Michael ConroyTexas A&M linebacker Von Miller had a superb showing at the NFL scouting combine.
Von Miller, Texas A&M

  • 40-yard dash: 4.53/4.46 (2/1) (We'll come back to this later.)
  • Vertical jump: 37 inches (3)
  • Broad jump: 10-6 (1)
  • Three-cone drill: 6.7 seconds (1)
  • 20-yard shuttle: 4.06 seconds (3)
  • 60-yard shuttle: 11.15 seconds (1)
  • 225-pound bench press: 20 reps
Orie Lemon, Oklahoma State

  • 225-pound bench press: 27 reps (5)
  • 40-yard dash: 4.99 seconds

Wondering why you saw Miller's face on about every football website you could find yesterday?

Well, here you go. News of Miller's freakish athletic ability isn't news to any fans of Texas A&M or fans of teams who faced the Aggies, but when you see it all etched in concrete like this? Well, it's a little jarring.

"Watching more tape on him, he’s going to be a fun guy to coach," Aggies defensive coordinator Tim DeRuyter told me last spring.

He'd had the job less then two months back then, and he knew what he had. The point is, it doesn't take long to figure it out.

"Through the first few mornings of our workouts, he’s a guy that can really stand out in a crowd," DeRuyter said. "He’s a 6-4, 240-pound man that moves around like he’s 5-10 and 180. And having that explosion and burst really gives you a chance to say, ‘How can we get this guy isolated?’ Just seeing that athleticism just whets your appetite for that, thinking about the possibility."

Considering Miller's numbers on Monday, that sounds about accurate, no? He clocked a 4.46 40-time in his first run. That's defensive back speed. Miller, however, is going to be hunting down quarterbacks on the edge in the NFL.

Best yet, Miller showed this year that he can be a complete player, often dropping into coverage, perhaps at the peril of his sack total (still the Big 12's best) but at the benefit of his NFL stock. With his performance on Monday, Miller might have moved into the top 5.

There's no doubts about his athleticism. That's clear. He did his best to answer those questions about his ability to be more than just a pass rusher with the last year in DeRuyter's 3-4 scheme. Miller's ability to drop his shoulder and gain leverage on most tackles with a low center of gravity will pay off, but it's obvious with his shuttle times and 40-time that he's not going to have problems accounting for quite a bit of square footage in coverage.

His stock is skyrocketing, and it's not difficult to see why.

C'mon, man: Big 12's most bizarre plays

January, 25, 2011
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We saw plenty of great moments and great games across the Big 12 in 2010.

We also saw a lot of weird moments.

So with a nod to the guys at Monday Night Football, here are the five biggest plays of 2010 that made everybody give a hearty, "C'mon, man!"

1. Needed: Onside kick practice. Texas Tech's players were standing and staring, which is rarely a good idea on the football field, but usually acceptable in kick coverage. Not this time. The Red Raiders tried an onside kick, but it didn't travel the necessary 10 yards for a Texas Tech recovery. So, while three Red Raiders hovered over the ball, Baylor's Terrance Ganaway picked it up and outran the Red Raiders for a 38-yard touchdown. That was bad (and rare) enough, but Texas Tech gave up a touchdown on a desperation onside kick against Iowa State a week earlier, too. Jeremy Reeves caught it and returned it 42 yards to ice the 52-38 win. Here's hoping Tech puts in a few more onside kick reps this spring, and a YouTube video titled "Texas Tech onside kick goes horribly wrong" doesn't rack up almost 4.5 million views again in 2011.

2. Victory formation isn't supposed to go like that. Oklahoma State looked ready to trot off the field as 41-38 winners over Troy in their second game of the year. Cowboys quarterback Brandon Weeden lined up in the victory formation, but fumbled the snap, unbelievably giving the ball back to Troy on their 34-yard line with just under a minute to play. Lucky for Weeden, his teammate, Justin Gent, sacked quarterback Corey Robinson on the next play, and Orie Lemon recovered Robinson's fumble to end any notion of what could have been one of the most embarrassing losses in recent history. In Weeden's defense, he was playing with a ruptured tendon in his thumb, which meant pain during any snap under center, but it'd be tough to find a worse time to fumble a snap than in that situation.

3. Creative losing will key a coaching search. Listen, I respect my man Herm Edwards when he rather emphatically states that coaches and players should "Play to win the game." But when you're up 45-17 in the fourth quarter and you've got a running back in Rodney Stewart who ended up with 175 yards on the day, there's no other way to put it: Run. The. Ball. Dan Hawkins' puzzling refusal kept the clock stopped more than it should have been, and the Buffaloes did plenty more turning it over late in the game than moving the ball. Somehow, Colorado turned that 28-point lead into a seven-point deficit with less than a minute to play. "We just didn't want to be one-dimensional," Hawkins said. What? His explanation didn't cut it, and because of the meltdown, Hawkins never coached another game for the Buffs.

4. Throw it to Mom in the stands, man. Missouri quarterback Blaine Gabbert shredded a soft Iowa zone defense for 434 yards in the Insight Bowl, and the Tigers looked in complete control with a 24-20 lead and a drive that had reached Iowa territory. With less than six minutes to play, Gabbert was flushed to his left and tried to throw across his body to receiver Wes Kemp. Iowa's Micah Hyde picked off the ill-advised pass, reversed field and returned it 72 yards for a game-winning pick six. Gabbert admitted after the game that he got "greedy," but the probable first-round pick would probably throw that ball away 90-plus times out of 100 if he had it to do over again.

