Sunday Rewind: Give It Up For Defense

Oklahoma State head coach Mike Gundy was talking up a good team victory for the second week in a row on Sunday afternoon. The fifth-year head coach did so with his team in the locker room, did it to the media in the post-game news conference, and did it again with the beat reporters on his regular Sunday teleconference.

However, along with the efforts of the offense and the big plays in special teams including the great effort to field those left-footed Missouri rugby punts that had given other teams so many problems (30 yards net punt average in the game for Missouri), the Cowboys defense staged a very impressive second half.

In the first half Missouri quarterback Blaine Gabbert was using good protection to expose some of the Tigers big and fleet receiver, primarily Danario Alexander for deep passes downfield that set up Missouri scoring opportunities. There was a 34-yard connection on the opening drive that led to a field goal.

A 40-yard connection to Wes Kemp was wasted when the Cowboys got a fourth down stop in the first quarter. A 50-yard pass and run by Dana Alexander and a 23-yard strike to Jared Perry set up a one-yard touchdown by Derrick Washington to open the second quarter. Then there was the 48-yard touchdown connection to Alexander.

In the second half those chunk plays disappeared and the Cowboys defense got all important stops. There were three series of three-and-out, one of four-and-out, and a grand total of 28 plays in the second half after 37 plays in the first half. For comparison sake, OSU snapped the ball 37 plays in the first half as well and 38 in the second half.

"They told me they made a couple of adjustments," said Gundy of his discussion with the defensive staff and coordinator Bill Young. "It was primarily better tackling and getting more physical, you know making tackles out in space. I was expecting a long drawn out list of adjustments but it was a few adjustments and better tackling."

What it was was a huge lift and a commanding field position advantage in the second half after seeing the Tigers throw for 259 yards in the first half and a total offense output of 313 yards. In the second half there were not only all those stops but Missouri threw for 66 yards and had a second half total of 80 yards of total offense. That is an average of 2.86 yards a snap.

"No question, Missouri's offense with their players and out of the spread attack is capable of producing a lot of offense and that has kind of been their trademark in recent years," said Gundy. "For our guys to play that well in the second half it's a big lift."

Gundy echoed many of his recent comments about the team buying in and trusting each other. Practices have continued to go well and his team is working hard each week.

"Despite all the distractions the team has practiced well the last few weeks," said Gundy. "As long as you practice hard and focus always on an opponent, then you always have a chance to win. It is very encouraging (in games) they have learned to play the next play and not worry what happens. (On defense) Coach Young has taught them that by making corrections and coming back and play hard they can improve."

With that focus and those solid practices and the wins over teams they needed to beat like Texas A&M and Missouri, the Cowboys have clawed their way back near the penthouse. Oklahoma State is 14th in the Associated Press Top 25, and 12th in the coaches poll. The computers don't give the Cowboys much credit but they still debuted at 15th in the first BCS Standings for the 2009 season on Sunday.

Gundy had some additional comments. The head coach was very pleased with the four-for-four performance, including a 51-yard field goal, by Dan Bailey.

"Hopefully," said Gundy when asked about Bailey's performance paying dividends down the line. "He had played okay and we still felt like he was the guy we needed in there. He went through a time where he didn't feel healthy and you know how those guys are, kind of like golfers. He really kicked it and has seemed to get into a flow."

Several former players were back in Stillwater for the homecoming game, including Barry Sanders, who was co-grand marshall with Garth Brooks and Robin Ventura. Charlie Johnson, the former Cowboy who is now starting left tackle for the Indianapolis Colts, was back in Stillwater as the Colts had a bye week. Johnson said he really liked the look of the offensive line with new starter Lane Taylor at guard. "He's (Taylor) a redshirt freshman, right?" said Johnson. "I like the look of him. He is going to be a good player. Man, I love being back."

"You know Charlie is a great resource," said Gundy. "He really understands it and has watched it. We are fortunate and I feel good that a lot of our former players come back and want to be back around. You know (Brandon) Pettigrew comes back often and Charlie comes back. Josh Fields didn't get a chance to come back but he texts all the time. It's nice to have these guys back."

Finally, Gundy is know for really having a special feeling for the guys that play hard and in his words, "love to play football." As head coach he likes to see good things happen to those guys in the program that do things right, whether they have always done things right or they mature and learn to do it the right way.

Lucien Antoine has been a "do-right" guy since he arrived from junior college and he had the 26-yard interception return in the first half of Saturday night's win.

"No question, he works hard and puts out a tremendous amount of effort," said Gundy. "You always want to see those guys have success."

Antoine said, "We were in cover four and I was supposed to be on the number two receiver but he ran an out and in and so all I had to do was zone my quarter and I know if I lean to him and he dropped the ball and I was able to catch it. All I saw was the end zone and I thought, man, I've got to score. I think I could be a running back or a receiver because I've got some moves."

The Cowboys have some moves right now, they are moving up the Big 12 standings and moving up the polls in this crazy college football season. Now to keep moving they have to focus and not let down this week ahead against Baylor.

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