STILLWATER, Okla. (AP) — As No. 19 Oklahoma State's lead ballooned to 50 and then 60 and 70, linebackers coach Glenn Spencer kept encouraging his players not to let up and to secure the school's first shutout in 11 years.
This wasn't anything against Savannah State, the struggling Football Championship Subdivision program with coaches Spencer knew from his time with them at Georgia Tech. This was about honoring one of the Cowboys' own who couldn't be there.
Spencer was filling in for defensive coordinator Bill Young, who fell ill during the week and missed the game after an undisclosed medical procedure. Without him, Oklahoma State rolled to an 84-0 victory while giving up only 139 yards — 2 yards per play.
"Even when it was the fourth-team guys there most of the second half, I said, 'It doesn't matter. We're holding you accountable so we can get this shutout for Bill.' That's what the defense was playing for," Spencer said.
Young is expected to also miss this Saturday's game at Arizona before returning the following week for the next home game against Louisiana-Lafayette. Spencer is in charge of calling defenses while Young is away, and graduate assistant Jermial Ashley has taken on a bigger role coaching the defensive line.
"He's going to be fine. He's just frustrated because he can't be out there right now, because he wants to be," Spencer said. "His wife, Lawana, and the doctors are holding him back or he would be out there because he misses it so much. But we miss him and I can't wait for him to get back, and I'll be in contact with him a lot this week, too."
In three years at Oklahoma State, Young has overseen a resurgence in the defense. The Cowboys have led the nation with 108 takeaways over the past three seasons, 17 more than any other team. That helped fuel Oklahoma State to its first Big 12 crown and a Fiesta Bowl win last season.
"We want to get him back as quick as possible, and he wants to be back as quick as possible," coach Mike Gundy said. "And there's some communication that has to take place there because for (three) years now he's been calling defenses and that communication has to get out to the field.
"You have a new guy calling them and then once he's made those calls, recording what's going on on the field, there's one less guy doing that. So, there's some adjustment that has to go on."
It didn't show in the opener against an overmatched opponent that had won only four games against FCS competition in the past decade. Oklahoma State led 42-0 before Savannah State managed to get its second first down, midway through the second quarter.
Spencer said the performance proved out what he and Young had spoken about during training camp: The defense's depth had improved and even third-teamers were able to function well.
"It's just a challenge to our guys. It's all about execution. It's not about who we're playing," Spencer said. "Can you do your job? Can you do your job full speed? When you have a chance to make a play, will you pull the trigger and make a play? And that has nothing to do with Savannah State. That has to do with us."
Young, who played at Oklahoma State before graduating in 1968, returned to his alma mater after stints at Ohio State, Oklahoma, Southern California, Kansas, Miami and in the NFL.
"I can't wait for him to get back. Nothing was a lot different than if he would have been here. He was all over that game plan, and he was all over what we did," Spencer said.
"It's always been an 'us' operation with him. Nothing was different."
Spencer said he was a little anxious about stepping in for Young. It was his first time serving as defensive coordinator since 1997 at West Georgia.
"That guy's wise. That guy's broke a lot of huddles. I've leaned on him and he's been mentoring me and been a great friend," Spencer said. "It was just good for the guys to play well."
His next challenge, though, figures to be a bit tougher. He equated it to "getting off the dirt road and getting on the highway."
"We all realize that it's going to change in the next week," Gundy said. "It's hard to really say where we're at as a football team. A month from now, we'll have a much better feel for who we are and where we're at."