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Chalk Talk: Jim Knowles’ Defensive Complexity on Display versus MSU

Breaking down what we learned during Jim Knowles’ first game ahead OSU’s defense.



The Oklahoma State Cowboys cruised to a 58-17 victory over Missouri State last Thursday, and although their offense shined with a top 10 rushing performance in school history, the defense was just as impressive under new defensive coordinator Jim Knowles. Knowles was known for his creativity and 4-2-5 philosophy at Duke, and all of those qualities were on display against the Bears. In this article, we’ll look at a handful of plays that show how unique this defense is, specifically in relation to hybrid coverages and pattern matching.

In this first example, the Cowboys appear to be in “blue” coverage, also known as cover 4. The corners and weak and free safeties are responsible for one deep quarter of the field, treating any vertical route directly in front of them like man coverage. The three remaining defenders on the second level cover any routes underneath.

The Cowboys do a good enough job in coverage to allow their front four to generate pressure. The ends crash inside with the tackles looping to the outside on a double twist. In this play, Trey Carter shows off his athleticism and sacks Peyton Huslig from behind, forcing an MSU punt.

Most 4-2-5 defenses will use hybrid coverages and pattern matching in their pass defense. That makes it difficult to identify coverages on tape. Take 2-blue solo, for example, as a standard hybrid call. The first word, “2”, tells the read side of the defense, which is covering the strong side, to play cover 2. “Blue” tells the side away from the strength of the formation to play in quarters coverage, and “solo” alerts the corners to play man-to-man against any weak-side receiver if the offense is in trips. This complexity is far different than what the Cowboys are used to, but Thursday’s game gave a small glimpse of it. Here’s another example from the first quarter:

Here, the high corner and safety on the “read” side defend in quarters coverage and the press corner on the opposite side plays in man coverage. The rest of the defense either rushes or sinks into zone coverage. Notice how aggressive the zone defenders are in sitting on the underneath routes, as opposed to playing passive zone defense and staying over the top. The pressure from the line is enough to force a quick pass and the Cowboys force an incompletion.

Coach Knowles is known for using man-to-man quite a bit, and that was also on display against the Bears. The final example shows the Cowboys in a third-down situation, playing 2-man under with only two down lineman and three total rushers.

It’s important to remember that the Cowboys held a significant talent advantage in this game, and they would have had success on defense regardless of scheme or philosophy. The defense wasn’t completely perfect, either, as the Pokes had a string of drives where they gave up two scores and couldn’t defend the quarterback run. But Coach Knowles and his unit deserve credit for their overall performance, and if Thursday was any indication, the defense has an opportunity to make great strides from last season.

What did you think of OSU’s defensive performance against Missouri State? Leave your opinions in the comments below!

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