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Cowboy Football Identity Change? Could Be

For as long as Mike Gundy has been the head coach of his alma mater, offense has been at the foundation of what the Gundy Cowboys have been known for. This season may change that, some.

STILLWATER -- The other day on the weekly Big 12 Coaches Teleconference, the primary topic for Oklahoma State head coach Mike Gundy was the postponement of his team's scheduled game in Waco for Oct. 17 against the Baylor Bears. The 6:30 p.m. primetime game scheduled for national television on ABC represented a huge opportunity for the Cowboys to show off their 3-0 and currently No. 7-ranked team. But one question off the topic of the postponement and how Gundy planned to handle the rare second bye week in a row struck me.

Austin American-Statesman columnist, and nationally known sportswriter, Kirk Bohls asked Gundy about his defense and the players that are playing well for his team on that side of the ball. I don't know if Bohls was fishing for unsung defensive performers that Gundy and his staff found instead of some of the four and five-star recruits that Texas signed or maybe Bohls is getting a jump on candidates to vote on his All-Big 12 ballot. It was just interesting to hear the coach that has three of his former assistants calling offensive plays at other Big 12 schools being asked about his defense.

"Hey your defense is playing so well," Bohls said to Gundy. "Who would you single out that is playing at a high level for you right now?"

"Oh we've got a number of guys that are playing good," Gundy started with his answer. "Rodarius Williams (corner) is playing good for us, Malcolm Rodriguez (linebacker), Tyler Lacy (defensive end) is playing good. Tanner McCalister is playing good. Christian Holmes (transfer corner) is playing good. Cam Murray (defensive tackle) is playing good. Within the next few weeks we're going to get into a different challenge, skill-wise on the perimeter, than we've seen so far this year. We'll find out defensively where we are over the next couple of weeks."

Trace Ford (94) and Calvin Bundage (1) celebrate another quarterback sack at Kansas.

Trace Ford (94) and Calvin Bundage (1) celebrate another quarterback sack at Kansas.

Gundy could have names off another dozen players including Trace Ford, Devin Harper, Amen Ogbongbemiga, Israel Antwine, Jarrick Bernard-Converse, Kolby Harvell-Peel and Tre Sterling.

How about that? I'm trying to adjust to Mike Gundy talking defense instead of getting asked all the time about his explosive offense, running backs, wide receivers, throwing game, and RPOs. Heck, talking about run-pass conflict as in how they are confusing defenses is a daily topic for Oklahoma State football. Talking about how the defense is squashing run-pass conflict by stopping both has not been. 

Gundy is right, the challenges for defensive coordinator Jim Knowles and his defensive staff and personnel will be coming in heavier doses starting when the Cowboys get back to playing games. Next up is the heavy "13" personnel of Iowa State as the Cyclones use that tight end dominated personnel group for their mainstream offense while most teams use it for short yardage and goal line situations. It will put a premium on the safeties, but with Kolby Harvell-Peel, Tre Sterling, Tanner McCalister, Thomas Harper, Jason Taylor II, Kanion Williams, and Sean Michael-Flanagan the Pokes have plenty of safety talent. Some of it is smaller and faster and built for coverage like the guys that play the "strike" safety, but others are big, thick, and powerful to cover and deal with tight ends.

"I think the players are smart enough to figure that out," Gundy said of the dealing with some of the different aspects of Big 12 offenses. "I think over the next month we are going to be challenged by teams that are in really good shape and healthy, physically and mentally.  We'll know a lot more in three weeks."

Just like the Oklahoma State offense that started slow with the injury to quarterback Spencer Sanders on the first series of the opener and the injuries on the offensive line, the defense was fully healthy and started fast. Oklahoma State is currently tops in the Big 12 in scoring defense (9.0), rushing defense (93.7-yards per game), second in passing defense (180.7-yards per game), second in total defense (274.3-yards per game), tied for second in sacks by (4.0 sacks per game), first in opponent third-down conversions (16.3 percent), and fourth in turnover margin (0).

"Some of us control our own destiny if you keep winning," Gundy said. "You get knocked off and then you have depend on somebody beating somebody down the road. You'd like to win the ones that you have and let the chips fall where they fall."

I'm not sure about chips, but when the Oklahoma State defense has been on the field so far this season players in the other uniform have been falling quickly. This is one of the best tackling teams Oklahoma State has had in a long time. 

The delay is killing Oklahoma State fans, but if the Cowboys truly find ways to work on weaknesses and improve over the two-byes, the first we could find in school history since 1918 when the team opened Oct. 12 and did not play again until Nov. 1 under the leadership of head coach Earl Pritchard. By the way that was the last pandemic with the Spanish Flu. That Oklahoma A&M team went 4-2 and allowed 12.2 points per game. I think this team has a chance to improve both marks.