Through two weeks of college football, the Pittsburgh Panthers have been incredibly underwhelming compared to their 8-win season a year ago. After a 28-21 overtime win against FCS-division team Youngstown State, the Panthers got smacked 33-14 against Penn State on the road.
Oklahoma State travels to Heinz Field in Pittsburgh where the Cowboys will take on the Panthers, and after an impressive defensive outing against a poor South Alabama offense, the Cowboy defense will have a slightly bigger challenge this weekend. Pittsburgh’s offense has not impressed thus far, but that doesn’t mean the Pokes can walk in unprepared. Here are some defensive keys to success for Saturday’s matchup.
1. No Fly Zone
For years Oklahoma State has touted some of the top talent in the Big 12 in their secondary. This year is no different with safeties Tre Flowers and Ramon Richards roaming around, but there are plenty of young fellas on the field protecting the pass as well. Pittsburgh quarterback Max Browne has not performed that well through two games, but sophomore A.J. Green and freshman Rodarius Williams need to be prepared regardless.
Penn State did a pretty solid job defending the pass last week, allowing Browne to throw for only 187 yards, 0 touchdowns, and 2 interceptions. The Nittany Lions also held the Panthers to 5-17 on 3rd down. Oklahoma State needs to follow suit and shut down the Panther passing game, which is going to rely heavily on them getting 3rd down stops, an area they have struggled with in recent history.
2. Hold the Line
Oklahoma State’s strongest area on defense is the front line. While the competition has not been stiff so far, the Cowboy d-line have already made a habit of finding their way into opposing backfields. Despite losing defensive tackle Vincent Taylor to the NFL Draft, other guys have stepped up to fill in and get the job done. Behind the line, the Cowboys have some very capable linebackers, despite dealing with some depth issues lately.
Last week against South Alabama, the Cowboy defense recorded four sacks and nine tackles for loss with most of that action coming from the front line. Pittsburgh likes to run the ball, averaging just under 50 rushes a game through the first two weeks, so if the front four can find a way into the backfield and create chaos, the Panthers will not be able to get much done offensively.
3. Create Turnovers
This typically can go unsaid, but I’m saying it. Oklahoma State does well when the defense is able to create turnovers. While winning the turnover battle is not going to guarantee a victory, it will most certainly point the Cowboys in the right direction. Right now, Oklahoma State has forced four turnovers, two fumbles recovered against Tulsa and a fumble recovery and interception against South Alabama.
Pittsburgh has four turnovers so far, one fumble lost against Youngstown State and two interceptions thrown and a fumble lost against Penn State. The Cowboys have a knack for forcing mistakes, and they will look to do that on Saturday at Heinz Field.