Oklahoma State head football coach Mike Gundy said during his Monday press conference, “It is not the X’s and the O’s but the Jimmies and the Joes.” He was talking about winning football games and I agree with the head coach, but an interesting phenomenon is taking place this season in the Big 12.
There is no doubt that the 3-3-5 stack defense employed by West Virginia and defensive coordinator Tony Gibson is the flavor of the year on defense and has been effective against the spread offenses, particularly against Texas Tech. That defense leads the Big 12 in scoring defense, third in total defense, fourth in rushing defense, and fifth in pass defense.
Now the 3-3-5 leads the Big 12 in being imitated. Oklahoma State pulled it out on Saturday against Texas Tech, and TCU has used it earlier this season as well.
"I think it helped us and I was pleased that our guys adjusted so well,” Spencer said. “We didn’t have many busts or guys out of position. They practiced and prepared well for it. I think it contributed to them getting off to a slow start, but [Patrick] Mahomes is really good and so is that offense. Not many people have slowed them down.”
Meanwhile, Spencer has been beat up by at least the vocal minority of Oklahoma State fans. The Cowboys defensive coordinator relies on his key stat for a primary progress report week to week and that is point per possession, which against Texas Tech was pretty good. He’s hopeful that the Cowboys collection of defensive schemes can work as well or even better against TCU.
"I don't know if you can shut that down. You just try to play well, try to get stops, try to kill some of their momentum when you can to get them out of rhythm,” Spencer said. “Coach [Doug] Meacham does a great job of mixing up the run and pass. He does a great job of formationing you, and forcing you to lineup fast; a lot of those fundamentals of those types of systems. We've really got to be on the ball. We have to get lined up, get the call in and obviously get the stop."
The Cowboys defenders are fifth in the Big 12 in scoring defense (29.3 points) and TCU is fourth (29.2 points per game), sixth in total defense, sixth in rushing defense, and fourth in passing defense.
All that matters this week is stopping a TCU offense that has been pretty potent and with the bye week the Frogs had last week is more explosive with the return of versatile speedster KeVontae Turpin and reliable receiver Ty Slanina. As usual, Spencer and his staff were working late into Monday night to come up with a plan.
"You're always looking for an edge, but you can't get out of it too much because you've got a lot of reps invested into other things,” added the Pokes defensive coordinator. “When they're at full strength and everybody is healthy, no one has shut them down. Sometimes they've had some guys injured and they weren't as explosive, but I think we're going to see a healthy, rested team when we go down there."
"There will be a few things that are different. You just have more time to study and prepare,” Gundy injected. “Health-wise, fortunately for us, we're in decent shape. We had our bye weeks a couple of weeks ago when we needed a bye week. I always have concerns when we play a team that has had a bye week if we're not healthy. I think we're okay there, but there will be some changes just based on the history of coaches who have time to watch tape and put things in that they can get in during the week. You have a Tuesday practice and a Wednesday practice and that's pretty much it. The extra practices really help."
"We're all on the same page every day,” added linebacker Justin Phillips, who had 14 tackles last Saturday against Texas Tech. “We come in with the mindset that it's going to be a dog fight. Whatever the outcome is, that's what we plan on."
Different looks and additional defensive playmakers like linebackers Phillips and Kirk Tucker, corners Darius Curry and A.J. Green, and more time for senior transfer safety Derrick Moncrief, all added together could spell the difference in adding up to two wins in regular season closing games against TCU and OU as compared the way the Pokes closed out 2015 at home with Baylor and OU.