5. Filling up the stat sheet: Not always good. Texas A&M quarterback Jerrod Johnson rallied his team from a 35-21 fourth-quarter deficit on the road against Oklahoma State, and got the ball back on his own 29-yard line for a possible game-winning drive with just more than a minute to play. He'd already thrown three interceptions -- along with 400 yards and five touchdowns -- but his fourth pick of the game cost the Aggies. He overthrew a well-covered receiver, and Cowboys linebacker Shaun Lewis made an easy interception, returning the ball 28 yards back to the Aggies' 40-yard line. Oklahoma State won the game shortly after on a 40-yard field goal from Dan Bailey. If Texas A&M wins that game, they also win the Big 12 South outright.

Honorable mention: Iowa State reserve punter Daniel Kuehl's attempted pass against Nebraska on the Cyclones' fake extra point in overtime for the win.

To those five, I think we can all say: C'mon, man.

2010 Big 12 All-Bowl team

January, 14, 2011
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We've spent the week wrapping up the bowls, and now that it's Friday, here's our Big 12 bowl team comprised of players who got it done individually in their bowl games.

Plenty of guys got snubbed, particularly at receiver (Sorry, Lyle Leong, Cameron Kenney and Kendall Wright!), but without further ado, here it is.

OFFENSE

QB: Landry Jones, Oklahoma
RB: Daniel Thomas, Kansas State
RB: Eric Stephens, Texas Tech
WR: Ryan Broyles, Oklahoma
WR: Justin Blackmon, Oklahoma State
WR: T.J. Moe, Missouri
OL: Zach Kendall, Kansas State
OL: Tim Barnes, Missouri
OL: Eric Mensik, Oklahoma
OL: Lonnie Edwards, Texas Tech
OL: Elvis Fisher, Missouri

DEFENSE

DL: Phil Taylor, Baylor
DL: Jeremy Beal, Oklahoma
DL: Jared Crick, Nebraska
DL: Richetti Jones, Oklahoma State
LB: Von Miller, Texas A&M
LB: Travis Lewis, Oklahoma
LB: Orie Lemon, Oklahoma State
CB: Jamell Fleming, Oklahoma
CB: Kevin Rutland, Missouri
S: Byron Landor, Baylor
S: Tysyn Hartman, Kansas State

SPECIALISTS

P: Matt Grabner, Missouri
K: Dan Bailey, Oklahoma State
KR: Coryell Judie, Texas A&M
PR: Ryan Broyles, Oklahoma

A few notes from Gundy's Monday speech

January, 11, 2011
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DALLAS -- I'm roaming around at the AFCA Convention this week, a national convention for coaches at every level of football from high school all the way up to the FBS level. Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy was one of the featured speakers at the daily main gathering of the thousands of coaches on Monday afternoon, and spent an hour laying out how he runs his program and a few of his philosophies.

Other speakers this week doing what Gundy did on Monday: Wisconsin's Brett Bielema, Michigan State's Mark Dantonio and, coincidentally, LSU's Les Miles.

A quick straw poll of a few coaches I was sitting around told me this: Gundy was impressive. I thought so, and about everyone I talked to did, too.

To summarize: Gundy basically got more than an hour to lay out what he's all about in front of a few thousand coaches, with probably half or more hailing from high schools. Don't think something like that will help recruiting?

It was an enjoyable listen, and here are some of the highlights from his 73-minute speech.

