STILLWATER, Okla. — Oklahoma State defensive coordinator Glenn Spencer has spent considerable time this summer trying to find flaws in Jameis Winston’s game.
He’s still searching.
Oklahoma State opens the season against last year’s Heisman Trophy winner and defending national champion Florida State on Aug. 30 at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas. Though practice doesn’t start until Aug. 1, Spencer already is stressed about dealing with Winston.
"That’s no fun when you look at a ton of film all summer and you’re not getting any answers," Spencer said Wednesday.
As a freshman last season, Winston passed for 4,057 yards and 40 touchdowns, with just 10 interceptions. Spencer said Winston has Andrew Luck’s size, Robert Griffin III’s ability to escape the rush and Colt McCoy’s leadership skills.
"He has all the talent in the world," Spencer said. "He’s so big. He doesn’t get shook. He can take a hit in the backfield. He’s not running around trying to avoid. He doesn’t make bad decisions."
Oklahoma State will face all those qualities with a defense that returns just four starters. Spencer said that number is misleading because many returning players earned significant playing time last season but didn’t start.
The secondary, in particular, is inexperienced. Cornerback Justin Gilbert, an All-American, was a first-round draft pick who now plays for the Cleveland Browns, but the Cowboys are hopeful that talented returnees can fill in. Kevin Peterson started last season opposite Gilbert, and Ashton Lampkin was a key reserve who was the special teams player of the year.
Safeties Daytawion Lowe and Shamiel Gary combined for 62 career starts before exhausting their eligibility. Sophomore Jordan Sterns and redshirt freshman Tre Flowers were the first-teamers during the spring. Larry Stephens, who suffered a leg injury and was and lost for the season in last year’s opener against Mississippi State, is expected to be back for the fall.
"We’ve got some guys that have ability to make plays back there," Spencer said. "There’s certain things that you just can’t coach. You got to kind of have baptism by fire. We just haven’t had that experience yet. We want to try to avoid as much fire as possible, but I’m sure some things are going to happen."
A lot could happen. The Seminoles lit up college football with averages of 51.6 points and 519 yards per game last season, and much of the talent that posted those numbers returns.
"There’s a side that says, `Hey, we’re really young. Can we get our feet?’" cornerbacks coach Van Malone said. "Guess what. We can’t. So here we go."
Spencer said he plans to use Florida State’s status as defending champion as a motivational tool. He says downplaying the matchup doesn’t make sense.
"I think you insult the kids if you try to pull that over their eyes," Spencer said. "They know the opportunity in front of them. As a coach, you’re always looking for stuff — points of motivation. Let’s use everything we can positively about playing the Heisman Trophy winner, playing the defending national champions. Use it on the hot days of camp, use it in the weight room, use it when their body’s telling them to quit for that day."
Safeties coach Tim Duffie said he is excited to see what the Cowboys do against the Seminoles. He said the program saw enough success last year — with the Big 12’s No. 1 scoring defense — that it should be able to continue the momentum.
"Our expectations of our defensive players never wane, no matter who’s in the game," he said. "The tough thing is getting the young kids to understand what the older kids had to put up with. Being consistent and handling adversity — it takes experience. They understand the standard. It’s just making sure they stay committed to the standard consistently. If we can do that, we’ll be fine."