Is Bulldogs Defense Up To The Challenge?

STILLWATER - As we wrote in the earlier story, Oklahoma State defensive tackle Calvin Barnett needs to be the heaviest of defenders Saturday if the Cowboys, as expected, face a rushing onslaught from Mississippi State. But how about the reverse matchup of the Mississippi State defense trying to slow down, stopping might be impossible, the Oklahoma State up-tempo, spread, no-huddle attack?

Last season Mississippi State allowed just 23.3 points and 387 yards per game. They did it with a veteran front, good tackling linebackers, and lock down corners, including the Jim Thorpe Award winning in Jonathan Banks.

The Cowboys offense averaged 45.7 points and 547 yards per game. Of course, there's a new coordinator and play caller in town in Mike Yurcich. His track record is going faster with an offense moving just as successful.

Monday at Mississippi State's weekly press conference the reporters were asking questions like this, "I know you'd like to shut Oklahoma State down but based on their offense what can you reasonably expect in slowing them down?"

Since camp opened earlier this month, Yurcich has played his answers close to the vest and very thought out. His keys to making sure the Cowboys roll on offense are pretty standard and mundane.

"Making sure that we understand our assignments and making sure that we review the plays that we're going to run in the game will be important," answered the new coordinator last Thursday. "That's our priority right now, to make sure everyone has the right mindset toward our game plan and how we plan on executing once the whistle blows."

All that excitement on offense and it doesn't come down to going fast either in tempo or during the play. It's not motion or deception, slight of hand ball-handling or misdirection. Yurcich is preaching execution and effort.

"I think the things you have to concern yourself with are the execution and the effort level, which have both been really good," said Yurcich.

It turns out that another offensive mind, Mississippi State's Mullen also believes execution will be the key for his defense.

"For us it is about executing and being in the right place at the right time," said Mullen of his defense. "Against one of these teams that is going to spread it out all across the field one thing that is a priority is open field tackling. That is going to be huge for our defense.

"Big plays are a result of missed assignments, maybe their tempo and somebody got caught in a wrong place or missed a gap and they take advantage of it or they get a guy one-on-one in the open field and we miss a tackle and they have a big play."

Hughes seems pretty confident that he and the two new corners, Taveze Calhoun and Jamerson Love, will hold up.

"Most of their routes are going vertical and they're pretty fast but nothing we can't run with," said Hughes of the Cowboys and their routes. "It'll be a big test because people believe that the secondary is the weakest part of the team and this gives a chance to show the country what we can do."

If you were Josh Stewart, Tracy Moore, Charlie Moore, Blake Jackson or any of the other six or so receivers likely to play on Saturday would you be offended?

The question to still be answered is will defenses make a statement or will offense, as many might expect, rule the day?

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