  • [+] EnlargeMike Gundy
    Matt Strasen/US Presswire Oklahoma State's Mike Gundy was a speaker at Monday's coaches conferences in Dallas.
    Self-deprecating humor looks good on just about anyone, and Gundy wore it well on Monday. Self-awareness is always good to see, and Gundy isn't ignorant about what most of the coaches in the room would know him from. On his relationship with the media and his former coach, Pat Jones: "He's changed stripes. He's a media guy now, which, you guys know, they're not one of my favorite people. ... There was some people outside from Sports Illustrated and CBS who were going to try to grab me for a couple quotes before I got in here, and one guy said, 'Do you have a card so I can get in touch with you later?' And I just said, 'Look, if you just look on YouTube, you'll get all the information you need about me and whether we want to do this media interview or not.'" He drew some solid laughs for that one.
  • Oklahoma State has 121 players. Sixty-eight are from Texas. When Gundy first took the job at Oklahoma State, he wanted to make a big splash in Texas. He wanted to "market Oklahoma State, market our coaches and toe the line on the rules." The Cowboys' answer: strategically placed billboards that adhered to NCAA rules. His best one: A billboard two blocks down from Perrish Cox's house in Waco, Texas, with a coach pointing his finger at Cox's home that read, "We want you...to be a part of our team." Coaches also wore colorful NASCAR-looking shirts whenever they went to high schools or made other public appearances. "When we went to conventions, or in those schools, people saw us, recognized us and knew who we were."
  • Gundy says he and his coaches work hard when they're working, but don't overwork themselves or their players. Early in his career, Gundy said he would show up at 5:45 a.m. and leave at 10 p.m. pretty often. That, he said, turned out to be counterproductive, and he runs his program differently. "It was hard for me to finally look at the big picture and say, 'Enough. We work too much, and it's not going to help us.' So we backed off," Gundy said. "This season, we were as fresh as we've ever been in games 8 through the bowl game. Coaches and players were as fresh as we've ever been. We've had fewer injuries than we've ever had. Our stamina in the fourth quarter was better."
  • Gundy's effort to get donations from billionaire booster Boone Pickens to upgrade facilities was a concerted one bent on changing the attitude of people within the Oklahoma State program. The Cowboys won under former coach Les Miles, but Gundy didn't see an attitude change. That's what he wanted. Wins have followed for Gundy, who has won 29 games in his past three seasons at Oklahoma State after winning 18 in his first three.
  • Gundy tries to make an effort to reward his coaches who are loyal and may get passed up for other jobs because they're not out advertising themselves.
  • He trains and wants his current players to be his best recruiters when recruits come on campus. "We tell [recruits] up front, we're going to turn you loose with our team, and we want them to tell you what it's like to be a student and a football player at Oklahoma State," Gundy said. It got back to Gundy that a small number of current players told recruits they shouldn't come to the school. "That's a serious issue," he said.
  • Oklahoma State had no curfew problems during its week at the Alamo Bowl, and Gundy credits his hard-line stance with Perrish Cox last year at the Cotton Bowl. Cox missed curfew and Gundy held him out of the game. "I kind of backed myself into a corner a little bit, I wished I had said, 'Well, you won't play the first quarter," Gundy said with a laugh. "I got real bold and said, 'You miss curfew, you ain't playing!' Then he missed curfew and I thought, 'Shoot, that ain't very good." Gundy drew big laughs for the one. Two OSU coaches said Cox shouldn't play. The rest said they wanted to discuss hedging on the rule. "We stuck with it, and I'm convinced it was the right thing to do."
  • At OSU, a player committee of 10 players chosen by position, plus two true freshmen, decide the punishment for teammates who break team rules. "Players take it better when they know the punishment is coming from their peers," Gundy said.
  • Gundy told his fellow coaches, "Don't flinch in tough times." He recounted the team's situation with Dez Bryant in 2009, which resulted in Bryant being suspended for the final nine games of the season. "The NCAA, I was on the phone with them at 11:30 at night the night before we opened with Georgia at home. The biggest game ever in the history of Oklahoma State football in nonconference to open a season. ... At that point, you want to crumble. There was so much hype about this first game, and you're going to run out on the field and you may not have Dez Bryant." Gundy also talked about missing Kendall Hunter for eight games that year and missing linebacker Orie Lemon for the year after he blew out his knee days before the game. Donald Booker notched 100 tackles at linebacker for the Cowboys that year, and Keith Toston finished with a 1,000-yard season. "As a coach, you can't flinch. I don't care what's going on inside of you. I don't care if you want to drop and cry, you can never flinch, because your assistants and players are watching you," Gundy said. "Don't flinch. The kids will play better than you think."
  • Gundy says he tells his players that media attention only becomes an issue if you start to believe it. "I got real concerned this year after the fourth or fifth game about all the attention Justin Blackmon was getting and that Brandon Weeden was getting and Kendall Hunter was getting and Orie Lemon was getting," he said. "I worry about the other 100 guys or the other 35 guys that play seeing those guys as different and starting to divide the team a little bit. As a coach, if you let that go and don't deal with it. ... It's important that you talk to guys about that and be upfront about it."

ESPN.com's All-Big 12 team

December, 8, 2010
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There were definitely plenty of tough calls in this group, and a lot of deserving guys who got left off, but here is my All-Big 12 team for the 2010 season. For reference, here is how the media voted, and how the coaches voted.

OFFENSE

QB: Brandon Weeden, Oklahoma State
RB: Kendall Hunter, Oklahoma State
RB: Daniel Thomas, Kansas State
WR: Justin Blackmon, Oklahoma State
WR: Ryan Broyles, Oklahoma
TE: Michael Egnew, Missouri
C: Tim Barnes, Missouri
OL: Levy Adcock, Oklahoma State
OL: Nate Solder, Colorado
OL: Ricky Henry, Nebraska
OL: Danny Watkins, Baylor

DEFENSE

DE: Jeremy Beal, Oklahoma
DT: Jared Crick, Nebraska
DT: Lucas Patterson, Texas A&M
DE: Sam Acho, Texas
LB: Von Miller, Texas A&M
LB: Lavonte David, Nebraska
LB: Orie Lemon, Oklahoma State
CB: Prince Amukamara, Nebraska
CB: Alfonzo Dennard, Nebraska
S: Quinton Carter, Oklahoma
S: Byron Landor, Baylor

SPECIALISTS

P: Quinn Sharp, Oklahoma State
K: Alex Henery, Nebraska
KR: Coryell Judie, Texas A&M
PR: Niles Paul, Nebraska

I'll stop short of listing who I had to snub on my own team, but the easiest positions for me to pick were receiver, linebacker, kicker and tight end. The most difficult were cornerback, kick returner, safety, defensive tackle and quarterback.

Here's how it shook out by team:

1. Nebraska (7)
2. Oklahoma State (6)
3. Texas A&M (3)
3. Oklahoma (3)
5. Missouri (2)
5. Baylor (2)
7. Texas (1)
7. Kansas State (1)
7. Colorado (1)
10. Kansas (0)
10. Iowa State (0)
10. Texas Tech (0)

Big 12 weekend rewind: Week 11

November, 15, 2010
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Best offensive player: Brandon Weeden, QB, Oklahoma State. For all of Texas' struggles this year, the secondary has still been pretty good, ranking second in pass defense this year. Well, before they ran into Weeden, who torched them for 409 yards through the air on 29-of-43 passing, including a gorgeous 67-yard rainbow to Justin Blackmon for a touchdown.

