OSU's defense had its critics a year ago. And by the numbers, some of it was understandable.
The Cowboys, after all, ranked No. 107 in total defense, a point pounded home by national analysts.
Yet those same critics either ignored, or dismissed as luck, another number of note: No. 1, the defense's ranking in takeaways. And they're back at it again, with many suggesting the Cowboys can't possibly keep it up.
In Stillwater, however, the Pokes are more determined than ever to force turnovers, not only in halting opponents but to ease some of the pressure on an offense breaking in a freshman quarterback in Wes Lunt.
“It's a point of emphasis,” said OSU defensive coordinator Bill Young. “And gosh, we better emphasize it, because it's going to be a difference for our football team. We've got to help the offense, shorten the field and give them good field position. We did a little bit of that last year and it's something we've got to do this season.”
As for any luck attributed to OSU's takeaway abilities, Young said his guys will plan on continuing the good fortune. His defenses have finished in the top 11 nationally in forced turnovers each of the past three seasons.
“Nobody in the country works harder on it,” Young said. “And nobody emphasizes it more. And it's paid dividends. It's a new day, a new year, who knows what will happen? But it's definitely something we're expecting to happen and it's something we're putting on our players' shoulders, that we anticipate them doing it.”
DANIEL KOENIG, DEVIN DAVIS BATTLING FOR STARTING OT JOB
Michael Bowie's departure just before fall camp left the Cowboys with a hole on the offensive line — and an opportunity for backup tackles Daniel Koenig and Devin Davis to break into the starting lineup.
So far, it's been Koenig getting the majority of the first-team reps at right tackle after Parker Graham moved to Bowie's old spot on the left side. But Davis, a redshirt freshman with tons of upside, is making a push, offensive line coach Joe Wickline said.
“Daniel Koenig and Devin Davis are fighting for a starting job right now,” Wickline said. “Devin's a little bit behind him, but Devin is definitely a swing tackle — he's really going to be a nice player and he's a solid third tackle.
“That's what you want to have. You want to have three tackles.”
Right now, junior college transfer Chris Grisbhy is considered the Cowboys' fourth tackle.
KASEY DUNN DISSECTS FRESHMAN RECEIVERS
There's no question that multiple true freshman receivers will play for OSU this season.
How many of those five newcomers, exactly? That's still to be determined.
C.J. Curry and Blake Webb, who have received a heavy dose of first- and second-team reps during fall camp, appear to be locks to see significant time. Brandon Sheperd is also in the mix.
But Kasey Dunn, who works with the outside receivers, has also been impressed with two of the more under-the-radar receivers in Austin Hays and Jhajuan Seales.
Dunn called Hays, a post-Signing Day addition to OSU's 2012 class, the most consistent freshman throughout practice. And Dunn said Seales, a late bloomer in high school who was offered by OSU January, has tremendous potential. Both players were rated two-star prospects by Rivals.
Overall, Dunn hasn't seen a ton of separation between the four freshman outside receivers and said he's comfortable with putting “a couple” of them into a game situation right now.
“It's not their ability,” Dunn said. “It's not, ‘Can they catch the ball and run with it afterwards?' It's, ‘Am I going to make the right decisions?' It's, ‘Am I going to help the inside guy get open if I know this coverage is set so I don't catch the ball? Will I make sure that the inside guy gets the ball?'
“We don't have those things nailed down yet with a couple of guys, and we need to. All four of them, athletically, can play but ultimately it will come down to who is smart enough to play and who picks it up the quickest.”