If you were looking for heroes in the Oklahoma State Orange-Black Spring Game, won by the Black 23-7, then you did not have to wait long as on the first play from scrimmage backup quarterback Taylor Cornelius launched an attractive pass to a streaking Jhajuan Seales for a 75-yard touchdown.
Big pitch and catch and the offensive explosion was on, right? No, defense ruled the day and besides the big plays made by a plethora of young Cowboy defenders you might look to redshirt freshman walk-on kicker Matt Ammendola, who drilled 50-, 40-, and 32-yard field goals that all would have been good from much further. If I were incumbent kicker Ben Grogan then I would recover fast from that second hip surgery.
Back to the defenders. After that long touchdown pass to get the 40-minute (clock-time) and 100-play scrimmage started there wasn't nearly as much offense. With a format of the first team offense (Orange) going against the first team defense (Black) and the second team offense (Black) going against the second team defense (Orange) it appeared even.
Taylor Cornelius was solid as he completed 9 of 14 passing for 192 yards but overall the second offense only had 250 yards with 75 of those coming on that first play. They had 43 rushing yards with Rennie Childs running for 38 yards on eight carries, primarily behind the left side of the second team offensive line made up of guard Larry Williams and improving redshirt freshman tackle Marcus Keyes.
The first team offense only scored the one touchdown, a five-yard run by starting quarterback Mason Rudolph. Rudolph was 17-of-23 passing for 105 yards with one interception, but his longest completion was for 13 yards. The long passing game shown during the spring wasn't connecting as Rudolph threw many of his passes to third and fourth progressions of short receivers and backs out of the backfield. Chris Carson and Jeff Carr combined for 30 rushing yards. The first team offense had 132 yards of total offense.
Head coach Mike Gundy was very happy there were no injuries and he was understanding of the results and how the defense owned the day.
"The scrimmage went well for us from a health standpoint," Gundy said. "We were able to tackle and had a physical scrimmage. We had 100 plays and I was pleased, I thought the defense played really well. Some guys made plays and we were able to run some of our offense and have a good day.
"We're in a divided unit, we substitute a lot in a lot of our packages, so there's kind of a minimal opportunity for us to be diverse as we want to," Gundy continued. "As is the case in most springs, there's an advantage for the defense. They've seen the same plays for two months, but they've got to get lined up and make plays also."
Both the first team and the second team defenders had a sack party and both also did enough in the turnover department to likely bring a smile to defensive coordinator Glenn Spencer's face.
Spencer had been concerned because of injuries to starters like corner Ashton Lampkin and linebackers Jordan Burton and Chad Whitener as well as defensive tackle Vili Leveni. The concern was the injuries would water down the first team and really water down the second defensive unit. Instead they combined for seven sacks, two fumble recoveries and two interceptions.
The first team defense was paced in pass rush by sophomore defensive ends Jordan Brailford and Jarrell Owens. I'll call them the "hammer and the knife" as Brailford's speed cuts like a knife and Owens is the strong hammer on the other side. They had a sack (Brailford) and four quarterback hurries in pestering Rudolph.
"Coming in we both came in to play the same position, so we had a little bit of a rivalry going on in the freshman year," Brailford said of he and Owens. "I got a little sidetracked because I had an injury that sidelined me my whole freshman year and we got closer. We started to work out together and push each other and he gained a lot more weight so they moved him over to the strong side, so we have a good give and take of pushing each other and working together."
Inside at defensive tackle Vincent Taylor was his usual stout self and forced a fumble that young Darrion Daniels, who had a sack as well, recovered.
"We do a real good job of feeding off each other's energy," Daniels said. "I think this is going to be a great defensive line and I think coach (Joe Bob Clements) does a great job of throwing us in there with different defensive ends going with different defensive tackles, and whatever combination we have in there seems to look good doing what we do."
The secondary and linebackers did a nice job as well with Ramon Richards playing the role of shut down corner. On the other side, Darius Curry had a good day that included a picture perfect job covering the fade and Marcell Ateman early in the game. Linebacker Justin Phillips, who Spencer said has spent the spring knocking off the rust from his redshirt season last fall, intercepted a pass literally taking it out of the hands of the receiver.
"I'm just trying to get back where I was before I left off (freshman year)," Phillips said. "We knew we had a lot of people go down and we had to have people fill the spot. If you were on the field then you were a starter."
The second team defense had its fun as well with defensive end Cole Walterscheid and defensive tackle Taaj Bakari registering sacks. Honestly, those sacks are just tags on the quarterback, but hey, those are the rules of spring. Young freshman and early enrollee Madre Harper had five tackles, a fumble recovery, and an interception.
The best second team defender of the day award has to go to 6-3, 280-pound defensive end Trey Carter. Carter had three sacks and a fumble recovery. I remember when it wasn't certain whether he would be a defensive end or balloon into a tackle. He seems now like a big end that has some quicks for his size.
"With the weight changing over the season they just decided to move me to defensive end and I think I'm a defensive end," said Carter with a huge smile on his face. "Each day that went by I think I got better and better and I watched film, I think we all pushed each other and we just get out there and grind."
This wasn't a fall afternoon at Boone Pickens Stadium, wasn't a huge inter-sectional non-conference game like the Pittsburgh game will be or Texas, Baylor, TCU, or OU in the Big 12, it was a spring game. But it had Oklahoma State fans on the field afterwards celebrating with a bunch of young defenders and then leaving talking about those pups on the side in charge of stopping people.
We learned last season in a 10-win campaign that you can never have enough defense as the Pokes ran out in the last two regular season games and the Sugar Bowl. If this is a sign there will be more depth then that is a really nice development from the spring.