There are some folks that are always going to gripe, moan, and groan. I read several on the Go Pokes Premium Board last night and this morning, but Oklahoma State is once again poised for the third time in four seasons and four times in the last six to play on the final Saturday of the regular season for the Big 12 Championship.
Yes, the Cowboys have only won one of those but as long as you keep knocking on that door there will be more. It is a record and a sustained level of success that a lot of schools, many with more football tradition than Oklahoma State, would like to be enjoying.
The gripes I've read after Saturday's 45-44 win over Texas Tech, the Pokes eighth win in a row over the Red Raiders, was aimed at the defense was awful. The tackling was bad and the secondary gave up way too much cushion and allowed Tech's standout quarterback Patrick Mahomes II to nickel and dime the ball right down the field for touchdown drives.
Part of that is true as Glenn Spencer analyzed the situation last Sunday with advanced video analysis from former defensive coordinator Bill Clay, a died-in-the-wool, 4-2-5 scheme coach, and the rest of his defensive staff. They had seen the best defensive job in the regular season on the potent Texas Tech offense done by West Virginia and their defensive coordinator Tony Gibson using the Mountaineers base 3-3-5 defense as West Virginia beat Tech 48-17 in Lubbock.
A couple of weeks ago TCU and the Frogs head coach and a father of the 4-2-5 in Gary Patterson used some 3-3-5 and 3-2-6 mixed with 4-2-5 to hold the Red Raiders to 27 points and 345 yards of total offense, 244 yards under their average!
"It's a culmination of things. You study tape and you watch what's been successful," Spencer said of putting the plan to paper earlier in the week. "Three-down, four-down, seven-down, I don't care, you do what you have to do to win the game. You look at what has been effective against them. This year we needed to invite them to run the football."
Spencer is more of a four-man front coordinator, a former defensive tackle in his playing days at Georgia Tech, but he is not so obstinate that he won't adjust when something good presents itself.So he did and the Cowboys operated primarily out of a 3-3-5 scheme that focused often with three-deep coverage on not allowing Texas Tech big plays passing. They came in with a nation's best 33 pass plays of 30 yards or more. They left Stillwater adding just one of those to their list.
Yes, nickel and dime resulted in six touchdowns and a field goal, but that was two points below their average. Tech threw for 359 yards, Mahomes for 344 yards as 15 came on a fake punt and he was averaging 432 yards a game.
"We have sprinkled that scheme in, we just don't do it on normal down defense," added the Cowboys veteran defensive coordinator and someone becoming a more frequent punching bag for disgruntled fans. "We have to play some three down and enter the fourth guy. You either bring four or you drop eight. It got us a few series I think and then it was players making great players. The kids practiced well. It wasn't totally new, it was just a lot more of that."
Most critical were the first and third quarters. The first where Oklahoma State introduced its new look and three-deep coverage and it was obvious that Mahomes and the Tech offensive staff was confused and for awhile stymied by the light box and three-man front with base nickel secondary. Texas Tech was held to three possessions of three-and-out to start the game and give the Oklahoma State offense a head start of 14-0.
Then in the third quarter with the game basically even after Jalen McCleskey's fumble helped Tech tie the game at the half 28-28, the Cowboys flashed some adjustments and pulled out some new material they had not shown and Tech started the third quarter with two punts after 12 plays of offense. The defense also came up with a key strip (linebacker Justin Phillips) and recovery (defensive tackle Vincent Taylor) after Tech had pulled within seven at 45-38 and had recovered an onside kick.
New contributors with the new scheme included Phillips, an ultra aggressive player who is a good tackler as he had 14 tackles, nine unassisted and forced that fumble. He also had a sack that I thought was going to be another Tech drive stopper but Mahomes overcame that. Kirk Tucker was a major factor. In the back of the defense, senior safety Derrick Moncrief, corner Darius Curry, and freshman corner A.J. Green logged more plays and playing time.
"Well, you knew the game was going to be 100 plays," Spencer surmized. "There were probably about 110 that we played. You knew from the start it was going to be that way. Our guys score fast and it's great. Everyone is celebrating, but then you have to grab a Coke and get back on the field."
The Oklahoma State defense got the stop at the end last week in the narrow escape at Kansas State. The defense had a strong finish against Pittsburgh, a strong second half versus Texas, and a strong fourth quarter in the win over Iowa State. They have had their moments and don't listen to all the "experts" because the first and third quarters (14 points and 196 yards combined) were pretty darn important in Oklahoma State winning its eighth game of the season and keeping the path to the Big 12 Championship for 2016 in their control.
Defensive Efforts vs. Texas Tech This Season
Stephen F. Austin 69 points / 758-yards
Arizona State 55 points / 612-yards
Louisiana Tech 59 points / 666-yards
Kansas 55 points / 621-yards
Kansas State 38 points / 592-yards
West Virginia 17 points / 379-yards
Oklahoma 59 points / 854-yards
TCU 27 points / 345-yards
Oklahoma State 44 points / 518-yards