During his weekly press conference on Monday Oklahoma State head football coach Mike Gundy was asked several general questions about defense, his team, the Big 12 Conference, and college football as a whole. As the 3-2 Cowboys prepare for the game that will take them to the mid-season mark, this Saturday's 2:30 p.m. kickoff against Iowa State, the only pertinent of those questions is the one about Gundy's defense at Oklahoma State, and the head coach was pretty thorough and pretty accurate in his assessment.
"I thought that we were poor against Central Michigan on third downs," Gundy started skipping the 61-7 slaughter of FCS opponent Southeastern Louisiana. "Against Pitt we gave up about three runs where we got out-gapped, that I wasn't fired up about. At Baylor, we gave up the pump-and-go routes and gave up those big plays. Texas got us a half man short in the running game based on what they do. It ultimately becomes a numbers game. Are you going to play pass or play run?
"Their style kind of allows you to attack both," Gundy continued in talking about the offense that Baylor made popular and Texas now uses. "Iowa State did a tremendous job against Baylor's offense in my opinion, based on that staff's first time in this league. So that's where the corrections need to be made. I felt like in our overall plan, the way the players performed on the defensive side of the ball last week was better than it was the three weeks before that."
The Cowboys did come out of the Texas game feeling better about themselves, despite allowing 568 yards of total offense and 329 rushing yards. The biggest part of that was the second half and a major improvement that showed up more on the scoreboard than anywhere else as Texas trailing 37-25 at halftime lost to the Pokes 49-31. Just six Texas points in the second half.
Gundy says each week that the chore is to stop the run. You stop the opposing offense's run game against everybody other than Texas Tech and you can likely control that offense as a one-dimensional attack. Iowa State is a good example under new head coach Matt Campbell. The Cyclones, with primarily quarterback Joel Lanning, average rushing for 141.2 yards a game and passing for 243 yards a contest. They need to do both.
"Quarterback has a nice running game with their package," Gundy said of the Cyclones offense. "We need a great week of practice like always. We'll continue to get better at what we think gives us the best chance to be successful over the next couple of months and go play hard on Saturday."
Defensive coordinator Glenn Spencer, who will have the view from above the stadium for the second week in a row, sees an Iowa State offense that is improving and scored 20 points against TCU, 44 in a win over San Jose State, and then 42 points in the last-play, field-goal loss to Baylor last Saturday.
"They kind of start breaking out on TCU. I think they moved the ball well on them, too," Spencer said. "The first couple weeks of the year, they were a bit more conservative and they decided that they needed to formation everybody and start motioning, giving quads and empty. Then all of a sudden they started to see a lot of gaps and are using the quarterback run game a lot more, a quarterback power, quarterback lead which a lot of times they'll get an extra guy for. They've opened it up, and it's paid off dividends, so I'm sure they're going to keep doing the same things."
Yes, the quarterback run game and if the offense is stymied by the opposing defense they have discovered backup quarterback Jacob Park can throw the ball around some. Interesting, that Park at 6-4, 205 pounds and from Charleston, S.C., played at Stratford High School and was the rival of Mason Rudolph. He beat Rudolph out for Mr. Football in South Carolina their senior season, but Rudolph and his Rock Hill teammates throttled Park and Stratford in the playoffs for the state championship.
Both were on the South Carolina team in the Carolina Bowl and Rudolph starred while leading the team to the win and earning the MVP award in the game. Park washed out at Georgia, but resurrected his career at NEO A&M in Oklahoma with a slight push from Rudolph.
That makes for a little sidebar story, but make no mistake while Park has played well, Lanning is the Cyclones starting quarterback, and regardless of who is quarterbacking the Cowboys are looking to curtail the big plays. Iowa State has had 20 of those explosive plays on offense, 19 passes and just one run.
"We don't like having X plays (plays over 20 yards)," middle linebacker Chad Whitener explained. "We call those explosive plays. We just have to go out there and execute and do what we can to limit X plays. There were a lot of missed tackles. We just have to keep running our feet and do what we're taught to do. We just have to go out there and execute."
Something it appears they are getting better at each week, certainly in the second half of last week.