The Defense Gets Its Finish

STILLWATER - It wasn't very pretty. To be honest, despite all the fanaticism over spring football games, they are rarely gridiron works of art. You split your team up making for less than a first team on both sides of the ball and you get some interesting plays.

The 2008 edition of the Orange-White Game opened with a fumble on the kickoff by a player, a very good player in Dez Bryant but one that has only returned kicks in one game, the Insight Bowl against Indiana. There were the usual bad snaps, missed blocks, missed assignments, but in the end there was a different type of finish that should make head coach Mike Gundy and Cowboys fans, and certainly made defensive coordinator Tim Beckman happy.

The second-year defensive coordinator was not coaching on one team or the other. Like the head coach he was a neutral observer. He had spent the nearly two hours of the game going to both sidelines and nonstop encouraging his players to give great effort, make physical plays, be in the right place at the right time.

Beckman had just been interviewed on the IMG Cowboy Radio Network broadcast and said he had liked the effort for the defense. He was happy the scoreboard wasn't spinning like price at your favorite gas pump. Still, Beckman wanted to see one more thing from his defenders, a finish.

He got his wish just moments later. Matt Fodge had just punted the ball for the Orange and it was alertly downed at the 1-yard line. Here was the setup. White quarterback Alex Cate handed the ball to new running back Beau Johnson, who finished with 61 yards gained on 10 carries.

Johnson had just one yard lost all game and here it was. Senior walk-on linebacker Seb Clements, who just this week was sporting a coveted black practice jersey on Thursday, got off his block and put the brakes on Johnson. Help came in the form of new safety Lucien Antoine and Jamie Blatnick was also in the neighborhood.

"That's what we talk about. We talk about finishing football games," said Beckman. "That did not occur last year and to see the kids do that is one of the goals we talk about everyday we step out there on the practice field. I was proud to see them rise to the occassion."

"Everybody talks about how good our offense is and now maybe everybody will see how much better our defense is when we get that safety to win the game," said defensive end Ugo Chinasa. "Today we finished. We ran a blitz and I was supposed to drop and I saw Seb (Clements), (Deron) Fontenot, and Jaime (Blatnick) get in the backfield and rack him up."

That play will serve as a motivator the entire summer. The Cowboy defense, which showed plenty of improvement all spring, got a finish.

Who would guessed that on a day when the wind was blowing in from the north at Allie Reynolds Stadium a couple of blocks over that the OSU baseball team would light up the scoreboard more than the Cowboy offense in the Orange-White Game. The baseballers beat Nebraska for the second straight day with a 19-2 blowout of the Huskers leading up to the spring game. That was 21 points scored at Allie P. and just 16 points combined at "The Boone."

It actually is kind of welcomed, even by the guys, coaches and players responsible for the record-breaking balanced offense the Cowboys have become known for.

"Offensively, you would have loved to score points, but as a team you sure feel better to win it 9-7 than to have lost 50-49, so our defense is vastly improved," said co-offensive coordinator Gunter Brewer. "I know our defense has bought in to what Coach Beck is preaching and it is good to see."

"You saw that in the scrimmages and you really got to see it today when we split the teams up," said starting quarterback Zac Robinson of the defensive improvement. Robinson was 12-of-21 for 142 yards and 7 times for 7 yards and was sacked once on a bad snap.

"They had guys in my face and in (Alex) Cate's face and whoever most of the time. Some of that is splitting up the offensive line, but most of it is them getting better," Robinson said.

Besides the finishing safety, James Thomas had an interception, new defensive end Jeremiah Price made a critical stop of quarterback Zac Robinson on the goal line, defensive end Ugo Chinasa sacked Cate for a 15-yard loss in the first half, and defensive end Jamie Blatnick had a total of three sacks for 27 yards in losses.

"I was really excited to watch the defense including some of the young guys get pressure on the quarterbacks," said head coach Mike Gundy of the defensive highlights in the game. "It's nice to see that because we haven't had that kind of pressure in a couple of years at OSU. There were a couple of times that protection wise we weren't sound offensively. Sometimes that happens when you switch your offense up."

In the end it was a great way for the spring to conclude. The improvement of the defense, which really has to be earned starting next September, is welcomed, but the absence of injuries is what has been best.

Saturday saw only tight end Brandon Pettigrew (broken finger), running back Keith Toston (knee rehab), running back Taylor Sokolosky (foot), wide receier Artrell Woods (precautionary), wide receiver Josh Cooper (hamstring), defensive tackle Chris Donaldson (shoulder), and cornerback Terrance Anderson (ankle) missing. All will be back as good as new well before August camp. The Cowboys are ready to make strides in 2008.

"It was a good day for us and seems we finished the day without any players getting injured, which is important for us," added Gundy. "From this point on, we need leadership. We need guys to perform well over the summer. This becomes the most intense time for the team as they will be in the summer with Coach Glass. We had a great spring. We finished strong, and we are just looking forward to seeing the guys improve over the summer."

They still need to improve over the summer. However, the defense the 20,000 OSU fans saw in the 2008 Orange-White Game doesn't resemble the defense they saw most of 2007. An overall ranking of better than 103rd in the nation can be expected this fall. A better ranking and some better finishes.

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