STILLWATER — What's the first thing that comes to mind when Cooper Bassett thinks of Collin Klein?
Not the most pleasant mental image, but one that certainly applies to the way the Kansas State quarterback and Heisman candidate runs the football.
“Collin's one of those guys (that) wants to break through tackles,” said Bassett, the Cowboy defensive end. “He wants to run someone over.”
Bassett expects a battle in the trenches when Oklahoma State travels to Manhattan to face a K-State squad that leads the Big 12 in rushing at 215 yards per game. But it won't just be between the Wildcats' offensive line and the Cowboys' front seven. It will also be between Klein and the OSU front seven.
And now with a true difference-maker at tackle, linebackers with another year of experience and increased depth, Bassett and coach Mike Gundy believe OSU is more equipped than last season to defend Klein and K-State's methodical offense.
Or it better be, Gundy said, if the Cowboys are going to have any shot at scoring a major upset against the No. 2 team in the BCS standings on its home field.
“You can't just let them block down, kick out and pull and run over you,” Gundy said. “Because then you never get the ball back. (The OSU front seven has) to perform and play at a high level.
“They've got to be able to hold their ground and force (K-State) into a situation they don't want to be in.”
The surge of the Cowboy defense has been a key development during its three-game winning streak. It has allowed just four offensive touchdowns in the past 12 quarters. OSU now ranks third in the Big 12 and in the top 45 in the nation in total defense, rushing defense and scoring defense, a dramatic improvement from a season ago.
And it starts at defensive tackle, where junior college transfer Calvin Barnett has been an immediate force and James Castleman has been steady. Defensive coordinator Bill Young said he also wants to rotate Anthony Rogers and Davidell Collins in more.
Those big, athletic bodies will be crucial to clogging the middle of the field, where Klein picks up a large chunk of his rushing yards.
“(Barnett) brings an added sense of toughness and aggression to our defensive line that we've really kind of missed for the past few years,” Bassett said. “With him, and then the size and athleticism with James Castleman playing nose guard, it really, really helps our defense.