Best defensive player: Quinton Carter, S, Oklahoma. More good performances this week than any other this year, but Carter owned the back line against a dangerous passing attack, helping keep Texas Tech at just seven points. Carter made 17 tackles, the most of any Oklahoma defensive back since Brandon Everage in 2002. He also had a pass breakup. Honorable mention: Orie Lemon, LB, Oklahoma State; Michael Sipili, LB, Colorado; Jared Crick, DT, Nebraska; Lavonte David, LB, Nebraska

Best team performance: Texas A&M. The Aggies pitched a second-half shutout against a big-time Baylor offense and earned a 42-30 comeback victory on the road against the Bears to keep their slim South hopes alive. Honorable mention: Oklahoma.

[+] EnlargeColorado wide receiver Paul Richardson
AP Photo/ Matt McClainColorado wide receiver Paul Richardson averaged over 24 yards a catch in a win over Iowa State.
Best offensive freshman: Paul Richardson, WR, Colorado. Richardson's becoming a consistent target opposite Scotty McKnight, and the lanky 6-foot-1, 175-pounder caught five passes for 121 yards in a win over Iowa State. Honorable mention: Kenny Stills, WR, Oklahoma.

Best defensive freshman: Tre Walker, LB, Kansas State. Walker repeats this week, once again leading the Wildcats in tackles with 12. He also picked off a Blaine Gabbert pass and returned it 17 yards.

Classiest gesture: Dan Hawkins. He said in his farewell news conference he'd be his team's biggest fan down the stretch, and he made good on his word on Saturday, watching the game from a low-key perch on a balcony outside the offices he occupied for four-plus seasons in Boulder. You won't see many other coaches do that.

Best play: Weeden-to-Blackmon. Texas cornerback Aaron Williams covered the play perfectly, but Weeden hit a pinpoint pass over the top right into Blackmon's arms for a game-changing 67-yard touchdown that put Oklahoma State up 16-3 in the second quarter.

Most underrated play: Wes Kemp, WR, Missouri. Kemp hit the key block that freed up the last few yards of Blaine Gabbert's 32-yard touchdown run in the second quarter. He decleated one defender, and blocked another on his follow-through to help give the Tigers an early 14-7 lead.

Most heartbreaking play: Terrance Frederick, Texas A&M. Frederick returned a blocked field goal 71 yards at the end of the first half, but went out of bounds at the 1-yard line after time expired, meaning his play was all for naught.

Worst play: K-State's fumblerooski. The Wildcats version was slow to develop, but John Hubert got the ball from under his legs, ran to his left and fumbled. Missouri's Jacquies Smith recovered the ball. Dishonorable mention: Kansas State's goal-line fumble at the end of the first half with a chance to tie the game.

Worst quarter: Texas' second quarter. The Longhorns hung around early, but got outscored 23-0 in the period. Playing starters vs. starters, we could have played this one through Tuesday and the Longhorns might not make up a 23-point deficit on Oklahoma State, even if the Cowboys offense wasn't allowed to play.

Best game: Texas A&M 42, Baylor 30. The Aggies rebounded from a terrible start that featured Robert Griffin III's longest run of the season, a 71-yard touchdown to earn a dramatic win in the Battle of the Brazos and set up a huge game against Nebraska in College Station on Saturday.

Cowboys making key stops early to lead

November, 6, 2010
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STILLWATER, Okla. -- Baylor's first two drives have built some momentum, but big plays by Oklahoma State on defense have shut them down, and the Cowboys have capitalized, taking a 10-0 lead late in the first quarter.

Oklahoma State linebacker Orie Lemon nearly intercepted a third-down pass that Baylor quarterback Robert Griffin III had to force because of pressure in the pocket.

On the next drive, cornerback Brodrick Brown stripped Baylor's Josh Gordon on a hitch play near the sideline.

Both of these teams obviously have high-powered offenses, but when you get those opportunities -- either a chance for a turnover or a difficult third-and-long -- the defenses will have to take advantage.

Neither will get many stops otherwise.

So far, the team that's done that is Oklahoma State.

Big 12 weekend rewind: Week 7

October, 18, 2010
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Here's a look back at the best and worst of the week that was in the Big 12.

Best offensive player: Tie, Justin Blackmon (OSU), Landry Jones (OU), Ryan Broyles (OU), Robert Griffin (BU). Call it a cop out if you must, but there's really no way to differentiate between these guys. Blackmon had a career-high 207 yards receiving and a huge 62-yard score. Jones completed 30 of 34 passes in a 52-point conference win. Broyles had 10 catches for 131 yards and a score two minutes into the second quarter. Griffin engineered a conference road win, throwing for 234 yards and running for 137 more. I honestly just can't pick between these guys. You could make a solid case for any one of them.

Best defensive player: Brad Madison, DE, Missouri. Splitting time with Michael Sam in place of injured end Aldon Smith, Madison sacked Jerrod Johnson three times to help Missouri beat the Aggies 30-9. Honorable mention: Orie Lemon, LB, Oklahoma State.

[+] EnlargeTexas Longhorns players celebrate
Bruce Thorson/US PresswireTexas surprised Nebraska in the Longhorns' upset victory over the Cornhuskers.
Best team performance: Texas. Shock the world is probably too strong, but the Longhorns mildly disturbed the majority of the population by knocking off the then-No. 4 Huskers in Lincoln, ruining one of the most anticipated games in Nebraska history.

Best offensive freshman: Joseph Randle, RB, Oklahoma State. Randle carried the ball 17 times for 95 yards and a touchdown in the Cowboys 34-17 win over Texas Tech, providing a great second option to Kendall Hunter. Honorable mention: Baylor WR Tevin Reese and Oklahoma RB Roy Finch.

Best defensive freshman: Tre' Porter, CB, Texas Tech. Porter takes home the award for a second consecutive week, with eight tackles, a tackle for loss and a pass breakup.

