Oklahoma State’s new defense off to good start

STILLWATER, Okla. (AP) — Let’s not overlook the defense.

Much of the spotlight from Oklahoma State’s season-opening 58-17 victory over Missouri State shone on the offense and new quarterback Taylor Cornelius.

But the game also marked the debut of a new defensive coordinator and his new 4-2-5 scheme. And the defense had a fairly successful day, surrendering just 260 yards.

“I felt like we were in good position the majority of the time,” coach Mike Gundy said. “Obviously, we got out of position on a quarterback power and a quarterback draw. But, for the most part, I thought that we were in the right spot. I think the players bought in, I thought we tackled pretty well. Up front, we closed the gaps most of the time.”

A couple of big plays that went against the Cowboys did not please Gundy, but there weren’t many. There was the 58-yard run by Missouri State quarterback Peyton Huslig midway through the fourth quarter, with the game already decided. There was also Huslig’s 29-yard rush late in the second quarter that set up the Bears’ first touchdown with 2:42 left in the second, which cut Oklahoma State’s lead to 31-7 at halftime.

Huslig also completed three passes for over 20 yards, including a 27-yard touchdown toss to Antwan Woods with 6:28 remaining in the third quarter that pulled Missouri State to within 38-17. But those were the only five plays of over 20 yards that the Cowboys allowed.

“It was a little bit like the offensive line: they were really good a lot and then when they were bad, they were bad for two big plays,” Gundy said of the defense. “And we’ve had some issues over the years with that, so we need to try to minimize that the best we can, and there has to be a lot of focus and trust that everybody’s going to be in their gap. And we’ll continue to work at it. But I thought for the first game, it went really smooth.”

Oklahoma State’s pass-rush was dangerous, recording four sacks and 11 tackles for loss, totaling 30 yards. The Cowboys also had two takeaways, recovering two Missouri State fumbles.

Defensive coordinator Jim Knowles took over in January from Glenn Spencer, who was fired after five seasons as defensive coordinator and 10 years on the staff. Knowles, who went 26-34 as the head coach at Cornell from 2004-09, spent the last seven years as Duke’s defensive coordinator. Gundy liked how he handled things.

“They used a little more up-tempo than what we expected,” Gundy said. “They didn’t play fast at all last year, so it was a good warm-up for Coach, knowing that as we progress through this year, it’s going to get really fast. And I thought he handled it well, I think he’s prepared for those situations.

“In my opinion, being a sound defensive coordinator in this league, you have to think really fast, you have to make really good adjustments and you have to be able to get the information to the players on the field in less than five seconds so they can get lined up. And I thought he did pretty well.”

The next test for Knowles and Oklahoma State’s new defense comes Saturday, when the Cowboys host South Alabama, which lost its opener 30-26 to Louisiana Tech.

“As we all know, (the quality of our opponent) is going to get better each week,” Gundy said. “This week’s game will challenge us a little more on the perimeter, with maybe more skilled athletes that can go get the ball. It’ll be interesting to see how we play against those guys.”