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In Oklahoma State's five losses last season, the Cowboys allowed an average of 45.2 points per game. Change was needed, so head coach Mike Gundy tapped Glenn Spencer to turn things around. Spencer, who previously served as the Cowboys linebackers coach, replaced Bill Young as defensive coordinator. The results speak for themselves.
Oklahoma State's defense is giving up just 21.3 points per game in Big 12 play, down from 30 a year ago. That consistency has helped the Cowboys to a 9-1 record entering Saturday's showdown with No. 3 Baylor, putting them in a position to win the Big 12 for the second time in three years if they are able to defeat the Bears and rival Oklahoma in succession.
In previous years, defense has been regarded as an afterthought around Oklahoma State, with skill players like Brandon Weeden and Justin Blackmon carrying the team to eye-popping point totals. However, this season's bunch has needed the steady hand of Spencer's defense to navigate an unsteady quarterback situation, movement on the offensive line and a rotating stable of running backs that ultimately led to junior Desmond Roland assuming the starting role against Iowa State on Oct. 26. The defense and offense need to work in tandem, and like any successful relationship, those units pick each other up when one needs it most.
The Cowboys' defense has 19 interceptions and 26 turnovers gained on the year, first and sixth in the nation, respectively. Those takeaways help provide the offense with a short field, which naturally builds confidence no matter which quarterback (Clint Chelf or J.W. Walsh) is on the field.
"They still have great personnel," Baylor coach Art Briles said during his weekly press conference on Monday. "They do a great job. I think their game management is one of the keys to them being a successful football team. I just think they know what they've got. They know how to use what they've got to benefit themselves. That's really intelligent on their part."
The defenses of Oklahoma State and Baylor may not grab many headlines, but both are big reasons why the teams are a combined 18-1 entering Week 13. The team that gets the most out of its defense should have the edge on Saturday, and while it's a tall order to stop the Bears' offensive juggernaut, the Cowboys may be up to the task.
Shock and awe
One thing Baylor does extremely well is utilize its depth to keep rolling even if the injury bug hits. Take the running back position, for instance. Down Lache Seastrunk and Glasco Martin against Texas Tech last Saturday, the Bears turned to freshmen Shock Linwood and Devin Chafin, who responded with a combined 287 rushing yards and three touchdowns on 7.1 yards per carry.
Linwood (812 rushing yards, eight touchdowns) became the Bears' second-leading rusher with his strong performance, and Briles called him a "football junkie" during his weekly press conference. Like most freshmen, Linwood dealt with some nerves before starting in a high-profile game, but he quickly calmed down.
"After both of them got hurt, Glasco came and talked to me," Linwood said. "He saw how nervous I was. He was like, 'It's your time to step up, you know how the game needs to be played.' I just went out there and played it."
Into the Great Wide Open
Quarterback Bryce Petty is enjoying a Heisman-caliber season for the Bears. While he didn't receive much recognition earlier in the season, talk of his play is steadily heating up. The junior continues to rack up video-game numbers, putting him right in line with other Briles' passers, even though Petty has played only two-plus quarters in many of Baylor's wins this year.
Here is a look at the stats of Baylor's last three signal-callers. Keep in mind, Petty still has three regular-season games and a bowl left to play.
• 2013 -- Bryce Petty: 152-of-233, 2,992 passing yards, 12.84 yards per attempt, 24 TD, 1 INT; 127 rushing yards, 10 rushing TD
• 2012 -- Nick Florence: 286-of-464, 4,309 passing yards, 9.29 yards per attempt, 33 TD, 13 INT; 569 rushing yards, 10 rushing TD
• 2011 – Robert Griffin III: 291-of-402, 4,293 yards, 10.68 yards per attempt, 37 TD, 6 INT; 699 rushing yards, 10 rushing TD
Baylor is currently No. 4 in the BCS standings, but the Bears sit just .0013 points behind Ohio State for the No. 3 spot. With the Buckeyes playing an inferior foe in Indiana this weekend, a Baylor victory would likely leapfrog the Bears over the Buckeyes. While Briles maintains the team has no time to get wrapped up in rankings or polls, the larger picture is impossible to ignore.
"Strength and conditioning coach Kaz [Kazadi] tells us don't pay attention to the media because they can mess with your mind and get you off track," Linwood said. "I try to avoid it as much as I can. But I do watch TV and I watch the BCS countdown and stuff. It gets me fired up whenever we don't get the respect that we do deserve. In the end it gives us more fuel to the fire because you want people to respect you. So we have to go out and perform each week."
• Gina Mizell, The Oklahoman: "Man, I think this is going to be a fun one. The fact that the game is in Stillwater adds some extra intrigue. This is the first official sellout in Boone Pickens Stadium history. Baylor hasn't won at Oklahoma State since 1939 and has struggled mightily in Stillwater in recent years, even with RGIII. The question will be if Oklahoma State's offense -- which is built to run with Roland and Chelf -- can sustain drives, protect the ball and then score every time. Or nearly every time. I like Baylor to win 38-35, but would not be shocked at all if the Cowboys pulled off the upset." • Jake Shaw, Sick 'Em Sports: "Even after Robert Griffin's Heisman-winning season in 2011, Baylor still finished tied for third in the Big 12. Some people probably thought that was Baylor's ceiling. But Art Briles, who's been highly successful wherever he's coached, would not have come to Baylor if he didn't think he could turn the program into a contender. Anyone who closely followed his career path probably imagined this type of season -- even for a program that had gone a decade and a half without a bowl appearance -- was imaginable. He won multiple state titles at the high school level, flipped Houston's program around and now has done the same at Baylor. After the win over Oklahoma, he still said Baylor was 'in its infancy.' The imaginations of Baylor fans are now running wild."