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OSU Defense Shut down Texas by Shoring up Its Weakness, Specifically on 3rd Downs



If you were determined and resilient enough to remain in front of your TV for the entirety of Oklahoma State’s overtime win in Austin, first off, kudos. You might not be feeling the warm and fuzzies about OSU’s prospects of winning the Big 12, especially considering some of the offenses it has to keep up with still on the schedule. Or just in the next two weeks.

But let me provide you with a ray of hope. (/whispers OSU might have the third-best defense in the league). And it’s probably already faced Nos. 1 and 2.

I know what you’re going to say and Glenn Spencer already beat you to it.

“Don’t write any stuff, I mean, come on now,” said Spencer after the game. “It’s all about next week. Just be proud of today. They did their job today and that’s it.

“There’s no grand descriptions about what we are now. All we are is a team trying to win a game next week. Nobody needs to say this or that.”

I agree that we shouldn’t crown the Cowboy defense as elite after shutting down the 54th-ranked scoring offense in the nation. But they did play a really good game and did it by dominating on third downs, something that’s been OSU’s Achilles heel for most of the season.

Let’s take a look at some pertinent third-down numbers.

Opponent 3rd Down Comp. % Season Avg. 3rd & Long Comp. % Avg. to gain 3 & Outs
Tulsa 16/26 61.5% 47.5% 5/9 55.6% 5.2 2
South Alabama 1/10 10.0% 29.6% 1/4 25.0% 8.0 6
Pitt 5/15 33.3% 34.8% 2/5 40.0% 7.4 4
TCU 11/19 57.9% 56.2% 3/5 60.0% 6.6 2
Texas Tech 5/12 41.7% 44.7% 0/4 00.0% 5.8 2
Baylor 7/18 38.9% 29.8% 2/7 28.6% 7.3 2
Texas 3/17 17.6% 43.8% 0/5 00.0% 9.1 8

Before they made the trip to Travis County, the Cowboys ranked 10th out of 10 Big 12 teams in third-down defense and 112th nationally, giving up a first down on 45 percent of their opponents’ third-down attempts. OSU had been especially uninspiring in third-and-long situations, allowing teams to convert 38.2 percent of time.

Against teams with a mobile quarterback (Tulsa and TCU), they had given up 60 percent on third down and 57.1 percent on third and long.

Add Sam Ehlinger to the mix, who had just put up some big numbers in the air and on the ground against Kansas State and Oklahoma, and you’ve got a recipe for disaster, right? Apparently not.

Oklahoma State’s front seven corralled Ehlinger, holding the ‘Horns to 3 of 17 on third downs, well below their season average (now at 43.8 percent). It did that by limiting early down gains forcing Texas into third downs with an average 9.1 to go. Part of that was due to a bunch of bad penalties committed by the home team (eight for 73 yards). Part of that was due to some stingy defense.

OSU also forced eight three-and-outs against the Longhorns, its most this season. On Texas’ last seven drives in regulation, they gained 26 yards.

The Longhorns came into Saturday’s game as the 12th-best offense in the nation at converting third downs (48.1 percent). Their season-worst was against USC (4 of 16 for 25 percent).

“I told the team in there it was the best defensive play that I’ve seen in a long time,” said Mike Gundy after the game. “I can’t remember very many years back now, but I’m going to say long as I’ve been a head coach, on the road, I’ve never seen a defense play like that, and in dealing with all the adversity.”

But his defensive coordinator doesn’t want his group resting on its laurels and knows things don’t always work out so well, especially against the type of offenses its about to face in West Virginia and Oklahoma.

“We’ve gone out there and we’ve played our tail off and it ain’t worked out our way, too, ” said Spencer. “We haven’t suddenly arrived, all of the sudden. We could be garbage next week if we don’t do what it takes…”

Currently, among Big 12 teams, Oklahoma State ranks third in scoring defense, fourth in rushing defense and second in passing defense. Things can change quickly even in a single week. On those pesky third downs? It moved from 10th to fifth in just one week. Is this defense elite? I’m not going there. Is it good enough to win the Big 12? If Mason Rudolph and Co. return to form, then I say yes.

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