Orange-White Game: Defense+Depth=Optimism

STILLWATER – Oklahoma State fans came to Saturday’s Orange-White spring game to see Mason Rudolph, who was playing for the first time since taking over at quarterback last season. They also wanted to see running back Rennie Childs and if J.W. Walsh was back to being healthy. They got to see that and more, including their first looks at newcomers Jordan Burton, Cole Walterscheid and Chad Whitener.

Burton, Walterscheid and Whitener are new to Cowboys fans who don’t follow the team closely, and the three defensive players showed why Oklahoma State head coach Mike Gundy is excited following Saturday’s spring game.

Burton, the junior college transfer from Kilgore College in Texas, has been impressive at the star linebacker position through spring. Walterscheid is a 6-6, 245-pound redshirt freshman defensive end who has put on nearly 40 pounds since arriving in Stillwater less than 12 months ago. Whitener was on campus a year ago but was redshirting after transferring from California.

Gundy has got to be pleased despite there being 44 points on the scoreboard in just three quarters of play during the spring game, played before a crowd of about 15,000 on Saturday afternoon. For the record, the White team won 31-13 with Rudolph throwing for one touchdown, while Childs and Caleb Muncrief each ran for a score.

Burton, Walterscheid and Whitener are just a few reasons for Gundy’s excitement.

“We can run on defense, and I’m not afraid to say that. We have depth for the first time in several years on that side of the ball,” he said.

Burton had five tackles and two quarterback hurries for the winning White squad. Walterscheid came up with three tackles, including a sack, while Whitener tied for the team lead with six tackles, a sack and a tackle for loss.

“There’s a lot of youth and there’s a lot of competition. The guys on defense, if they don’t compete, practice and play hard then we’ll be able to put another player in. That forces guys to play high tempo,” Gundy said. “I think we can run to the ball, I think we’re a fast defense. We’ve challenged them to obviously play that way this fall.”

Senior cornerback Kevin Peterson came up with the biggest defensive player of the game, picking off Walsh and returning the interception nearly 25 yards for a touchdown on the Orange team’s first possession of the game.

For the White team, Rudolph was 12-of-17 passing for 178 yards with a 10-yard touchdown pass to tight end Zac Veatch. He also threw an interception (by Ramon Richards) on the fourth player of the game.

Childs ran for 83 yards and a 5-yard score on 11 carries and Muncrief rushed for 35 yards and a 7-yard TD on five attempts.

Austin Hays, who had a total of 10 catches the past two seasons while battling injuries, was Rudolph’s favorite target Saturday with four receptions for 40 yards (although both Brandon Sheperd and David Glidden were held out of the spring game because of injuries). Rudolph teamed up with Chris Lacy three times for 105 yards, and James Washington caught three passes for 101 yards.

Walsh accounted for nearly 300 total yards while leading the Orange team. The veteran quarterback is coming back from a foot injury which limited him to the first two games. He was 10-of-23 passing for 170 yards with two interceptions (Peterson’s early in the game and then another by Darius Curry later), and rushed for a team-best 59 yards on 17 carries, including a 5-yard TD just before the first half came to an end.

Senior walk-on Kameron Doolittle led the Orange team with three catches for 73 yards, while Walsh and backup Taylor Cornelius also found Jhajuan Seales (2 for 56 yards), Cole McKnight (2 for 25) and Blake Jarwin (2 for 18).

Defensively, the Cowboys were forced to keep their starters on the field a year ago for much longer than they wanted because they did not have the depth to substitute when it was needed. But, if everyone stays healthy, that won’t be the case in 2015.

At defensive end, the Cowboys have All-America candidate Emmanuel Ogbah and senior Jimmy Bean returning, and senior Trace Clark has seen his share of snaps over the years. Four redshirt freshmen – Walterscheid, Trey Carter, Jordan Brailford and Jarrell Owens – are all battling for playing time.

At linebacker, senior Ryan Simmons and junior Seth Jacobs are returning starters, and Whitener has stepped in to the star linebacker position. Again, there’s plenty of depth with Devante Averette, Gyasi Akem, Josh Mabin, Justin Phillips and Kirk Tucker (all of whom say playing time on Saturday).

The secondary is also loaded with cornerbacks Peterson, Richards, Ashton Lampkin, Darius Curry, Jerel Morrow, Chris Hardeman, and incoming super senior Michael Hunter, who has started every game at Indiana the past two seasons. Safeties are not quite as deep but Jordan Sterns (13 starts a year ago), Tre Flowers (6), Deric Robertson, Dylan Harding and Tre Roberts are battling for playing time.

The one position that may be a concern is at defensive tackle where the Cowboys lost seniors James Cattleman (37 starts over his career) and Ofa Hautau. The starters Saturday were sophomore Vincent Taylor and Eric Davis for the Orange team, and Motekiai Maile and Ben Hughes for the White squad. Vili Leveni was held out due to an injury.

“Vincent, Motekiai and Vili, who didn’t play because he cracked a bone in his finger or something … those guys inside they’ll be relatively new players, and they’ll have to hold their gap, which will help us some because we’ve got some depth at the (defensive) end spot, we have some guys that can stand up and rush and some guys that have experience,” Gundy said.

“So we can do different things with them on the edge, but those guys inside have to hold their gaps. If they hold up, and you have experience and depth at ’backer, you have experience and depth in the secondary and at the end position.”

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