OSU defense seeks redemption in bowl game
BY JIMMIE TRAMEL World Sports Writer
Sunday, December 23, 2012
12/23/12 at 6:27 AM
If Oklahoma State players are asking themselves "what's at stake?" questions about a pending date against Purdue in the Heart of Dallas Bowl, here's a possible answer:
"This game is a good opportunity to see how we could have and should have done this year," linebacker Shaun Lewis said.
Lewis was referring to OSU's defense, which is being maligned - again - after surrendering 92 points and 1,233 yards during a two-game losing streak to Baylor (the national leader in total offense) and Oklahoma (11th in total offense) at the end of the regular season.
Want to hear something crazy? Despite the lackluster finish, stats suggest OSU could be playing better defense this season than last season, when the Cowboys won a Big 12 championship and played in a BCS bowl for the first time.
OSU ranked 107th nationally in total defense and 90th in run defense in 2011.
The Cowboys are 82nd in total defense and 36th against the run in 2012.
Passing yards allowed? Close to the same.
The big difference is in the takeaway department. OSU led the nation in turnovers gained in 2011. The Cowboys are 91st in takeaways this season.
"Which was huge," defensive coordinator Bill Young said. "I have a hard time understanding that myself."
OSU head coach Mike Gundy was asked this week if he wants to come to the defense of his defense.
"We are better than last year," he said before adding this: "We are not better at defending the pass on third-and-four to third-and-eight. That's where we have got to get better."
Gundy said his defense played pretty well during the "middle chunk" of the season, when OSU held three consecutive league opponents below 20 points for the first time since 1986. He suggested nobody was really able to run with much success against the Cowboys (though noting that Baylor's Lache Seastrunk popped a game-clinching home-run play) and therefore opponents were sort of one-dimensional.
Then Gundy broached the subject of critical downs again.
"We can't give up the easy pass (for) uncontested first downs," he said. "Now, that doesn't mean they are not going to hit some on us. But we have to be in a position and proximity to contest some of those throws. That's where we have to improve."
Added the coach, "If we were defending those throws better, with everything else we did on defense, we would have been pretty good."
OSU was better at contesting third-down passes last season, when starting cornerbacks Brodrick Brown and Justin Gilbert combined for 10 interceptions. Brown and Gilbert failed to record an interception this season.
Why aren't the Cowboys contesting passes like they did last year?
"I don't know," Gundy said. "It's funny how things like that happen."
Young said he thinks OSU's defense would have been better "if we hadn't lost a lot of guys."
Safeties Lavocheya Cooper, who entered the season as a candidate for a starting position, and backup Isaac Maselera parted company with the Cowboys. Backup cornerback Devin Hedgepeth sustained a season-ending injury. Depth took a hit.
And the defensive backfield was more battered than anyone outside the program knew at season's end. Young said Brown was on crutches the week of Bedlam and was able to play only about 10 plays against Baylor.
"It's hard to play corner when you are healthy," Young said. "When you are about 50 percent, it's impossible."
Gundy, while acknowledging that the secondary had manpower/injury issues, said, "Our thought process, our philosophy, the way we contest those throws, needs to be better. And we had a couple of freshmen (Kevin Peterson, Ashton Lampkin) that played quite a bit. And true freshmen at corner, those guys are scared to death. ... And they did a pretty good job. But they didn't have a 'challenge' thought process."
Lewis doesn't want to use injuries as an excuse. He said the Cowboys recruit just like other teams, so they should have backups who can step in and play.
But, said Lewis, "I felt like when we were 100 percent and we had everybody healthy, we were able to get opposing offenses off the field.
"Unfortunately we couldn't maintain that throughout the season. But I feel like this bowl game is another opportunity to prove how dominant that we should have been this season."
Heart of Dallas Bowl
OSU (7-5) vs. Purdue (6-6)
11 a.m. Jan. 1
At Cotton Bowl, Dallas
Radio: KFAQ am1170
Original Print Headline: OSU defense seeking redemption in bowl
Jimmie Tramel 918-581-8389