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National Media Weigh in on Knowles Hire, and the Results are Positive



After suggesting that Oklahoma State’s hiring of Jim Knowles was uninspiring at best on Tuesday, I got absolutely housed by all manner of OSU fans. That’s fine. There’s a difference between this being a great hire and Knowles being successful in the future, and the two are mutually exclusive. The fact that the defenders of this are having to do rhythmic gymnastics with Duke’s statistics tells me all I need to know about whether I should be overwhelmed by OSU’s new DC.

Howevah …. I did reach out to a few people smarter than myself (which, I’ll save you the jokes, is most people who cover the sport), and what they said was intriguing. They more or less noted that, no, this is not a move that’s going to get the September juices flowing, but because of the way Knowles coaches, it will probably make Oklahoma State better. Good, I’m glad for that.

So in order we’ll go with Ian Boyd, who is a buddy and somebody whose work I respect a lot. Then we’ll go with Bill Connelly, who is not a buddy but has certainly forgotten more about college football than I’ve ever known. Then we’ll look at what some folks who cover Duke told Robert Allen.

All of it is interesting. Most of it is encouraging.

Ian Boyd — Football Study Hall

Boyd wrote a great, in-depth piece, of which I properly consumed only about 25 percent. Still, it’s fascinating and one I’m sure all of us will reference in the future.

This kind of 4-2 quarters scheme is probably the best base defense to play of today’s world of anti-spread, four-down structure. If the DC is looking for something that is simple, sound against anything, and relies more on help defense than individual star play this is a more sturdy structure.

The corners are isolated down the sidelines but they have help inside, the LBs can still play aggressively because of the dual-safety run support, and the nickel focuses on preventing the offense from snatching up found money on the perimeter with throws to the slot. This is the base defense that Auburn has leaned on to help them unlock their athleticism and play top 10 defense the last two years under Kevin Steele. [Football Study Hall]

One of the frustrating parts about OSU’s defense over the last few years has been that it seemingly has good athletes on defense, but it consistently gives up monster games to good offenses. Maybe Knowles can fix that.

That’s how I’d sum up this hire for Mike Gundy and the ‘Pokes. The Oklahoma State offense is all about economy of concepts and using tempo and the stress of balance and spacing to set up the Cowboys to consistently out-execute their opponents. They go find good athletes with upside on offense every year, develop them over time in their base concepts, and then go whip up on people.

On defense they have a similarly good development track but have tried to rely on multiplicity rather than simplicity to carry their water and it’s gone terribly wrong for them. Jim Knowles represents the same kind of move they made when they hired Bill Young, emphasizing simplicity and pressure on defense to force the offense where they don’t want to go (down the sidelines or underneath in Knowles’ defense). If you can beat them, more power to you, but their focus is more on chemistry and soundness than disguise. [Football Study Hall]

I do find it a bit humorous that all of you guys wanted Bill Young fired and now that OSU has hired somebody to simplify the defense like he did, you’re all like, “yeah, this is our dude.” Oklahoma State’s defense was quite good under Young. All four of his years were better from a points per drive perspective than Spencer’s last four, and OSU won its only Big 12 title with him calling the shots. So maybe going back to what he did philosophically isn’t such a bad thing.

Bill Connelly — Football Study Hall

Bill and I traded emails, and this is what he noted about Knowles.

Yeah, I just like it because Knowles coaches the style of defense I wish more Big 12 teams would adapt — they force the issue. Duke had an extremely efficient pass defense of late, willing to risk big plays in the name of tight coverages, turnovers, three-and-outs, etc. To me, that’s perfect when you’ve got OSU’s offense.

Worst-case scenario is, you give up a couple of extra big plays per game while forcing some more three-and-outs, and when you do give up a big play, that’s an opportunity for your offense to snap the ball more and potentially wear the defense down more.

Using my S&P+, Duke has overachieved its recruiting rankings on defense for five straight years, and they keep making bowls despite bad offenses most years. It’s easy to see how things could go wrong (too many big plays, not enough three-and-outs), but I love the mindset of the hire.

Now we’re talking. This sounds like a move away from the bend-don’t-break defense that everyone loathes, and it’s a philosophy that I know a lot of us have been pushing for more over the past few years. It will be interesting to see how it translates from the ACC to the Big 12.

Steve Wiseman — Duke Beat Writer

Robert Allen chatted with a few difference people who have had contact with Knowles, and got some pretty interesting #content out of it. You should go read the entire thing. Here’s what one of the Duke beat writers noted.

“You see the ball and you go chase it, and that takes some athleticism and Duke has become a more athletic team during his time here. They have recruited better and have brought in some four-star guys they didn’t get in the past, and now at Oklahoma State he will have even better athletes to coach.

“It will be interesting to see how much better his defenses get there at Oklahoma State. … They will give up some big plays. You just have to be consistently strong throughout the game and not give up a lot of third downs and long drives.” [GoPokes]

Duke was 16th in the country last year in opponent third-down conversion rate. Oklahoma State was 68th. So that’s not nothing. Although OSU was slightly better in stopping long drives than the Devils.

All in all, I like what I read. I’m bullish on his ability to recruit (four four-stars to Duke in the last four years!), and I like the propensity for aggressiveness.

Does that mean I’m inspired by the hire at the outset? Not really, but that’s fine. Gundy has been lights out with most of his hires in Stillwater and, like many have pointed out, certainly deserves the benefit of the doubt in that arena. Knowles has some work to do to get OSU into that slot as one of the two or three best defenses in the league, but it sound like he won’t be short on a plan of how to do so.

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