STILLWATER — Shaun Lewis and the Oklahoma State defense huddled before a fourth-quarter drive Saturday against Kansas State to dig up a bad memory.
They talked about last season's Texas game at Boone Pickens Stadium, where, regardless of any questionable calls by the officials, the Cowboys allowed a key fourth-down conversion and a deep sideline pass play as the Longhorns marched toward the game-winning score.
Then the Cowboys stressed to each other they would not let that happen again.
And they didn't. OSU's defense returned to its opportunistic ways, forcing five Wildcat turnovers — including takeaways on K-State's final two possessions — to help the No. 21 Cowboys hold on for a 33-29 victory.
“We just emphasized everyone doing their jobs and giving relentless effort and making the play when the chance presented itself,” said Lewis, who finished the day with a forced fumble, fumble recovery and interception. “We went out and did it today.”
The consensus has been OSU's defense has done its job in every game this season, including last week's stunning upset at West Virginia. But those players and coaches believed they needed one more turnover vs. WVU.
Saturday, they came in bunches. The Cowboys took the ball away on three consecutive possessions in the third quarter — including two that set OSU up inside the K-State 22-yard line and led to a pair of Ben Grogan field goals.
Later, interceptions by Lewis and Daytawion Lowe on back-to-back possessions in the game's last four minutes squelched any chance of a Wildcat rally.
“There's been a number of games here in the last 20 years that I've been involved with where teams went right down the field at the end and scored on the defense,” Cowboy coach Mike Gundy said. “That was different here with these guys. They continue to get better. They worked hard.
“They've bought into the system, they've bought into the coaches and they're finding a way to get it done at the end.”
The turnover production came from all over. Defensive end Tyler Johnson, Lewis and linebacker Caleb Lavey all forced fumbles. Lewis and defensive end Emmanuel Ogbah recovered fumbles. Lewis, Lavey and safety Lowe each tallied interceptions.
The momentum-building plays were reminiscent of the 2011 Cowboy defense, which led the nation with 44 takeaways. Lavey said those types of plays build excitement on the sideline and throughout the stadium.
But the actual total of five takeaways? No biggie. That's just meeting a quota.
The Cowboys' goal each practice is to force five. If not, they run. Their reasoning is that production should translate to game situations.
“At least five turnovers a game,” Lavey clarified. “I would be happy with six.”
Those big plays came against a K-State offense that looked largely different than it has this season.
The Wildcats were missing arguably their two biggest playmakers in Tyler Lockett, who left the game early with an apparent leg injury, and Tramaine Thompson, who missed the game for an undisclosed reason. And Daniel Sams, who had primarily been used as a change-up quarterback, took the bulk of the snaps.
Sams' dual-threat ability allowed an early “power pop pass,” where Sams looked like he would run and then threw the ball to fullback Glenn Gronkowski, who rumbled 67 yards for a score. After that, coordinator Glenn Spencer said the Cowboys switched to playing more base defense.
And when OSU could force K-State into situations where it had to throw — Sams had tossed just four passes coming into Saturday's game — Spencer felt his players would be in the right spot to create turnovers.
“Our guys just had great eyes on the quarterback and made nice breaks,” Spencer said. “That's stuff we practice. It's just great to see us come through.”
The OSU offense continued to sputter Saturday, other than a quick eight-play, 75-yard drive late in the fourth that put the Cowboys ahead for good and earned praise from Spencer.
But don't bother to tell the defenders about those struggles. They don't care.
They rarely even pay any attention to the offense. They're plenty busy on the bench with Spencer, making adjustments and keeping themselves motivated.
That mentality won't change as the Cowboys head into their second bye week, where offensive corrections will certainly be addressed.
“We've got a lot of older guys on defense, so we know it's not our job to worry about the offense,” Lavey said. “Whether we're winning, losing, tied, we have the same job: get the ball back, stop the opposing offense and create turnovers.
“It's not frustrating. We have plenty of faith in our offense and we just know what our job is and keep on grinding.”