John E. Hoover: OSU's defense seeks improvement and respect
BY JOHN E. HOOVER World Sports Columnist
Sunday, August 05, 2012
8/05/12 at 6:14 AM
Go to John E. Hoover's blogOriginal Print Headline: John E. Hoover: OSU's defense seeks improvement and respect
STILLWATER - Oklahoma State's defense ranked 107th out of 120 teams in the Football Bowl Subdivision last season. That's not good by any measure.
But not many folks in these parts seem to care much.
"For people to rank defense by yardage allowed is the most ridiculous stat out there," co-defensive coordinator Glenn Spencer said Saturday during OSU media day. "If you talk to people in the NFL and college ranks, that doesn't equate to wins. And really, we're in it to win championships, not win yardage battles."
The Cowboys won the Big 12 Conference championship in 2011 and beat Stanford in the Fiesta Bowl despite a defense that allowed an average of 457 yards per game. Four times in the final six games, opponents piled up at least 500 yards. Baylor had 622.
But really, who cares? In the end, didn't the Cowboy defense last year just get a bad rap?
"Well, I hate to say it's a bad rap because we need to be better. We really do," said defensive coordinator Bill Young. "We need to challenge each other and challenge ourselves to do better. But at the same time, I think our players deserve a pat on the back, so to speak."
Some players said Saturday that ranking 107th nationally in total defense just made them sick. Others said they weren't even aware of the number. Others said it's a just product of modern football, particularly in a league replete with prolific offenses and efficient quarterbacks.
"It's because of all the high-powered offenses we go against," said cornerback Justin Gilbert. "It's not as slow as football in, say like the SEC where it's just power football. We're wide open, running and gunning."
Still, to a man, the Cowboys said the overall product needs to be better in 2012.
"We led the Big 12 in scoring defense (25.4 points per game in conference-only games) which, really, that's the bottom line on defense," Young said. "We led the Big 12 in red zone defense (35 scores in 48 possessions in all 13 games), so we got tough when they got down to our goal line. And we led in turnovers (a nation-leading 44 takeaways).
"At the same time, that's all history. That's exactly what we told 'em. 'Hey, it doesn't matter what you did last year, it's what are you gonna do this year that matters.'"
Here's a cool statistic: OSU opponents last season snapped the football 1,089 times. The Cowboy defense faced more offensive plays than any team in the nation.
"We saw the field a lot," said senior linebacker Alex Elkins.
Maybe the offense gets the blame for scoring so often. The Cowboys had just 987 offensive plays (17th nationally and seventh among Big 12 teams), but averaged 48.7 points per game (second in the FBS). Brandon Weeden, Justin Blackmon and those guys put together 36 touchdown drives that took five plays or less - 21 of three plays or less.
Defenses hate when their offense goes three-and-out. But how do they feel when it's a three-and-touchdown?
"Last year people would tell us we weren't very good," Gilbert said, "but we were winning games."
"I felt like we were pretty good last year and we didn't get the respect that we should have," said safety Daytawion Lowe. "So I feel like this year we want to go out there and get it - get the respect that we deserve."
Head coach Mike Gundy feels much the same way. He, too, said the Cowboy defense was "better than what people gave 'em credit for," and said this year's team is "more athletic and faster than we ever have been here."
Oklahoma State has the luxury of a pair of stars at cornerback (Gilbert and Brodrick Brown), a big-play safety (Lowe) and three linebackers (Elkins, Caleb Lavey and Shaun Lewis) who combined for 38 starts last season.
Some players said they'll carry that overall defensive ranking - and all the slap-in-the-face publicity that came with it - for motivation this season.
But some said they won't. There are other means of motivation, after all.
"I feel like we're gonna go into this year with a whole new clean slate and the idea that we're gonna be the best defense in the nation," Elkins said. "That's our goal. That's what we want to do."
Jesse Tucker, 9, gets a football signed by Oklahoma State head coach Mike Gundy during Saturday's Fan Appreciation Day in Stillwater. KT KING / Tulsa World