The Oklahoma State Cowboys are one of the most exciting teams in the nation coming into the 2020 season, but most of that credit goes to the offense. Defensively, the Cowboys have consistently fallen in the category of “mediocre for the Big 12,” and simply put, that’s just not good enough if they want to make a run at the College Football Playoff.
Defensive Coordinator Jim Knowles is ready to begin his 3rd season in Stillwater, and while the defense has made improvements over the last couple of years, they have been minor. There is no time like present for the Cowboys if they want to flip the script on their defensive reputation and kick off the season against the Tulsa Golden Hurricane by showing they are more than just an offensive juggernaut.
No Busted Plays
In 2019, the Golden Hurricane ranked just 53rd in the NCAA in total offense, but they averaged 281.3 passing yards per game, good for 30th in the nation. Quarterback Zach Smith started all 12 games last season after sitting out a season due to transferring from Baylor, and while he’s not the best passer in the state of Oklahoma by any means, he did throw 24 touchdowns and just 10 interceptions.
The Cowboys have had some solid secondary groups in the past, but this one might be the best in nearly a decade. Kolby Harvell-Peel, Tre Sterling, and Rodarius Williams are quality playmakers, and if they want to help put the Stillwater on the national map, they need to start by taking care of the little things, which will in turn avoid giving up big plays.
Oklahoma State is a heavy favorite against Tulsa, and for good reason, so if the Cowboys can avoid busted plays, then they should be able to keep the Golden Hurricane out of the end zone.
Stop the Run
Tulsa was not a great rushing team a season ago. Averaging just 138.3 rushing yards per game (98th in the NCAA) and scoring only 18 times on the ground, the Golden Hurricane front line didn’t exactly strike fear in the hearts of their opponents.
Still, the Cowboys have to put in some work in the trenches. Senior running back Shamari Brooks racked up 1,046 yards, accounting for most of Tulsa’s ground game, and he found the end zone 8 times in 2019, 6 of those coming by running the ball.
Oklahoma State’s front line has some solid returning talent in Israel Antwine and Trace Ford, and if they are able to disrupt the backfield, it could be a long day for Walker and the Golden Hurricane.
Take the Ball Away
The best defenses are the ones that are able to force their opponents into turnovers. In the past, the Cowboys have led the country in turnovers gained, but that was not even close to the case a season ago.
In 2019, Oklahoma State gained just 19 turnovers (48th in NCAA), 7 via fumble recovery and 12 by interception. Good teams can keep an opponent out of the end zone, and great teams can force their opponents into making mistakes, but the best teams are the ones that are able to create turnovers and then score as a result.
Few situations give a team momentum and rile the crowd up like a defensive touchdown. If the Cowboys want to make a name for themselves on the defensive side of the ball, then they are going to have to not only force turnovers, but also put the ball into the end zone after the fact.