by Brandon Chatmon
1. Focus on finding the best 11 on defense. And then the next 11.
Analysis: The Cowboys have been willing to move guys around to make sure they have the top 11 on the field at all times. Linebacker James Thomas has emerged as a guy who makes plays and is often on the field with the first team. He’s athletic and seems to be around the ball on a consistent basis. The move of Derek Burton inside appears to be a good move as well. The senior from Muskogee has held his own in the interior.
Grade: B. Young has been hampered by injuries at the safety position. The Grambling State game was the first game they had Markelle Martin, Johnny Thomas, Victor Johnson and Lucien Antoine available at the same time. It will be interesting to see how Young uses their talents because its clear they are among the best defenders on the squad.
2. Keep implementing the package.
Analysis: I’d imagine OSU’s defense will continue to evolve and the packages will continue to change each week. I won’t be surprised to see three, maybe even four of those safeties on the field at the same time especially against spread offenses. That will allow OSU to have speed but with Martin and Antoine closer to the line of scrimmage, also give them the ability to handle the pass.
Grade: B. OSU’s defense hasn’t been completely installed but they run packages that cause problems for offenses and have resulted in good pressure on the quarterback thus far. When they’ve had problems the culprit has been tackling not scheme.
3. Create turnovers.
Analysis: OSU has forced nine turnovers in four games. That’s 2.25 turnovers per game, that’s an excellent ratio. If they can continue to do that, that will change games and could be the difference in big games like Texas, Missouri and Oklahoma.
Grade: A. Forcing more than two turnovers per game is excellent. The Cowboys just need to continue to be opportunistic and hard hitting.
4. Stop the run.
Analysis: The Cowboys rank No. 47 in the nation in run defense, allowing 118 rushing yards per game. They held Georgia to 95 rushing yards in the opener but then had breakdowns against Houston, allowing 146 rushing yards.
While 118 yards per game isn’t a great stat, the Cowboys are allowing just 3.4 rushing yards per carry. They have been solid with their run defense thanks in large part to their linebackers. Patrick Lavine, Andre Sexton and Donald Booker have been solid as the Cowboys starting linebackers and Booker has been superb, replacing Orie Lemon and leading OSU in tackles with 26.
Grade: B-. The Cowboys rise above a C simply because they are allowing only 3.4 yards per carry. But they don’t get a solid B or even an A because they could be better. Only sloppy tackling has kept this from being a very good run defense.
5. Contribute to the feel-good vibe of a team getting top-10 looks.
Analysis: With all the talk about OSU and their expectations heading into the season, the defense has held up its end of the bargain. They were supposed to be “the weak link” but they’ve been anything but that. They’ve forced 2.25 turnovers per game, are allowing only 3.4 yards per carry and have held two teams to 10 points or less.
If and when the offense finally finds its rhythm, expect the defense to play even better. Just look at Saturday’s game against Grambling, the offense came out and a roll and the defense matched them with excellent play from start to finish. Now we need to see that against Big 12 competition.
Grade: A. Some may disagree with this assessment but the defense has done enough to win every game on the schedule thus far, the offense has just put them in tough positions with their turnover troubles. And let’s be honest, all OSU is asking from its defense is to play well enough to win, and that’s exactly what they’ve done in the non-conference schedule.