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Lincoln Riley's offense faces a talented and extraordinarily experienced OSU defense

The Cowboys' starting 11 is averaging 16.3 career starts per man, which Riley says actually jumps out on film

Lincoln Riley says Oklahoma State’s experience on defense actually stands out on film.

That’s got to be good news for Mike Gundy, Jim Knowles and the Cowboys, who have given up an average of 48 points per game against Oklahoma since Riley showed up on the Norman campus.

It’s Bedlam Week, and impossible as it may sound, Oklahoma could have problems scoring touchdowns on Saturday night at Owen Field.

The reason is OSU’s defense.

“Defensively,” Gundy said Monday, “we’ve been very consistent. … This’ll be the biggest challenge for our defense this week, with the skill that Oklahoma has on the perimeter.”

It’s a compelling matchup. OU ranked 10th in the nation at 515 yards per game (three teams ahead of the Sooners have only played two games), and fifth in scoring at 46.1 points per game (two teams ahead of them have played just two games).

OSU’s defense, meanwhile, ranks 16th nationally in yards allowed at 311.5 per game (three teams ahead of them have played two games or less) and 15th in scoring defense at 17.8 points per game (one team ahead of them has played only two games).

The Cowboys have good players, to be sure — linebackers Amen Ogbongbemiga and Malcolm Rodriguez, cornerback Rodarius Williams, safety Kolby Harvell-Peel and defensive end Trace Ford are All-Big 12 candidates) — but there’s probably not just a trove of future NFL Draft picks on the roster.

Instead, OSU is succeeding this year with experience — loads of it.

“Well, our defense has got experience, and we’ve got some maturity and guys that have had quite a few reps,” Gundy said, “and that generally plays a role in your success on either side of the ball.”

In fact, the 11 players who started two weeks ago versus Kansas State have combined for 212 career starts.

By comparison, the 11 Sooners who started Nov. 7 against Kansas have combined for 159 career starts.

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Overall, OSU’s defense has accumulated 277 career starts among 17 players, or 16.3 per player, while OU is at 244 among 21 players, or 11.6.

On average, that’s almost a half-season’s more experience per man.

Riley explained how such a thing as experience shows up when he watches the Cowboy defense on film.

“They don’t make many mistakes at all,” Riley said. “You can tell, their communication’s been sharp, guys are in the right place. I mean, like several of the good defenses we’ve played over the years, when you look at ‘em … you see they just don’t give up very much easily.

“The plays that people have made against ‘em this year, for the most part, have been just really, really good plays or just sharp execution by the offense. They don’t make many mistakes. They make you earn plays. Yeah, they’re certainly one off the more experienced defense that we’ve played here in a while.”

This year’s OSU squad also is reaping the rewards of Year 3 under Knowles, the Cowboys' defensive coordinator. Knowles arrived in 2018 from Duke, and his impact took a little time to set in.

In 2018, the Cowboys ranked 97th nationally in scoring defense (32.5 points per game) and 112th in total defense (452.5 yards per game). Last year, those numbers improved to 61st (26.8) and 82nd (412.3).

Look at those rankings now — 15th and 16th.

But Gundy’s right: OSU has not faced an offense as potent as Oklahoma.

“Defensively, this is a real challenge for us this week with the skill set that Oklahoma has on the perimeter and the most athletic quarterback that we’ve played up to this point,” Gundy said. “ … This’ll be a good gauge for where we’re at overall as a defense, because this’ll be the most competitive team that we’ve played skill-wise up to this point.

“They’ve got guys that can run. We’ve got guys that can run pretty well on defense. You know, I’ll be able to tell you a lot more after the game. But there will be quite a bit of skill on the field on Saturday night.”

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