Oklahoma State has a new face running the defense this year. After another season where the defense struggled to stop Big 12 offenses, Glenn Spencer was fired, and Jim Knowles was hired to take his place. Knowles comes to Stillwater by way of Duke University, where he was the defensive coordinator for the last eight seasons.
The Cowboys ranked 79th in the NCAA total defense with 409.3 yards per game allowed. On the ground, the defense did a decent job, allowing 140.7 rushing yards per game, which ranked them 38th in the nation, but they gave up a whopping 268.8 yards per game through the air, which was 116th.
The defense has a long way to go before they are considered elite, or even good, but with the background that Knowles has, perhaps he can help things get to a competitive level sooner. With that being said, here are three specific defensive keys for Oklahoma State’s matchup with the Missouri State Bears on Thursday night.
Get in the Backfield
The Bears had a mediocre rushing game a season ago averaging 169.4 yards per game. The Cowboys bring back a combined 55 starts among guys who will see playing time on the defensive line, and after putting together a solid season a year ago, they will be the anchor of the defense.
Oklahoma State was third in the conference in sacks last year with 30, and they will need to get pressure on quarterbacks regularly if they want to have any success in the Big 12. Picking on lesser competition early in the season is a good way to develop habits for when conference play begins in a few weeks.
Limit Big Plays, and Don’t Get Burned Deep
Oklahoma State’s secondary was not that great last year, a typical trend in Stillwater over the years, and this year could be a tough one. The Cowboys have some experience at the cornerback position with 26 starts between A.J. Green and Rodarius Williams, who had zero experience when they took over last year.
The safety position is another story. Technically, the safeties have 10 starts between them, but eight of those are by Kenneth Edison-McGruder, who transitioned to safety from linebacker in the offseason.
Experience or not, a large part of the issues with pass coverage has been giving up plays for big yardage, typically by getting burned deep. Hopefully Knowles has some new schemes for the secondary which will help prevent busted coverage, and for Thursday night’s game, the defensive backs need to get used to playing with one another to ensure that they communicate and defend well.
Picking on lesser competition is essentially tradition in the opening weeks of college football. As mediocre as Cowboy defenses have been in the past, one thing they have done well is create turnovers. Last season, Oklahoma State created 26 turnovers, good for third in the conference and T-29th in the nation.
The Cowboys need to take advantage of a Missouri State team that turned the ball over 19 times last season and ended up with a turnover margin of -7. Since 2008, Oklahoma State is 57-5 when winning the turnover battle, and doing so against Missouri State should not be difficult.
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