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How Good is Oklahoma State’s Run Defense in 2017?



As we emerge from Oklahoma State’s bye week and peak towards a Homecoming contest with Baylor (and beyond), I think we’ve learned a little bit about what this team is. So far, I’d say that it’s probably not quite as good as most of the preseason hype led on but not quite as bad as the lashing Mike Gundy and his staff took after the Week 4 loss to TCU.

One of the biggest questions most had — even amidst the summer hypefest — was how the Cowboy defense would look, especially sans two mainstay starters in Vincent Taylor and Mote Maile at defensive tackle. Through five games, the defensive front has looked pretty good, particularly against the run, and is coming off its best showing in Lubbock.

Texas Tech head coach Kliff Kingsbury hoped his improved rushing attack would have more luck against the Cowboys in Week 5.

“Yeah, they pretty much dominated the game up front,” said Kingsbury. “We had to kick a couple of field goals inside the three. We couldn’t move them. So you’ve got to give them credit.”

And the Tech game is far from an outlier. That Red Raider offense, while definitely pass-first, has shown more balance (with a less-mobile quarterback) than it did either of the last two seasons. So far in 2017, Tech has a 1.1-to-1 pass attempt-to-rush attempt ratio (203-180). Last season, the Red Raiders attempted 653 passing attempts to just 389 rush attempts, a 1.7-to-1 ratio. In 2015, it was 620 to 464 (1.33 to 1).

Kliff’s squad bookended their bout with OSU (54 yards on just 2.0 yards per carry) with games of 200 and 313 rushing yards, both at over 6.0 yards per carry. Those were against Houston, which is pretty close to being a Power 5 team, and Kansas which is pretty close to being a Group of 5 team. But Tech didn’t reach 200 yards on the ground all of last season.

Let’s look at OSU’s rushing defense so far and how it compares to those in recent history.

Run Defense Avg. Rushing Yards Yards Per Carry Avg. 1st Down Rush
2017 (5 Games) 136.0 3.4 2.8
2016 193.4 4.6 5.6
2015 186.9 4.3 4.7
2014 162.8 4.0 3.9
2013 142.3 3.6 4.3

That column you see to the right is an important stat that is’t referenced nearly enough. When a team decides to run it on first down, OSU is allowing less than 3 yards per attempt (it is No. 3 in the country). That means more second-down-and-long situations which lead to more third-down-and-long situations.

Texas Tech attempted 16 rushes on first down to 19 passes. On their rush attempts, the Red Raiders averaged just 2.1 yards. The week before, TCU attempted 15 rushes to 11 passes on first down but gained 4.7 yards per first-down rush, effectively landing the Horned Frogs in second and 5. And we saw what kind of pressure that puts on a defense and the momentum which TCU used to march up and down Lewis Field.

The Cowboys won’t likely keep teams under 3.5 yards per carry for the whole season. They haven’t done that since 2010. But it’s a good sign for a group that had a lack of star power and questions about leadership heading into the fall.

OSU, like most teams, seems to regress on defense as the year goes on. So here’s a look through the first five games over the last five seasons.

Thru 5 Games Avg. Rushing Yards Yards Per Carry
2017 136.0 3.4
2016 180.4 4.2
2015 132.2 3.3
2014 114.8 3.4
2013 115.8 3.2

So this probably gives us a more accurate snapshot of where OSU is at this point in the season. Of course, the teams are not all equal and the talent levels of the teams aren’t equal year-to-year. This year’s Pitt team is no where close to the one that chewed up 290 yards of turf inside Boone Pickens last year. On the other hand, TCU seems much improved in the run game from a year ago.

At this point, OSU has been pretty good at stopping the running and when it hasn’t it’s cost them. If the Cowboys can take advantage of maybe their deepest defensive line during Mike Gundy’s tenure, they have a shot to be one of the better teams in the Big 12 up front at the end of the year.

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