STILLWATER — Glenn Spencer described his emotions as anxious as he put his headset on Saturday.
Mostly for his Oklahoma State players, who were about to kick off the 2012 season against Savannah State. But partly because his partner, Bill Young, was not in his familiar spot on the Cowboy sideline.
“There was anxiousness, because it hasn't happened before,” Spencer said.
For the first time since Young returned to his alma mater in 2009, OSU played a game without its defensive coordinator after he underwent an undisclosed medical procedure. And following a test run of sorts in an 84-0 blowout victory, Spencer, the Cowboys' co-defensive coordinator who has taken over Young's responsibilities, cornerbacks coach Jason Jones and safeties coach Van Malone will attempt to compensate for Young's absence again. This time, the Cowboys will travel to Tucson to take on an Arizona team that racked up 624 yards of total offense against Toledo in its season opener.
Young has been a mainstay on the OSU sideline as the veteran coordinator with more than 40 years of coaching experience, the calming presence and the defensive playcaller.
But even in losing all of that, and even with some pregame jitters, Spencer said last week and game day went smoothly.
That's also because of Young, Spencer said.
“It's an ‘us' operation with him,” Spencer said. “That's the way it's always been. He's taken input. Everybody's involved. So when he wasn't there, it made the transition smooth.”
Added OSU head coach Mike Gundy: “(Spencer and Young) have that relationship, and it works in that situation. That's why we named Glenn a co-defensive coordinator and Bill was OK with it. Some coaches don't like that. Most guys in our profession have an ego. … That's never been an issue with Bill Young.”
Since being promoted to co-defensive coordinator last season, Spencer has had a role in the defensive game planning. Still, not having Young last week called for some adjustments — ones that will continue for the Arizona game on Saturday.
During certain meetings, the defensive linemen and linebackers — the position groups coached by Young and Spencer, respectively — met together. During practice, the defensive linemen worked with graduate assistant Jermial Ashley, who played for Young at Kansas and has been a GA at Oklahoma State for three seasons.
And during the Savannah State game, instead of purely looking ahead to the next play and making adjustments and corrections with the linebackers, Spencer's thought process focused on making the defensive calls from the coaches' box and communicating with Jones and Malone on the sideline.
Spencer now knows those calls will need to come in even faster against Arizona's up-tempo spread offense. That made Saturday's game vs. Savannah State a valuable learning experience.
“Savannah was a slower team,” Spencer said. “Now, all of a sudden, Arizona's not. They're on the ball, just like us. The communication on my end's going to have to be a lot faster tempo-wise in the box to the field than it was Saturday.”
Even with those changes, players said they didn't notice much difference.
“Coach Spencer led us perfectly,” linebacker Caleb Lavey said. “It was like nothing had really changed. He took control and it was just like any other game, really.”
Added defensive end Nigel Nicholas: “It really felt like Coach Young was still there (with) how good (Spencer) was.”
Spencer still talked to Young on the phone every day last week. First, to check in and tell him he was missed. Then, to bounce ideas around like they normally would at the office.
Spencer plans to continue those conversations on a daily basis this week, as well, and looks forward to Young returning in time to be back on the sideline when the Cowboys face Louisiana-Lafayette on Sept. 15.
Until then, Spencer believes the way Young has led the defensive staff has prepared those coaches to overcome his absence and face a powerful Wildcat offense on Saturday.
“Yes, we miss him out on the field,” Spencer said. “We miss his leadership, and we can't wait until next week. But in the meantime, it's our job to take care of business just like we would if he was here.”