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Mike Gundy Expects Jim Knowles, Defense to Improve in Year 2

Can Jim Knowles “get into a groove” in 2019?

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Oklahoma State’s defense wasn’t good enough in 2018 and anyone who tells you otherwise is selling something.

Jim Knowles’ inaugural campaign as defensive coordinator had its highs and lows, but the overall result was less than satisfactory for a team with hopes to compete for a Big 12 title.

Its highs included a Big 12-leading 39 sacks (12th nationally) and finishing at the top of the league in red zone defense. OSU came in ninth in the country, allowing scores on just 73.6 percent of red zone attempts. Better yet, their 4.4 points per red zone attempt is the lowest since 2013 (3.9) and was also the best mark in the Big 12.

But its lows included allowing a hefty 2.55 points per drive on defense, good for eighth in the conference and 97th nationally. That’s the most points per drive that any OSU defense has allowed since BCF Toys began tracking the stat back in 2007.

It’s something Gundy has keyed in on over the last couple of years — and something Kyle Porter has been preaching for even longer — and that the 15th-year head coach brought up again at Big 12 Media Days on Monday.

“It has to be (measured by) points per possession,” Gundy said according to The Oklahoman. “(At Army), they did a fantastic job of coaching, but you can’t compare their defensive coordinator’s points-allowed to the coordinators in our league. Army’s defense is on the field for nine possessions a game. Our guys are out there 14, 15 or maybe 16 a game. If you go by (points per possession), you’re going to get a fair statistic.”

The Cowboys also came in eighth in the Big 12 in defensive efficiency (96th nationally) which gives a value to opposing offense’s drives, adjusted for starting field position and strength of opponent. Basically, how good you are at stopping a team from getting down the field. Again, that was their worst ranking on record.

According to Gundy, improvement is expected to come from within instead of any wholesale changes to the scheme in Year 2 of Knowles’ tenure.

“Our system is going to stay the same. Hopefully we can play it better,” said Gundy on stage Monday. “We need to be a more disciplined defensive football team.”

Discipline was something that Gundy harped on during his time at the podium, and for good reason.

Last year’s team proved to be penalty-prone and showed a propensity to get beat deep. OSU ranked 115th in total penalties and 123rd in penalty yards. The Cowboys were also dead last in the nation, giving up 64 passing plays of at least 20 yards.

One last piece of the puzzle is OSU’s ability to create turnovers, or lack thereof. While there is a certain amount of luck in which way the ball bounces, creating havoc on defense is a tangible thing and something that Knowles’ system is supposed to be able to do.

But in 2018, the Cowboys forced the fewest turnovers (13) of any OSU team during Gundy’s 14-year tenure. (In four years, Bill Young’s defenses average forcing 32.5 per year!)

I’m not saying that Knowles and his defense can’t be a success at OSU, it’s just that expecting him to shut down the elite of the Big 12 in his first year probably wasn’t very reasonable.

And Knowles will face plenty of challenges in 2019, like replacing eight starters on defense including leading tackler Justin Phillips and All-Big 12 pass rusher Jordan Brailford, as well as every other starter from the defensive line.

But, at least in July, Gundy seems confident that OSU will take a step forward on D this fall.

“I think Coach [Jim] Knowles’ second year will give him a better feel for this league,” Gunday continued. “It’s different in our conference, the willingness of head coaches and offensive coordinators trying to score every play and I think Coach Knowles understands that maybe more so than last year.

“You kind of get into a groove in this league and figure it out, but we’re going to run the same plays, hopefully we will be better at executing those plays.”

We’ll see if that’s true in November.

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