In 2018, Oklahoma State averaged nearly 39 points per game and 530 yards of total offense. It was the typical run-and-gun offense that the Cowboys had been known for under its coach, Mike Gundy, a former OSU quarterback.
Flash forward to 2021 and the Cowboys (11-2) are averaging 30.6 points and 401.7 total yards but are giving up just 16.8 points and 278.4 yards per game.
This isn’t your typical Oklahoma State team.
Notre Dame offensive coordinator Tommy Rees acknowledged that on Sunday in the first press conference previewing the Fiesta Bowl matchup between the Fighting Irish (11-1) and the Cowboys.
It’s the first time the two schools will meet.
The full force of the OSU defense came out in a 21-16 loss to Baylor on Saturday in the Big 12 Championship game. The loss likely cost Oklahoma State a chance to play in the College Football Playoff.
OSU held Baylor to 242 yards of total offense. The Cowboy defense forced six sacks and a turnover, and it also forced a turnover on special teams.
They came up inches short of scoring a touchdown on the last drive that would’ve won the game.
This is an OSU team that has a different feel to it. The Cowboys are third overall national in total defense and they are second in third-down conversion defense. Teams convert just 26% of their third downs against them.
The Fighting Irish have not faced a defense that compares to OSU since it played Wisconsin and Cincinnati. The Badgers are first in total defense, giving up 241 yards per game. The Bearcats are seventh overall in defense and second in pass defense.
“I think when you think over the last 10 years or so, when you think of the program, you think offense first right,” Rees said. “I think coach (Jim) Knowles has done a great job preparing them. I’ve got a little bit ahead today on some film watching and just looking at them, they present a lot of challenges.”
Rees said their schemes are diverse.
“They do a lot of different things defensively,” Rees explained. “They have a lot of multiple coverages, and they present a great challenge for us. It’s one we’re going to have to prepare for. We are really going to have to dive into who they are, what they do, and how we want to answer some of those issues they present.”
Rees also said this will give the team a chance to measure its progress on offense. This is a barometer game for us,” he said. “I think when you look at the matchups with Wisconsin and Cincinnati, those were a couple of games we weren’t playing our best football. Now, we have an opportunity for a great group of guys to go up against a great defense, not a good defense to see how we stack up.
Gundy said the emphasis on defense was intentional. He said four years ago the team decided to move three scholarships from offense to defense to “load up a little bit there.”
“We felt like that would help us long term in our conference with all the fantastic quarterback, receiving, running back offensive play we’ve been getting the last 10 years,” he said. “We felt like it could help our special teams. Looking back, we felt like it was a really good move. We hired Jim Knowles to be our defensive coordinator and we put our staff around him and our players have rallied around him and they’ve done a great job. I’m satisfied with the move. I think it has benefitted our team.”
Irish Breakdown Content
Become a premium Irish Breakdown member, which grants you access to all of our premium content and our premium message board! Click on the link below for more.
Be sure to stay locked into Irish Breakdown all the time!
Join the Irish Breakdown community!
Subscribe to the Irish Breakdown YouTube channel
Subscribe to the Irish Breakdown podcast on iTunes
Follow me on Twitter: @MikeHuttonPT
Like and follow Irish Breakdown on Facebook