STILLWATER — As defensive end Tyler Johnson rumbled toward the Iowa State end zone, carrying a fumble return for an Oklahoma State touchdown, several of his teammates provided clearing blocks along the way.
Some backed off.
Just the way the Cowboys teach and preach it.
OSU used two defensive scores to help turn Saturday's trip to Ames into a 58-27 rout. Cornerback Justin Gilbert sped 31 yards to an early touchdown after jumping a route for an interception, before Johnson punctuated things with his late 54-yard journey to a TD.
Both big plays.
Both clean plays, which shouldn't be taken for granted.
“When you score and turn around and see the yellow flag,” said Cowboys defensive coordinator Glenn Spencer, “you're like, ‘Aww.'”
The Cowboys lead the Big 12 in turnover margin and takeaways per game. And those figure to be two key story lines heading to Texas Tech this weekend, considering OSU's offensive inconsistencies and the Red Raiders' penchant for surrendering the ball.
And not only are OSU coaches stressing takeaways, they're stressing maximizing returns, too, by urging returners to stay on their feet and urging others to resist regrettable penalties that can limit the payoff of such momentum-seizing plays.
“Our players have been very well coached from our defensive coaches that when (they get a turnover), stay up, don't cut (block), don't block in the back, don't cheap shot, so where you can get returns,” Mike Gundy said.
“There's nothing more disappointing than when you get an interception or fumble recovery and you run it in and guys who are behind are cut-blocking or pushing in the back and they bring it back.”
Johnson's return turned textbook in every way, starting with Joe Mitchell's strip of Cyclones receiver Ernst Brun to cause the fumble, to Johnson's scoop and scoot, to the convoy of blockers who did their job.
“Fortunately, I think that played a part in my little play there,” Johnson said. “There were a couple good blocks. Calvin Barnett made a good block. Lyndell (Johnson), he was in the way. Ashton Lampkin, I fell behind him and utilized him.
“It was a team effort.”
Said Spencer: “Good blocks there. Smart blocks, too. And we had a couple of other guys pull off, because it was a close call. They were behind the ball, so no sense getting a clip. Good execution.”
Expecting clean returns is easier said than done.