A unit once tormented on third down, OSU is now getting off the field, rising to No. 22 nationally in third-down conversion percentage defense. For comparison purposes: LSU is at No. 16, Stanford 19, Clemson 25 and Southern Cal 30. Further down the chart: Notre Dame at 55, Oklahoma 65 and Kansas State 69.
“We were just kind of sick of the criticism,” said Cowboys linebacker Alex Elkins. “We knew what we had. And we knew what kind of talent we had on our side of the ball. We just weren't hitting on all cylinders like we knew we could.
“As the weeks have gone by, we've realized that if we're going to play up to our potential, we need to do it right now. We can't wait. If we're going to control our own destiny, we have to start now. And we've done that. We're picking it up, and our confidence is boosted.”
OSU's outlook is boosted, too, even with a trip to No. 2 Kansas State looming next on Saturday.
Of course, in Manhattan, we'll find out if it's a marriage built to last. The Wildcats boast the Heisman front-runner in quarterback Collin Klein and have averaged 43.4 points in racing to a 5-0 record in Big 12 play.
“We're not there yet; we're kind of a work in progress,” said Cowboys defensive coordinator Bill Young. “The turnovers are coming, and hopefully a whole lot more of them are on the way. It'll be a critical aspect in the game Saturday.”
A year ago, the defense gathered turnovers like Halloween treats, leading the country with a combined 44 takeaways. Not as opportunistic this season, the Cowboys are instead succeeding with more conventional stops.
“Being able to go down the sideline and pat the offense on the butt and say, ‘We'll get the ball back for you guys,' and to do it — it's just so fun,” Bassett said. “And we get so much satisfaction out of it.
“We've done a great job so far, offense and defense sharing the load, carrying the burden together. Whatever it takes to win is what matters. I think the way our defense has been playing, it's going to help give our offense a chance to get the win.”