STILLWATER -- It seems we were here a week ago anticipating Oklahoma State playing a game as a top 10-ranked team in the country and looking forward to another football test for the Pokes amid this pandemic challenged football season. I feel pretty good that this time the Cowboys will get to play this coming Saturday as they face one of the other schools in the conference that has seemingly done a good job of battling the COVID-19 as Oklahoma State has. Not only has Iowa State fared well against the virus, but since a surprising opening season loss to a better than most gave credit for Louisiana Ragin Cajuns team, the Cyclones have won three in a row. Those wins included a road conquest of TCU and they delivered defending Big 12 champion Oklahoma with their second loss.
Now, while the weekly rankings in college football don't matter much until the College Football Playoff committee starts their weekly report card it does set up as No. 6 Oklahoma State hosting No. 17 Iowa State.
The Cowboys have what appears to be their best defense in a long time. It is talented, deep with lots of depth at all three levels, and aggressive. With the Cyclones they will see an offense that likes to punch defenses in the mouth. That is not to say that the Cyclones don't have some speed. They do. However, they live on running the football, sometimes where you expect it and sometimes where you don't. They love to throw to any of their three really talented tight ends that includes Oklahoma native Charlie Kolar, brother of former Cowboys back-up quarterback John Kolar; Chase Allen, son of former Kansas head coach Terry Allen; and Dylan Soehner.
Iowa State runs a bulk of their version of the spread offense with 12 and 13 personnel, two and three tight ends.
"It's different than what you would see from most of us that play offensive football today," explained Oklahoma State head coach Mike Gundy. "That's the concept that Matt (Campbell) has gone with and it's a little different approach, but they do some really good things out of it and it's a challenge for a defense to be able to contain those type of plays where you get a lot of inside zone blocking with block back by the tight ends and you get some pull plays that you don't see with two tight ends today, much less three tight ends.
"It's a challenge, but hopefully our guys will come up with a nice plan and get some quality reps on it to help us play well defensively in the game," Gundy finished no doubt thinking of the extra reps his team got against the Iowa State looks in the second bye week.
The Cyclones really are a chore on offese as the trio of head coach Matt Campbell, offensive coordinator Tom Manning, and passing game coordinator Joel Gordon all contribute to the make up of the offense. They love to use misdirection and the tight ends help with that. They are a 50/50 team in run and pass and whether they go right or left, field or boundary.
The Oklahoma State defense had maybe one of their most confidence building outings in 2019 season at Iowa State. The Cyclones could only run for 86-yards in the game. They threw for 382-yards, a big number, but three interceptions, all in the fourth quarter, and that included a pick six by linebacker Malcolm Rodriguez for the winning points really made the defense gain confidence.
"It was huge," linebacker Devin Harper said. "It showed us that we could win a game. We could be the unit on the field that pushed the game into a win for the whole team."
Gundy was asked a similar question and he went the route of the defense right now, one of the best in the country and in the Big 12 statistically.
"I think our defense has a lot of confidence; I really do. I watch them practice," Gundy explained. "They enjoy each other, they're playing reckless at this point which I think is a valuable asset for a defense. I'm looking forward to the next game, but as we progress over the next month watching and seeing how we develop and finding out how good we are on defense."
Harper got really caught up in his meeting with the media last week and said he felt the Oklahoma State defense could be "best in the World." That is not likely, as there are some better defenses in the NFL and some in college too. I'm not sure how many as that remains to be seen.
This is certain, so far the Cowboys have been an attacking and aggressive unit that is limiting offenses to 9.0 points per game, 4.1-yards per play, 4.2-yards rushing per play, and just 6.1-yards per pass attempt. They are tied in the Big 12 for most sacks per game and they have been working over the time off to improve gaining turnovers.
"That's the strategic part that I really enjoy in coaching is when you get out there a week from Saturday we kind of find out how good of schemes we have and how good of coaches we are based on the players," Gundy added. "The results on the field by the players tell us as coaches if we've done a good job each week. There's your clear cut evidence. So it'll be interesting to see how it all falls."
This is a big game. It may be between the two best teams in the Big 12, at least right now it's between the two highest ranked teams in the Big 12.