STILLWATER — Bill Young is known for his calming effect on the sideline with the Oklahoma State defense.
So the Cowboy defensive coordinator did not panic when Iowa State receiver Quenton Bundrage made a 35-yard catch over solid coverage by Brodrick Brown on the first play of Saturday's matchup. Or when Cyclone quarterback Jared Barnett sprinted 20 yards up the middle to the OSU 1-yard line. Or when Jeff Woody scored on a two-yard option on the next play to give ISU an early lead.
“Our coaches told us we were OK,” safety Daytawion Lowe said. “We just needed to calm down and play.”
And the Cowboys responded with 12 stops on ISU's final 13 possessions and just three points allowed the rest of the way, helping propel OSU to a 31-10 victory at Boone Pickens Stadium over the team ranked 24th in the first BCS standings.
“Bill Young does a great job,” OSU coach Mike Gundy said. “On the headphones, he said, ‘Let's get them over here and get them settled down, get back to the basics and what our plan is against this team.' And obviously it worked.”
The Cowboys (4-2, 2-1 Big 12) closed the game with 11 consecutive stops: eight forced punts — including four three-and-outs — two takeaways and one stop on fourth down. During that stretch, OSU allowed just 184 yards, with 59 of them coming on a meaningless final drive by the Cyclones.
Gundy called the defensive effort “tremendous,” while Young said it was probably his unit's best performance of the season.
“They were assignment-sound, for the most part,” Young said. “I don't think we made very many mental mistakes. We gave great effort and were very fresh in the fourth quarter. The kids were really intent on the sideline, and we like what happened.”
Added Brown: “They made some good plays on the first drive. We wasn't out there lethargic or anything, but they kind of woke us up when they had that first drive. We just wanted to say, ‘No more. That's it.' That's basically what our mentality was the entire game.”
OSU did its job against a Cyclone squad that had struggled on that side of the ball entering Saturday's game, ranking 99th in the nation in total offense (342.83). And many of the reasons why showed.
Barnett was often erratic, completing only 19 of 39 passes for 206 yards and a touchdown, and was replaced in the fourth quarter by former starter-turned-backup Steele Jantz. The run game gained just 101 yards.
“After those first couple drives, they started making adjustments to our offense and we didn't respond,” Barnett said. “They were definitely getting pressure on me and making it hard for our guys to beat them in 1-on-1 coverage.”
But the most positive development for the Cowboy defense? The return of the takeaway, the play that was OSU's calling card a season ago (NCAA-best 44) but almost nonexistent so far in 2012 (four entering Saturday).
OSU forced two turnovers in ISU territory in the third quarter, including a one-handed interception by Lowe that set up a 12-yard touchdown run by Joseph Randle to give the Cowboys a 24-10 lead.
It was reminiscent of the 2011 Cowboys, where the defense would create a momentum play to give the offense a short field, and the offense would carry it on with a quick score.
“It kind of kick-starts it a little bit,” quarterback J.W. Walsh said of that turnover. “We were kind of in a lull where we weren't moving the ball as well as we wanted to. When (Lowe) got that (interception), we kind of turned it on. …It gets the momentum flowing.
“The defense played really well today, and I think that's what made us play so well is we fed off them and they fed off us.”
Since a disastrous performance against Arizona in Week 2, where the Cowboy defense allowed 52 points, it has put together strong stretches. It shut out Louisiana-Lafayette in the first half, held Texas without an offensive touchdown for nearly 2 1/2 quarters and then led Kansas 20-0 before a furious fourth-quarter rally by the Jayhawks.
But Saturday was the Cowboys' most complete effort. And Lowe knows they will need similar performances in the second half of the season, when OSU continues to face the Big 12's high-powered offenses.
“(Saturday's game) boosts us up a lot,” Lowe said. “But really, it comes down to preparing. We prepared well this week, so it's really going to come down to continuing to prepare each week to get better.”