Practice Report 12: Defense Dominates Scrimmage

PONCA CITY – Oklahoma State head coach Mike Gundy put his team on busses and the Cowboys went on the road for 45 minutes to Sullins Stadium in Ponca City to get in the scrimmage that heavy rains cost them this past weekend as the newly renovated grass practice fields were saturated. The rebuilt Cowboys defense made sure that the scrimmage was not saturated with offensive highlights, as the defenders were stingy throughout the 118-play scrimmage.

The defenders had plenty of highlights during the scrimmage including two interceptions, an enterprising play by safety Jamie Thompson that saw him getting both the fumble forced and the fumble recovery, and a total of five sacks and countless stops for slight losses or no gain. The offense scored only once on a legitimate drive and that was a field goal. The offense also added three touchdowns and six more field goals that ended either goal line or red zone possessions.

The defense gets first mention with their highlights which really started with a big hit by linebacker Pagitte McGee on a shovel pass from quarterback Bobby Reid to running back Mike Hamilton. Hamilton was blasted on the play for virtually no gain and one play later the drive ended short of a first down. The linebackers and defensive line were active throughout the scrimmage.

"The defense came out and we had a goal that was set for us, and I think we got it today," said linebacker Pagitte McGee, who made a bunch of plays. "Actually, I think we exceeded more than what we had set today, but we are trying to raise the bar every time we go out for practice right now."

"The front seven did a great job of pressuring the quarterbacks," said Thompson. "The DBs did a great job. We had a couple of busts that led to some long passes (one), and we did a great job of hitting people the entire scrimmage."

Newcomer defensive tackle Ryan McBean and Xavier Lawson-Kennedy teamed up for the first sack in the scrimmage as they tagged Donovan Woods for a seven-yard loss. That duo had company as Victor DeGrate sacked Reid for a nine-yard loss to set up a third-and-19 situation the offense couldn't overcome. Defensive end Darnell Smith tagged Woods for a five-yard sack, newcomer Larry Brown sacked Al Pena for an 11-yard loss, and Pinson stopped Reid for a short sack as he tried to get back to the line of scrimmage.

The interceptions were of the spectacular variety. Pena was quarterbacking the second offense against the third-team defense when tried to hit a receiver deep over the middle only to see freshman safety Quinton Moore race in front of it and then race down the left sideline for a 38-yard return. A crushing block by defensive tackle Jeray Chatham on fullback Sean Willis allowed Moore to pick up at least an extra 10 yards. The other interception was a great physical effort as sophomore cornerback Martel Van Zant went airborne and flew in front of what appeared to be an open Tevin Williams to pick off the Reid pass. It was a play that really drew a response from the crowd of nearly 1,000 onlookers.

"I was really excited about that, that I got the pick," Van Zant said through his interpreter Allie Lee. "The ball was coming by the time I turned around and I was really excited that I could get to it."

Maybe the best individual play made by a defender came from veteran strong safety Jamie Thompson. After Reid hit Tommy Devereaux with a short one-yard pass, Thompson came up and pried the ball loose and then followed it about five yards downfield to recover the loose ball – a fumble forced and fumble recovered on the same play.

"I just emphasized that from last year," said Thompson, who was a turnover magnet during the 2004 season. "If you are going to make a tackle, then you might as well strip the ball. It's all about helping the team and that is what I am trying to do."

Thompson said the defense came out with the idea of forcing turnovers and shutting down the offense – mission accomplished. But it was especially exciting for the "mother hen" of the defense and for the young secondary to see so many players step up and make plays.

"It's good to see a guy like Martel go around with the disability that he has and then make plays like that," said Thompson of his deaf teammate at corner. "It's good to see everybody else make plays. It's a team thing and everybody is going out there and trying to have fun. It's about making the players that are around you better. I'm always helping them on down and distance and do everything I can to help them be better players."

The offense moved the ball early, collecting three first downs on the first possession coming off the two-yard line. But after that they went a long time on any possession before stringing together more than one first down on a drive. Of the 108 plays of offense in the scrimmage the Cowboys only threw the ball 37 times out of their new multiple-spread, no-huddle attack. Offensive coordinator Larry Fedora was in the press box during the scrimmage calling plays down to the sideline and he said he wasn't surprised by what he saw.

"I'll be honest with you, if we're not moving the ball then I'm disturbed," said Fedora. If every play we're not moving the ball then I'm disturbed. It's probably what I was anticipating to be honest with you, with us not practicing in three days. It's crucial in my opinion. If we're not getting reps every second, then I'm concerned because we are still learning. When you are trying to change the tempo you have to work on it constantly. If you aren't, then there is concern. We have a lot of work to do between now and September 3rd."

Gundy was busy acting as referee during the scrimmage and said he was looking forward to getting back and examining the video of the scrimmage. But he was inclined to think that the offense, and maybe, more precisely the young running backs, needed to understand the physicality needed for success as the Cowboys four running backs combined for 115 yards on 42 carries (an average of just 2.7 yards per carry).

"I thought the defense played decent today," said Gundy. "Obviously, the offense didn't play very well, turned the ball over, put the ball on the ground, and didn't put the ball in the end zone on our goal line series which concerned me more than anything. They have a lot of work to do. We've got some guys on offense that have to realize this is a contact sport and you are going to get hit and hit again and you have to get right back up and get in there. Once they realize that then we'll be better off. I am concerned that our players understand how physical and tough this game is and that you have to take a blow and get right back in the huddle and go again."

Donovan Woods had the best numbers of the quarterbacks as he completed 10-of-14 passes for 139 yards and two touchdowns. The two touchdowns both came on red zone possessions and both were to his brother D'Juan on fade routes of 13 and 19 yards. D'Juan Woods led all receivers with five receptions for 72 yards and the two touchdowns. The second was a sensational catch up and over cornerback Martel Van Zant who had good coverage on the play.

"I've learned form that," said Van Zant who like other corners on the team has been beaten by Woods. "I tried to jump a little higher, but I was a little tired and worn out. I thought he was out of bounds, but others said he was in. We'll see it on the videotape."

Woods was also the quarterback on the longest drive of the day, which was keyed by a Woods completion over the middle to wide receiver Luke Frazier for 44 yards to the 30-yard line of the defense. Frazier finished with three catches for 54 yards. The drive also included a 23-yard completion to D'Juan Woods but ended with a 22-yard field goal by Bruce Redden when the running game stalled at the three.

Bobby Reid had the other touchdown, coming on a goal line possession when he scored on a two-yard run to complete a six-yard scoring possession. Reid finished with no yards rushing on six carries, again sacks figured into that total as Reid did have a five-yard run to go with his two-yard touchdown. Reid was 5-of-11 passingfor 24 yards with the one interception. His longest completion was an 18-yard swing pass to running back Mike Hamilton.

The schedule for the next few days is tentative. Gundy said he has made arrangements to come back to Ponca City on Tuesday, and, if needed, Wednesday if the Cowboys practice field doesn't dry out. The hope is that it will. Gundy hopes to make up for the lost practices on Friday and Saturday. He said they would likely go twice on two days this week instead of the scheduled two-a-days workout Tuesday. More than likely the Cowboys will practice twice on Wednesday and Friday before a Saturday scrimmage.

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