The Oklahoma State Cowboys are just days away from opening up the 2021 football season with a home opener against the Missouri State Bears, and after exceeding expectations last season, the Cowboys are hoping to up the ante once again this year and perhaps challenge for a Big 12 Championship.
The primary reason for the Cowboys’ success in 2020 was the defense. Last season the offense struggled mainly due to a depleted offensive line and inconsistent quarterback play, and it was the defense that saved the day time and time again. More half that defense returns for the 2021 campaign, and the experience alone should be enough to worry opposing offenses.
Every defensive starter slated for Saturday’s matchup with the Bears started in at least one game a season ago, and many of them started most if not every game in 2020. Malcolm Rodriguez (LB, Senior) and Kolby Harvell-Peel (DB, Senior) were both 2020 All-Big 12 Second Team selections for the second year in a row, and Trace Ford (DL, Junior), Tyler Lacy (DL, Junior), and Tre Sterling (DB, Senior) were All-Big 12 Honorable Mention selections.
With the returning talent, the Cowboy defense might end up being the best in the conference if not one of the best in the entire country. As the season begins on Saturday against a team which is nowhere near Oklahoma State’s level, the Cowboys simply need to take care of business, but there are a few key areas that would bode well moving forward.
Keep Jaden Johnson Contained
The Bears were not a great team in 2020 finishing 5-5 in their first year under head coach Bobby Petrino. One bright spot for Missouri State, however, was the rise of young quarterback Jaden Johnson.
As a redshirt freshman, Johnson played in 8 games, starting in 6 of them. Despite throwing for just 3 touchdowns and 6 interceptions, an awful TD-to-INT ratio, he proved himself to be a decent runner, finishing the season with 111 yards on the ground and a touchdown.
Mobile quarterbacks have been a bit of an achilles heel for even the best Cowboy defense over the years, so keeping Johnson contained and forcing him to throw the ball will be key to Oklahoma State keeping the Bears out of the end zone.
Lock Down Damoriea Vick
The name Damoriea Vick may be familiar for those in Oklahoma City metro. Vick graduated from Westmoore High School in 2018, and he has played 3 years so far for Missouri State. Headed into his senior year, Vick is the top receiver for the Bears, fresh off a junior year where he recorded 45 catches for 596 yards and 2 touchdowns.
The Bears aren’t much of a passing team, so you can expect them to try to run the ball, but when they do decide to throw it, expect it to go Vick’s direction. If the Cowboy secondary can blanket Vick, Missouri State will be forced to rely on someone else, or even better, allow the defensive line to get to Jaden Johnson in the backfield before he can even get rid of the ball.
Create Takeaway Opportunities
Last season the Cowboys were 5th in the Big 12 as they forced 16 turnovers (10 fumbles recovered, 6 interceptions). That’s not bad, just 3 turnovers forced behind the conference-leading Sooners, but I’d like to see that number go up a little this season.
Of those 16 turnovers forced, 14 were by returning players, and it would not surprise me at all to see guys like Kolby Harvell-Peel, Tre Sterling, Trace Ford, and Malcolm Rodriguez push those numbers even higher. Those 4 guys alone were responsible for 4 interceptions, 4 forced fumbles, and 3 fumble recoveries.
Needless to say, the Cowboys have ball hawks at every position, and I would love for them to create a handful of takeaways against the Bears on Saturday to set a tone of forcing turnovers for the rest of the season.
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