Cowboys Third Down Stops Kept Cyclones at Bay Down the Stretch

Robert Allen

STILLWATER -- College football enthusiasts and media that look at the score will see that Oklahoma State beat Iowa State in a battle of ranked teams 24-21. I can hear some of the comments already. There will be talk of how the Big 12 is weak and Oklahoma and Texas are down. Some will say these are the best two teams, but Oklahoma State wasn't dominant. 

However, if you look deeper into the numbers you might get a different perspective. Yes, the Cyclones drove the ball down late, trailing 24-14 and punched the ball into the end zone and got within a recovered onside kick of perhaps tying or winning the game. Running back Breece Hall had two huge runs where he got the Cowboys defense caught inside and found a running lane down the boundary, one for 70-yards and the other a scoring run of 66-yards. Besides those two runs, the leading rusher in the Big 12 had 18 carries for 52-yards and the Cyclones had 91-yards rushing on 33 carries. As it was Iowa State was limited to under 400-yards at 389.

Besides that Oklahoma State defensively had some solid numbers in the final box.

The OSU defense finished with seven tackles for loss, four quarterback hurries, four pass breakups, three sacks, a forced fumble and an interception.

The Oklahoma State defense held Iowa State to seven first-half points – the fewest it has scored in any first half this season.

Then the biggest stat that contributed to the win.

OSU’s defense also held Iowa State to 3-of-13 on third-down conversion attempts and four of those stops contributed to three-and-out possessions for the Cyclones in the late third and the fourth quarter when they desperately needed to move the football.

“We gave them that big run, but we forced a lot of punts today," Oklahoma State head coach Mike Gundy said of his defense. "They (Iowa State) are a good football team. They are unusual with so much three tight end-style of offense they run, and if you’re not careful you can get out of your gap, which happened to us a couple of times. Overall, I thought our plan was way better and was executed better than it was when Brock Purdy was here as a freshman. I thought Jim Knowles and them rallied today, had a good plan and were able to keep us in the game and force some three-and-outs.”

Down on the other end of the stadium after the 24-21 Oklahoma State win pushed the Cowboys to 4-0 for the first time since 2015 and kept Iowa State from a best ever 4-0 conference start in their program's history, Iowa State head coach Matt Campbell was frustrated.

"Well the first thing is you have to be able to catch it," Campbell said when asked about sustaining drives. "When you're throwing the ball, you have to be able to catch it. We didn't do that a couple times; that was one issue. The second issue is you've got to give those guys credit. That's a veteran secondary. Of the five secondary players, four of them are juniors and seniors and they've played a ton of football. That looks a little bit deceiving, though, when you have the opportunity to make some catches and you just don't. I'll know more of it when I watch the video."

Here is another feather in the cap of the Cowboys' defense.

OSU has allowed just 48 points through the first four games of 2020 (7 vs. Tulsa; 13 vs. West Virginia; 7 vs. Kansas; 21 vs. Iowa State). That marks the fewest points ever allowed by a Mike Gundy-coached team over a four-game stretch. The previous low came over the 2012-13 season (14 vs. Purdue – Jan. 1, 2012; 3 vs. Mississippi State – Aug. 31, 2013; 35 vs. UTSA – Sept. 7, 2013; 3 vs. Lamar – Sept. 14, 2013).

You can see that previous best spanned over two seasons. It might be time for folks to realize that Oklahoma State's defense is for real.

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