Cowboy Defense Stands Tall

LITTLE ROCK – The Oklahoma State defense wanted to send a message Saturday night, and seniors Ryan McBean, Larry Brown and Victor DeGrate delivered it in convincing fashion as the Cowboys rolled to a 35-7 victory over Arkansas State at War Memorial Stadium.

The Cowboy defense only allowed 188 total yards and sacked Arkansas State's quarterbacks five times, recovered two Indian fumbles and intercepted a pass in controlling the game from the outset. OSU fell behind 7-0 early in the game when ASU cornerback Khayyam Burns intercepted a Bobby Reid pass and returned it 51 yards for a touchdown, but the Indians never reached the end zone against the Cowboy defense.

"This is a good win for our football team," OSU head coach Mike Gundy said. "I think other than a couple errant throws by Bobby (Reid) it was a pretty well played football game. Our defense played very, very good."

The Cowboy defense set the tone on the Indians first two possessions – forcing a three-and-out as Brown recorded OSU's first sack on third down and then Darnell Smith recovered a fumble on the first play of ASU's second possession.

"We challenged our front four and (told them) if we could stop them from running the ball with our front four we'd have a chance to win the ball game," said Cowboy defensive coordinator Vance Bedford. "I thought tonight our front four stayed in their backfield, had several sacks, and we won the ballgame because of that.

"Our front four, you look at McBean and he was in the backfield all night long, and that's what we have to have. Larry Brown did a good job. Victor DeGrate had a big sack for us."

Freshman Perrish Cox made the first big play by the Cowboy defense. He caught a short Arkansas State punt on his own 13-yard line and returned in 49 yards into Indian territory, and the referee's added another 15 yards for an unsportsmanlike penalty on ASU at the end of the run to put the Cowboys on the 23-yard line. Four plays later Reid scored on a 13-yard keeper to tie the score 7-7.

Cowboy cornerback Martel Van Zant came up with the defense's next big play, intercepting Travis Hewitt's pass inside the 10-yard line and returning it 22 yards. Van Zant would have gone 92 yards for a touchdown if not for a TD-saving tackle by ASU running back Reggie Arnold.

But it didn't matter because the Cowboys marched 70 yards in nine plays to take a 14-7 lead on Mike Hamilton's 7-yard touchdown run with 3:03 left in the first half.

DeGrate made the play of the game on the third play of the second half when he knocked the ball away from Hewitt and McBean recovered at the 7. Reid found backup fullback Jeremiah Burton for a 4-yard touchdown a few plays later to make it 21-7, and the Cowboys were on the way to their second victory of the young season.

"This is a very important win. It shows we can win on the team, and can win big against a good team," said DeGrate, who recorded a sack and a forced fumble. "There's still room for improvement but it was still a whole lot better than we were last week."

Cowboy defensive end Nathan Peterson, who added a quarterback sack and two tackles for losses, is proud that the first-team defense has yet to allow any points in the first two games – last week's 52-10 win over Missouri State and Saturday evening's 35-7 victory.

"I feel like we're a lot better in the sense we got a lot more pressure on the quarterback," said Peterson. "We had a number of sacks… and I think that's showing we have the ability to put the pressure on the quarterback.

"The first two games the (first-team) defense hasn't given up a touchdown or a field goal. Last year the defense struggled the first three games and it got really nasty once we got to the conference games, so I think as a whole we understand the defense so much better."

Gundy was so pleased with the defense's effort that he gave a game ball to Bedford in the locker room after the game.

"I threw the game ball to Coach Bedford, and hoped he could catch better than our secondary. They did a great job. They had a great plan and worked hard," Gundy said.

OSU's final two scores came on a Julius Crosslin 2-yard run in the third quarter and Reid's 6-yard scoring pass to tight end Brandon Pettigrew in the fourth period.

The Cowboys return to Boone Pickens Stadium next Saturday night to face Florida Atlantic, which is 0-2 following a 45-0 loss to Kansas State. The Owls have been outscored 99-6 in their first two games this season.

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