Defense stiffening for No. 8 Oklahoma State

With Brandon Weeden and Justin Blackmon powering an offense
that’s putting up enormous numbers nearly every game, it’s easy to
overlook a strong start on defense for No. 8 Oklahoma State.

The Cowboys’ defense has allowed its first two opponents to
average 134 1-2 yards in the first half with no touchdowns, helping
Oklahoma State to take a three-touchdown lead by halftime in both
games. Many of the 48 points allowed this season have been the
result of late scores against reserves, plus two interceptions
returned for touchdowns.

Defensive coordinator Bill Young certainly doesn’t mind if his
unit is overshadowed by an offense averaging 630 yards per game,
the second-best output in the nation.

”The offense hasn’t got any bigger fans than us as coaches and
players,” Young said Monday. ”We’re not too much worried about
the respect. We earn what we get.

”We’ve just got to play a little bit better, and people will
think better of us.”

Oklahoma State (2-0) kept Arizona scoreless in the first half of
a 37-14 win last week, but that was only halfway to the team’s goal
of posting its first shutout in nearly a decade. The last time it
happened was a 24-0 victory against Northwestern State on Sept. 29,
2001.

”We really wanted that goose egg, the first one in a while.
We’re making strides toward that,” linebacker Joe Mitchell said.
”That’s one of our defensive goals, and I feel like hopefully
we’ll achieve that here soon.”

Coach Mike Gundy said it’s too soon for him to evaluate a young
defense that came into the season with question marks in the front
seven after losing both starting defensive tackles and two of its
three starting linebackers. What he has been pleased with so far is
fewer missed tackles than early last season.

”I think you have to wait `til you’ve played three league games
or so to get a feel for where you’re at, because they do need to
get fatigued and see how they hold up,” Gundy said.

Young said he especially wants to see his defense producing more
sacks and takeaways. After meeting the team goal of five sacks in
the season opener against Louisiana-Lafayette, Anthony Rogers had
the only one for the Cowboys in Week 2. Oklahoma State also has had
only one takeaway in each game after ranking fifth in the nation
with 34 turnovers forced in 13 games last season.

”It’s funny. Turnovers and sacks, they come in droves,” Young
said. ”You hit a dry spell and then all of a sudden you get
several. Hopefully, we’ll hit that oil well pretty soon – a
gusher.”

The strength of the defense so far has been an ability to stop
the run. Heading into Saturday night’s game at Tulsa (1-1),
Oklahoma State hasn’t allowed a 100-yard rusher in seven straight
games and is giving up 74.5 yards rushing per game early this
season.

”If you don’t stop the run, you’ve got no chance to win,”
Young said. ”Rarely do they just drop the ball on their way
running in for a touchdown where they might drop a pass. Our No. 1
goal is to stop the run.

Arizona didn’t have a run longer than 6 yards in its loss in
Stillwater on Thursday night.

”That really helps because it limits what they can do as an
offense if we stop the run and they just have to rely on the pass
game,” Mitchell said.

”If we’re just focusing on the pass, that can lead to more
interceptions, more three-and-outs and just a quicker game and
getting our offense back on the field just to do what they do and
score.”

If it keeps happening, it’ll be more than Oklahoma State’s
offense that gets noticed.

”I hope people are looking at us and say, `OK, they have a
little bit of defense.’ It’ll come sooner or later,” Mitchell
said. ”We’re hoping sooner than later, so people don’t overlook
us.”