Mike Gundy opened football practice to the media Tuesday, then gave us an extra gift. An 85-play scrimmage. Which means we sort of could figure out what the heck we were watching.
It was much appreciated. But so was Gundy’s post-scrimmage briefing, in which he candid and informative. Which included this nugget. OSU’s defensive ascension in recent years can be traced to a different distribution of scholarships, implemented three years ago.
“We used to divide our scholarships 41-41-3, our 85 scholarships,” Gundy said, referring to 41 for offense, 41 for defense and three for the kicking game. “Three years ago we went 44-38-3 (with 44 for the defense), and we’ve pushed more scholarships on the defensive side of the ball. It’s a move that we felt like we had to make in order for us to have enough players on that side of the ball to give ourselves a chance to win the Big 12 championship.”
The results speak for themselves. Last season, OSU’s defensive depth was better than it’s been since the mid-1980s. And despite losing seven starters, the Cowboys aren’t thin in the historically-destitute defensive line.
In fact, the D-line was the defensive bright for OSU on Tuesday. In short-yardage situations, the Cowboy defensive line packed in and turned back the offense on several occasions.
So although OSU lost starting tackle Calvin Barnett, starting end Tyler Johnson and backup tackles Anthony Rogers and Davidell Collins, the Cowboys remain fortified on the line, with ends like Jimmy Bean, Sam Wren, Emmanuel Ogbah, Trace Clark and Vili Leveni, and tackles James Castleman and Ofa Hautau.
“Two of those extra slots have gone into the defensive line, and it’s been three years now, so those are our extra numbers,” Gundy said. “Ultimately it becomes a percentage game. You bring in a certain number of players – we miss on some, some they miss on us, but if you have more opportunities out there, you have a better chance of being an improved defense. That’s really the direction that we’ve moved in the last few years.”
Those scholarship allotments mean the offensive coaches have to get by with three fewer scholarship players. But the OSU offense has been high-flying for years and has shown no discernible drop the last three years. The Cowboys still run and throw with great effectiveness.
“The offense struggles a little bit, but we feel like we can finesse and maneuver and use our schemes to make up for defense, where we feel like we really have to stop people athletically and with ability,” Gundy said.
“We moved three scholarships over there three years ago and hoped over a period of time, we could accumulate enough bodies on that side of the ball to give us a chance to be consistently competitive in this league on defense and just told the offensive coaches to suck it up and find a way to move the ball and score points.”