Best play: Eric Hagg, S, Nebraska. Yeah, it was in a losing effort, but Hagg's school-record, 95-yard touchdown return of Justin Tucker's pooch punt injected some unexpected late drama into a Nebraska-Texas game that needed it. He made plenty of guys miss, shook off a few tackles, and put Nebraska within a recovered onside kick of having a chance to send its game against Texas into overtime.

Worst play: Tie, Nebraska RB Rex Burkhead, WRs Niles Paul and Brandon Kinnie. All three dropped touchdown passes that weren't necessarily easy grabs, but trailing to Texas in a game of that magnitude, those are plays that have to be made. None of them did, and the team added a handful of other drops that added up to a frustrating day for the Huskers.

Worst call: Dan Hawkins, Colorado. If someone can explain to me the rationale behind going for two after first touchdown of the game late in the first quarter, I'm all ears. Going for it again (and failing again) only makes it worse.

"That is just the same thing that we did against Georgia. You get it and you`re feeling good," Dan Hawkins told reporters after the game. "And as it ended up it was kind of negligible anyway, so then we had to go for two in a sense the second time."

Maybe that's over my head, but the only teams in America that do that are dominant high school teams. Colorado would be a dominant high school team, no doubt. But this is the Big 12. Take the points and the Buffs Hail Mary to tie the game becomes a field goal to win it. That's not hindsight. That's common sense.

Worst quarter: Kansas' second quarter. Kansas let Carson Coffman run in a pair of touchdowns, throw for another and gave up a rushing touchdown to get outscored 28-0 in the quarter. The Jayhawks were in it after 15 minutes, down just 3-0. After the second quarter, it was officially ugly.

Worst team performance: Kansas. I said enough on Thursday night, but still. Almost two weeks to prepare. Rivalry game at home. 52-point loss. Can't do that.

Best game: Texas 20, Nebraska 13. Baylor's win over Colorado had the drama and late heroics, but Texas' masterful job covering Taylor Martinez provided a shock of its own: Martinez getting benched in favor of Zac Lee. Lee played well and led a lengthy drive that nearly ended in seven points. The shock of the Nebraska crowd, as well as that of everyone watching, provided somewhat of a surreal scene.

Cowboys' Lemon ready after year away

August, 19, 2010
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Bill Young knew every game day in 2009 was going to be an exercise in finding playing time for each of his four senior linebackers. One player sure to earn plenty was Orie Lemon, the team's second-leading tackler from 2008, until he tore his ACL before the season began, delaying his senior season by a year.

"That was a huge blow to our defense," Young said. 'Fortunately, we had a young man waiting in the wings for a chance to play in [Donald] Booker."

[+] EnlargeOrie Lemon
AP Photo/Brody SchmidtOrie Lemon should be a leader on a defense that has lost seven starters from a season ago.
Booker finished fifth in the Big 12 with 99 tackles, and Young lost seven starters from his defense. But Lemon is back, providing a feared presence in the middle of the field after Oklahoma State's "blessing in disguise."

"In the beginning, he felt like he let his team down, it kind of hurt him," junior safety Markelle Martin said. "But to come back this year, it's been kind of a blessing because we wouldn't have had that same leadership at the linebacker spot."

He joins Martin and defensive end Ugo Chinasa and as three players Young sees as the cornerstones of his defense in his second season in Stillwater.

After Lemon resurfaced and wowed coaches this spring, Young referred to his healed linebacker as one of the best in all of college football.

"He's a very experienced guy; he's a multiyear starter. He's got great size and athleticism," Young said of the 6-foot-1, 240-pounder. "He's just kind of the total package, a real bright young guy."

That's shown after painful but beneficial months spent learning the game instead of playing it.

"He's really one of the coaches on the field, he's been here long enough that he knows what it takes to win and what it takes to lose," Martin said. "He's just trying to be that leader that everybody expects of him, being the older guy. He's the captain of our defense and who else would you want, outside of Orie, the middle linebacker, to be the captain of the D?"

Said Young: "Having to sit out last year, he's really hungry coming back. He really wants to perform; he wants to play."

Big 12 Media Days schedule

July, 14, 2010
7/14/10
11:57
AM ET
Big 12 Media Days in Irving, Texas are only a couple weeks away, and the schedule for the three-day gabfest has been released.

First thing I noticed: Nebraska (first) and Texas (last) are as far away as possible. Though I don't think the week is going to be as conducive to fireworks as some believe, it should still be plenty entertaining.

Media Days run July 26-28, and here's when to look for who on your team. (all times ET)

Monday, July 26

2:00 Nebraska: Coach Bo Pelini, WR Niles Paul, DE Pierre Allen, CB Prince Amukamara

2:45 Baylor: Coach Art Briles, LB Antonio Johnson, OT Danny Watkins

3:30 Iowa State: Coach Paul Rhoads, QB Austen Arnaud, RB Alexander Robinson, DE Rashawn Parker

4:15 Texas A&M: Coach Mike Sherman, QB Jerrod Johnson, LB Von Miller, DT Lucas Patterson

Tuesday, July 27

10:00 Missouri: Coach Gary Pinkel, QB Blaine Gabbert, RB Derrick Washington, CB Kevin Rutland

10:45 Oklahoma State: Coach Mike Gundy, QB Brandon Weeden, LB Orie Lemon, DE Jamie Blatnick

11:30 Kansas State: Coach Bill Snyder, RB Daniel Thomas, S Tysyn Hartman, OL Zach Kendall

12:15 Texas Tech: Coach Tommy Tuberville, QB Taylor Potts, QB Steven Sheffield, DL Colby Whitlock

