STILLWATER — In the crucial fourth-quarter stretch for the Oklahoma State defense, where the Cowboys halted any Texas momentum gained following an OSU safety, some unlikely names showed up in some of the game's biggest moments.
On the Longhorns' first offensive play after the safety, freshman tackle James Castleman and reserve end Ryan Robinson nearly got to UT quarterback David Ash, helping cause an incomplete pass to Malcolm Brown. Two plays later, tight-end-turned-defensive-end Wilson Youman drilled Ash for his first-career sack to force a Longhorn punt.
And when Daytawion Lowe stripped the ball out of Ash's grasp on the Longhorns' next possession, another tight-end-turned-defensive-end, Cooper Bassett, was there to corral it and essentially clinch the 38-26 victory for OSU.
The Pokes' defensive line, a unit that was often questioned about its talent, depth and experience heading into the season, is far from elite. But it has rarely hurt the Cowboys this season.
Against the Longhorns, it was OSU's most effective defensive unit in a game that needed a strong performance on that side of the ball because of an inconsistent showing on offense.
Of the Cowboys' 15 tackles for loss, 10 came from the defensive line. That group also recorded three of OSU's five sacks and eight of 11 quarterback hurries.
“This group will never quit,” defensive tackle Nigel Nicholas said.
Nicholas on the inside and Jamie Blatnick on the outside have established themselves as the anchors of that line.
Both had four tackles for loss Saturday, the most since Nathan Peterson had five against Baylor in 2007, and were particularly strong in the first half. Blatnick also set a career high with nine total tackles and added two sacks a week after tallying an interception and a fumble recovery against Kansas.
“Those guys continued to make plays and chase the ball,” OSU coach Mike Gundy said of Blatnick and Nicholas. “We don't have a lot of depth there, so it's important that those guys get good, quality reps.”
Gundy might not be satisfied with the depth on the line quite yet, but it's a group that is clearly making progress. Gundy and defensive coordinator Bill Young would not be sending guys like Bassett, Youman and Castleman out onto the field in a 12-point game in the fourth quarter in the first place if they did not feel they could adequately fill in for Nicholas and Blatnick while they got a breather on the sideline.
And those players did not just fill in — they performed.
One troubling aspect of OSU's defensive effort Saturday was that it allowed 231 rushing yards to UT, including 135 yards and two touchdowns from freshman stud Malcolm Brown.
That will need to improve this week when the Cowboys face another stout running team in Missouri, as Henry Josey tallied 129 yards and a touchdown against Iowa State on Saturday and dual-threat quarterback James Franklin added 84 yards and two touchdowns on the ground.
The 2011 Cowboys will not be remembered for their defensive line, but it's a unit that is steadily developing some depth. And on Saturday, those players made their biggest impact of the season.