Defense plays big role in Oklahoma State success
STILLWATER, Okla. (AP) Oklahoma State, which has boasted a strong offense all season, can now count on its defense.
The defense produced three crucial turnovers that gave the offense the ball in the red zone each time, providing the difference Saturday in an eye-opening 37-20 victory over then-No. 10 West Virginia.
After four consecutive wins, the Cowboys (6-2, 4-1 Big 12) have returned to the Top 25 for the first time since their controversial final-play loss to Central Michigan in Week 2, coming in at No. 22. They next face Kansas State (5-3, 3-2) on the road.
''I think (praise for) our defense was well-deserved, I think they played their best game,'' said Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy, who earned his 100th career victory Saturday. ''Our football team is healthy and I feel like their attitude and their chemistry is top-notch and expect them to prepare well for the game against Kansas State.''
Oklahoma State managed to score 17 points off the three turnovers: a strip sack by Vincent Taylor, recovered by Cole Walterscheid on the West Virginia 8-yard-line early in the second quarter, a Ramon Richards interception returned 59 yards to the West Virginia 9-yard-line with 3:26 remaining in the third and a Kevin Henry interception returned 26 yards to the West Virginia 10 with just 4:17 remaining.
The Cowboys now have forced 19 turnovers on the season, ranking fourth overall in the nation. They are seventh with nine fumble recoveries and 21st with 10 interceptions. All of those figures lead the Big 12, as does their overall turnover margin of plus-10.
It might be more difficult this week, as Kansas State has turned the ball over just seven times, fewest in the Big 12.
''You coach it, you emphasize it, the more violently you play and the more hats you get around the ball, and the better you execute, the more turnovers you get,'' said offensive coordinator Glenn Spencer. ''That's a big challenge this week, because they typically don't give the ball to you. It's hard to get the ball back, that's why they're so tough to beat.''
The Cowboys have surrendered just 30 total points in the fourth quarter of games this season, ranking 10th in the nation - and 10 of those came against West Virginia. In five of their eight games, including three in a row prior to Saturday, the Cowboys shut out their opponent in the final period, outscoring foes 66-30.
''It's (due to) our conditioning,'' said junior linebacker Chad Whitener, who leads the team with 52 tackles and came up with his first sack of the season on Saturday. ''We're in really good shape at the end of games and we're able to fly around the field and do what we still have to do. We're able to think because we're not focused on being tired.''
Gundy attributes his team's late-game defensive success to its ability to rotate personnel in and out on a regular basis so that the guys on the field remain fresh and energized.
''I think that the rotation and the depth that we have has helped us up to this point,'' Gundy said. ''I mentioned in pre-season that this was the first time that we felt like we could play two defensive lines since I've been head coach here. That's been our goal from Day 1, it's just taken us a long time to accomplish it. It goes back to the switch we made four years ago in scholarship numbers, allotting more on the defensive side, to try to get to this point. ... Active defensive linemen make a big difference late in the game.''