Wednesday, July 28

10:00 Kansas: Coach Turner Gill, DE Jake Laptad, CB Chris Harris, OL Brad Thorson

10:45 Oklahoma: Coach Bob Stoops, DE Jeremy Beal, LB Travis Lewis, WR Ryan Broyles

11:30 Colorado: Coach Dan Hawkins, CB Jalil Brown, WR Scotty McKnight, OL Nate Solder

12:15 Texas: Coach Mack Brown, QB Garrett Gilbert, OT Kyle Hix, DE Sam Acho, DT Kheeston Randall

A few quick thoughts:
  • Definitely surprised that Texas' Garrett Gilbert will be making the trip. I saw firsthand how well-spoken he was this spring on my visit to Austin, but I'm still surprised Brown would trot out his first-year starting quarterback for the media horde outside Dallas. Although his presence guarantees there should be plenty to talk about with the Longhorns.
  • Tommy Tuberville probably had to bring two or none of his quarterbacks, lest he tip his undecided hand at his starter and get people talking about a nonexistent decision. He chose the former. Interesting to note that Colorado's Dan Hawkins went with the latter.
  • Not sure why DE Jamie Blatnick will be one of Oklahoma's State's representatives instead of DE Ugo Chinasa or S Markelle Martin. Chinasa is a senior two-year starter heading into his third, while Blatnick is a junior who started only part-time last season. Martin is one of the conference's rising stars.
  • Baylor is the only team in the league bringing just a three-man contingent, and in Waco, they're the closest team to Media Days. A little surprised that Robert Griffin III won't be making the short drive, but at least that forces everyone to ask questions not about Griffin's knee. For that, I thank you, Art. But throwing WR Kendall Wright in the car at the last minute wouldn't be a terrible idea.
  • Meanwhile, Texas is the only team with a five-man crew. Everything's bigger.
  • Pretty good representation elsewhere, no real complaints. What do you think?
1. Texas

The defending champs will have one of the nation’s best defenses again, and perhaps its best secondary. Garrett Gilbert spent the spring validating his performance in the national title game, showing some of his near-limitless potential. The Longhorns won’t be easy to unseat in 2010, especially if they finally discover a running game.

2. Oklahoma

Here’s why the Sooners are here: The gap between Oklahoma’s offense and Nebraska’s offense is wider than the one between the Sooners’ defense and the Huskers’ defense. If Oklahoma’s offensive line can show improvement next season, the Sooners won’t have trouble scoring with the amount of talent they have at the skill positions, talent that’s much better than Nebraska’s.

3. Nebraska

The Huskers get Missouri and Texas in Lincoln and don’t see the Sooners, which has Big Red looking for a big season, but don’t count on another 10-win season if the offense doesn’t improve. The offense previewed its fall reopening in the 33-0 bowl win over Arizona, but if the quarterback play isn’t solid, the reopening could be a bad thing. With what could be the best defense in football again, and two solid backs in Roy Helu Jr. and Rex Burkhead, the Huskers’ floor is pretty high and the ceiling is even higher.

4. Missouri

Home losses to Nebraska and Baylor ended any chance the Tigers had of winning the North in 2009, but they bring back a lot from last year’s eight-win team and have a lot of experienced talent at linebacker and receiver ready to replace the big names -- Sean Weatherspoon and Danario Alexander -- they lost from last year’s team. Blaine Gabbert has to show he’s ready to become a household name, and if he does, the Tigers could make a serious run at the North.

5. Texas A&M

The Aggies kept almost the entire core from last year’s team, but remember, A&M still only won six games last season. It’ll be replacing three offensive linemen who could stop the Aggies' skill position players -- cumulatively the best in the conference -- from being as productive as they could be. One of those replacements should be true freshman Luke Joeckel, but if the defense improves and the line re-establishes itself, the Aggies are South contenders. If not, they won’t be much better than a seven-win team.

6. Kansas State

The Wildcats aren’t built to win 10 games just yet, but if Nebraska and Missouri stumble, they’ll be there to slip into the North conversation just like last season, when they were one upset win over the Huskers from a trip to Arlington. Carson Coffman took hold of the starting quarterback job in the spring, but he’ll need to keep it in the fall and be productive with his three new receivers to lighten the load on running back Daniel Thomas. If that happens, there’ll be more happy Saturdays than sad ones in Aggieville.

7. Texas Tech

Injuries kept the Sticks vs. Potts debate from really heating up this spring, but the switch to a higher risk/reward strategy with an aggressive defense could be fun to watch next season. The Red Raiders are deep at running back and receiver, but look for the former to get more touches this fall than they have in over a decade.

8. Oklahoma State

The Cowboys grabbed hold of Dana Holgorsen’s offense this spring, and Brandon Weeden grabbed hold of the starting role. Oklahoma State should have an impact player at each level of the defense in defensive end Ugo Chinasa, safety Markelle Martin and linebacker Orie Lemon, but they’ll need the rest of the D to solidify for the Cowboys to climb to a higher rung of the South ladder.

9. Iowa State

Iowa State is getting better, but the tough schedule and young defense will make it difficult for the Cyclones to improve on their 7-6 record in 2009. Five linebackers from last year’s team graduated, and the three likely starters this year, sophomore A.J. Klein, Jake Knott and juco transfer Matt Tau’fo’ou have a combined 41 career tackles. Iowa State is solid in the secondary, but with the amount of quality running backs in the North, a good defense up front is more important. It's also replacing two starters on the defensive line.

