LUBBOCK, Texas — This Oklahoma State defense has largely lived up to every challenge, climbing the national rankings and earning a reputation for aggressive, momentum-swinging plays.
But as the No. 18 Cowboys' schedule stiffens, so does the caliber of opposing offenses. That starts Saturday night in Lubbock, where No. 15 Texas Tech will bring one of the nation's most potent passing attacks and certainly the best OSU has faced.
“Our guys on the back end (of the defense), we accept the challenge,” cornerback Justin Gilbert said.
Tech ranks third nationally in passing offense (412.9 yards), which has propelled it into a tie for fifth in total offense (537.1 yards) and a No. 18 ranking in scoring offense (39.8 points).
The Red Raiders boast two of the best receiving threats in the conference in Jace Amaro (54 catches, 861 yards, three touchdowns) and Eric Ward (46 catches, 541 yards, five TDs). But tossing the football has been a pair of freshmen, with Davis Webb officially being pegged the Red Raiders' starter this week.
With an offense directed by coach Kliff Kingsbury, the man who used to quarterback Tech's Air Raid attack, the Red Raiders' passing game relies more on timing and accuracy than on throwing deep.
“The ball's out of his hand before breaks (on routes) are made sometimes,” said OSU defensive coordinator Glenn Spencer, also noting Webb rarely gives away where he's going to throw the ball with his eyes. “That's hard to get (pass) breakups when you have a quarterback that can throw with that confidence.”
So how can the Cowboys attempt to stop this explosive attack?
It will need to start with getting pressure on Webb to attempt to throw off that timing. Then, Gilbert knows the secondary will need to play disciplined coverage.
“They might try to hit us with a lot of double moves,” said Gilbert, who is tied for sixth in the nation with four interceptions this season. “Their receivers run great routes, and they're physical on the perimeter with their blocking.
“Hopefully, they can get a pass rush to force the quarterback to make an off-balance throw in order for us to get an interception or a turnover.”
Tech has been turnover-prone, ranking ninth in the Big 12 in turnover margin (minus-6). OSU ranks first (plus-9), including takeaways the Cowboys turned into two touchdowns last Saturday at Iowa State.
Tech's powerful passing game won't be the last the Cowboys face this season, as a date with Baylor still looms on Nov. 23. But in a primetime showdown that will likely knock the loser out of the Big 12 title race, the OSU defense has plenty to prove against the Red Raiders.
“You're at that final stretch,” defensive end Tyler Johnson said. “It's time to turn up.”