STILLWATER — All season, outsiders looked at the Oklahoma State defense as the unit that could cost the Cowboys in a big game.
Though the OSU defense was one of the best in the nation at forcing turnovers, it was also one of the worst in yards allowed. It was on the field for a ridiculous amount of plays, partly because of OSU's quick-strike offense, yet partly because of its struggles to force three-and-outs. It ran out of gas at the end of the Cowboys' double-overtime loss to Iowa State.
But in the biggest game of all, Saturday's Bedlam clash with Oklahoma with the Big 12 title on the line, the defense is what propelled the Cowboys to their dominating 44-10 victory.
That was because of an aggressive game plan installed by defensive coordinator Bill Young and his staff. The Cowboys blitzed often, especially up the middle, creating a heavy dose of pressure on Landry Jones that the Sooner quarterback had not seen all season.
That plan produced three sacks — two by non-defensive linemen — and four quarterback hurries. Coming into the game, OU had given up just six sacks all season, the best mark in the nation.
That plan produced a defensive touchdown, when Richetti Jones got to Landry Jones in a hurry and was in perfect position to scoop the ball up and take it into the end zone when it slipped out of the quarterback's hands deep in OU territory.
And that plan produced the game's defining play when linebacker Alex Elkins came untouched on a blitz up the middle and pulled Landry Jones to the turf. The ball came loose and bounced to defensive end Jamie Blatnick, who chugged 59 yards down the sideline before being caught from behind by Roy Finch and Trent Ratterree at the 1-yard line. Joseph Randle got into the end zone on the next play, turning a scoring chance for OU into a 17-0 OSU lead in the second quarter.
Elkins was in the backfield so quickly that Blatnick didn't even realize he was the one who hit Landry Jones at first. Blatnick thought it was lineman Cooper Bassett until he re-watched the game the next day.
“We just knew that if we … played zone, that (Jones) would eat us up,” Young said. “He's just too good a quarterback, he throws the ball too good and had too many excellent receivers. We just felt like we had to make them throw it a little before they wanted to.”
Interestingly, the Cowboys' defense has played some of its best football against the Big 12's top offenses.
Against Baylor, OSU kept the Bears out of the end zone until the fourth quarter, intercepted Heisman finalist Robert Griffin III twice in the first half and made two key stands inside the 5-yard line.
Against Texas Tech, the Cowboys held Seth Doege, who finished fifth in the nation in passing yards per game, to just 169 yards and did not allow an offensive touchdown.
Then came Saturday's scheme that the Sooners could not handle.
Last year, OU defensive coordinator Brent Venables was applauded for quickly installing the “50” defense that threw off the rhythm of Dana Holgorsen's high-powered Cowboy offense.
This year, it was Young's aggressive, up-the-middle attack that made the difference.
“I don't know that we've had as good a defensive effort around here in a long time in a big game,” coach Mike Gundy said. “I thought the game plan was excellent. The coaches wanted to attack. They wanted to blitz and blitz a lot, and the players bought in. They played with great energy.”