10. Baylor

A bowl game isn’t out of reach for the Bears, but they’ll have to prove something before they move out of the South’s cellar. Robert Griffin gives Waco hope, but the other 21 guys have to provide substance for Baylor to succeed. Replacing two safeties, two linebackers who combined for 190 tackles last season and an offensive line shift to replace All-American center J.D. Walton could make Baylor’s early road a bumpy one.

11. Kansas

Kansas will be short on talent this year, but expectations are measured after losing plenty on both sides of the ball. The Jayhawks are a team that could get a lot better as the season progresses, but when it starts, they’ll have a lot of work to do. They’ll be competitive in the bottom half of the North, but slipping past rival Kansas State to finish in the top half of the division is about as good as it could get for the Jayhawks in Turner Gill’s first season. Not having Texas or Oklahoma on the schedule could help make that happen.

12. Colorado

Transfer Toney Clemons infuses some excitement into the Colorado faithful, and alongside Markques Simas and leading receiver Scotty McKnight, the Buffaloes could have one of the more underrated receiving corps in the conference, helping loosen things up for Rodney Stewart. But the defense gave up the second-most points in the conference last season, and there’s little reason to think they’ll be a lot better in 2010. Scoring 22 points a game and allowing just under 29 is the opposite of a recipe for success.

Ten good minutes with OSU's Perrish Cox

November, 27, 2009
11/27/09
9:35
AM ET
Oklahoma State cornerback/punt returner Perrish Cox can’t wait for Bedlam.

The Cowboys have a strong chance to qualify for their first BCS bowl in school history with an impressive win Saturday at Oklahoma.

[+] EnlargePerrish Cox
AP Photo/Sue OgrockiPerrish Cox returned a punt 67 yards for a touchdown against Colorado.
Cox has developed into one of the Big 12’s most productive players. He leads the nation in passes defensed per game (1.9) and ranks among the top five in the Big 12 in punt return average (11.3 yards per return), kickoff return average (21.5 ypr) and interceptions per game (0.4).

We caught up with Cox earlier this week to talk about the development of his team’s defense, his strong recent play and how important it would be to Oklahoma State to make a trip to a BCS bowl during his senior season.

What’s this season been like? Could you have ever imagined your team going 9-2, considering you’ve lost Orie Lemon and Jamal Mosley for the entire season and Dez Bryant and Kendall Hunter for large parts of it?

Perrish Cox: Truthfully, I don’t know if I could have imagined it. But it’s something you have to live with and improve as you go. We might have looked at this team a little differently at the start of the season. But we’ve tried to play hard to overcome everything that’s happened to us.

Where does the resiliency your team has shown this season come from?

PC: I can say that we have good leadership and leaders who know what to say and what to show to young players. We never quit and when you do that, anything can happen. We’ve had a lot of different people step up and make big plays for us. And our leadership from across the board has helped us out.

It’s kind of a little weird the role reversal in this week’s game against Oklahoma. You guys are the one needing a win to get to the BCS game and they are the one needing a win for bowl momentum. Is that a little unusual to you?

PC: It would be huge for us in a lot of ways. First of all, a lot of people look at Oklahoma State as stepbrothers to OU. It would be great for us to leave the seniors with a win over them and get bragging rights.

The Cowboys are going to face the huge challenge of Oklahoma’s nation-best 29-game home winning streak. How do you think you’ll be able to combat that?

PC: I guess their home-field advantage is pretty big and they have a different mind frame and thought to everything when they play there. You battle a little harder when you’re trying to protect your home field. But getting a victory would be pretty big to all of us. It’s something that would really help this program.

You’ve had a strong season, leading the nation in passes broken up. But it seems that some teams have been unwilling to test you in recent weeks. Is that a little disappointing?

PC: It’s kind of hard to stay focused sometimes. I get a laugh sometimes when I don’t get much action. You just play your game, keep trying to do what you have to do. Sometimes, I get a chance to go against the best receiver. I just try to stay focused and stay ready when my time comes around.

Oklahoma will test you with some pretty good receivers in Ryan Broyles, Adron Tennell and Dejuan Miller. Is your secondary ready for them?

PC: It will be a big challenge to go against them because they will have some pretty good receivers. We just have to stay focused on doing what we can to stop them. I think we’ll be ready.

Are you surprised that Oklahoma has struggled so much this season?

PC: It’s shocking to see how their season is going for them and for them to be 6-5. That doesn’t usually happen to them. But our goal was to go out with a bang and get to a BCS bowl. That was one of our bigger goals this season. And we have the chance to do that on Saturday.

You’ve become one of the most accomplished special-teams players in the league. Why have you become so proficient running back kicks?

PC: Special teams are a big part of winning games and I want to be a part of it. You just have to think you can do it. It’s always been a big thing around Oklahoma State and was something they talked to me about before I even got here. That’s been my focus going forward.

Saturday’s game will be your last regular-season game. Does it feel like the time has gone by quickly during your career?

PC: Actually, it does. When I first got here, the seniors all told me it would go by very quickly. As you have your career, you don’t think much about it until it’s about time to leave. I’m about time to leave. It’s kind of sad because it went so quick.

Your new defensive coordinator, Bill Young, has come in and helped transform this defense. What has his presence meant to your team and your defensive unit?

PC: He means a lot and he’s a little different from our old defensive coordinator, Tim Beckman. He was the kind of guy you didn’t want to mess up because there was all that yelling and cursing he would bring. But Coach Young is a little different. He lets us do what we do and play straight. He’ll get on you, but it’s a little more measured. I think we’ve responded to it.

Another big improvement you’ve seen this season has been the work of your defensive line. How has that helped your secondary's play?

PC: Our defensive linemen have never gotten to the quarterback like they have this season. The numbers overall are better for defense across the board and that’s a big reason. We can play comfortable in the back end. In the years before this one, we would have to stay in our coverage from five to eight seconds. That’s tough to play good defense for so long and to stick with the receivers while they are scrambling around. This year our defensive line has stepped up and really taken the pressure off of us.

There’s been a lot of speculation that your team could end up in the Fiesta Bowl if you can win Saturday. What would it be like for you and the seniors to finish your career playing in a game like that?

PC: I would feel like I’ve accomplished almost every goal we’ve set. The main thing we wanted to do is go to the national championship game, or at least a BCS bowl. We had talked about making it to the Big 12 championship, but if we can’t do that, we’d rather go to a BCS game. For my class to be the ones to be able to help accomplish that would really give us something to leave school very proud about.

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin


Here are some items I'm interested in following in the Big 12 games this weekend.

1. Colorado handling adversity after its opening-game debacle: The Buffaloes suffered an embarrassing loss to cross-state rival Colorado State in their opener Sunday night. Coach Dan Hawkins and his team have only five days as they travel halfway across the country to try to blot those painful memories against Toledo. It will be interesting to see how much heralded Colorado tailback Darrell Scott will play against the Rockets -- particularly after his pointed criticism of his lack of playing time earlier this week.

2. Landry Jones’ first career start: Oklahoma’s replacement for Sam Bradford shouldn’t be tested by Idaho State, which was drubbed by Arizona State last week. But it will still be telling to see how much leeway Bob Stoops will give Jones, a redshirt freshman. Coaches say they like his poise and demeanor, but I expect a conservative game plan that will feature heavy use of Oklahoma’s running game that unexpectedly struggled to produce 118 yards last week against BYU.

3. What the Oklahoma State defense does for an encore: The Cowboys punched out an impressive 24-10 victory over Georgia last week. The revelation for the Cowboys was a strong defensive effort that allowed a touchdown on its opening possession and three points during the rest of the game. They showed a physical nature that had been missing in recent seasons -- particularly noticeable because starters Orie Lemon and Markelle Martin were out of the lineup. It will be even tougher this week against Houston quarterback Case Keenum, who led the nation in total yards last season and got off to a fast start with four touchdown passes against Northwestern State last week. As good as Georgia was supposed to be offensively, the Cowboys will face a bigger test this week against the Cougars.

4. Can Blaine Gabbert match his opening-game success? One game into his career, some Missouri media members are already anointing Gabbert after his scintillating 319-yard passing effort against Illinois. His big outing earned him the Big 12’s offensive player of the week. He’ll be challenged to duplicate that success against an underrated Bowling Green team that allowed 263 passing yards in a victory over Troy last week, but still notched two interceptions. Gabbert’s continued development is the critical element that can help the Tigers continue as the Big 12’s surprise early power.

5. Nebraska’s front four: The Cornhuskers’ defensive front of Ndamukong Suh, Jared Crick, Pierre Allen and Barry Turner was expected to be the team’s strength. The group struggled last week against FAU quarterback Rusty Smith, failing to notch a sack. Those struggles were part of the reason Bo Pelini rebuked his defense earlier this week, calling the Blackshirts “soft.” And it won’t be easy for them as they try to harass Arkansas State quarterback Corey Leonard, who wasn’t sacked last week.

6. Wyoming freshman cornerback Shamiel Gray continue his success against Colt McCoy: Gray had an auspicious start to his college career with three interceptions in the Cowboys’ season-opening victory over Weber State. But he’ll face a huge challenge against McCoy, who has been intercepted only six times in his last 335 attempts dating back to last season. Gray hasn’t faced the athletic collection of receivers he’ll meet from Texas, which will make continuing his turnover spree that much more difficult.

7. How Iowa’s defense will handle Iowa State’s new no-huddle offense: The Hawkeyes and veteran defensive coordinator Norm Parker have seen a variety of offenses come and go over the years at Iowa State. But they haven’t faced anything quite like Tom Herman’s no-huddle attack that seemed to work well in the Cyclones’ first game against North Dakota State. The Cyclones likely didn’t show everything and will be ready to try to continue their recent success that has enabled them to win four of their last five games against the Hawkeyes at Jack Trice Stadium.

8. Ground-bound Jayhawks: After gashing Northern Colorado for 328 yards, Kansas may have similar opportunities against the Miners, who allowed 150 yards in a loss last week to Buffalo and 199 yards per game last season. Mark Mangino has growing confidence in his ball carriers with Jake Sharp, Toben Opurum and quarterback Todd Reesing all rushing for at least 79 yards rushing last week. Dezmon Briscoe will be back with a chance to stretch the UTEP defense, but the Jayhawks have been so successful in the trenches that I look for them to at least start the game with a similar strategy against the Miners.

9. Improvement on Kansas State’s special teams: Blunders in the kicking game led to two easy touchdowns for Massachusetts, making the Wildcats’ 21-17 season-opening victory way too close for comfort. Back in the day, Bill Snyder’s teams were always renowned for their special-teams success and Ron Prince continued that strategy during his tenure. They can’t afford similar mistakes Saturday night, or it could mean a long, nightmarish visit to hot, sticky Cajun Field.

10. Texas Tech’s running game looks for a comeback: After struggling to produce only 40 yards rushing and only two rushes of at least 10 yards against FCS opponent North Dakota, the Red Raiders’ running backs, and particularly Baron Batch, were called out by coach Mike Leach. It will be noteworthy if that lights a fire under them -- especially considering that Rice was gashed for 295 rushing yards last week by UAB.

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