HOUSTON — Glenn Spencer was the first Oklahoma State player or coach off the Reliant Stadium field Saturday, quickly disappearing into the tunnel before the band could even finish playing the alma mater.
He certainly didn't need to make an early break for the locker room. In fact, nobody in orange likely would have argued had he stood there and relished in the start of his tenure as the Cowboys' new defensive coordinator.
In a contest where the No. 13 Cowboys' normally explosive offense surprisingly sputtered, the defense dominated, keeping Mississippi State out of the end zone in a 21-3 victory that pegged the Big 12 favorites against a formidable SEC foe.
“I don't think there's any question the story of the game for us is our defense,” Cowboy coach Mike Gundy said. “There hasn't been many games at Oklahoma State over the last five or six years — maybe even longer than that — where defense is the story.
“It's a team game, but defense certainly kept us in and allowed the offense to get things going in the third and fourth quarter.”
It's the first time since the 1995 Bedlam game that the OSU defense held a BCS opponent to three or fewer points. And it was quite a debut for a new-look unit that was so maligned down the stretch last season but promised to be more aggressive in 2013.
The day didn't start so well on that side of the ball, as Mississippi State (0-1) capped a 13-play drive that lasted more than six minutes with a field goal to give the Bulldogs the early lead. OSU then gave up 48 more yards before a Justin Gilbert interception — his first since the Fiesta Bowl two seasons ago — ended that possession.
After that, the Bulldogs' drives went a little something like this: Punt. Punt. Punt. Punt. Turnover on downs. Punt. Punt. Missed field goal. Interception.
“They grinded that one out,” Spencer said. “It felt like, to me, our backs were against the wall the whole day, and they were just so in tune on the sideline.
“I think after that first drive, they knew they were in for a war and we were going to have to keep this thing low (scoring), and they went out and performed.”
The best stretch came in the third quarter, when the Cowboys (1-0) allowed just 10 yards and zero first downs. By then, replacement quarterback J.W. Walsh and the OSU offense had found its rhythm, using a run-heavy attack and a pair of Jeremy Smith touchdowns to take a 21-3 lead in the opening minute of the final period.
Gundy said the Cowboys adjusted some alignments and techniques with the defensive line following those first two series, which led to OSU often plugging the interior and winning the physical battle in the trenches against a strong Mississippi State offensive line anchored by preseason All-American Gabe Jackson.
The linebackers also frequently pushed into the backfield, helping the Cowboys record 10 tackles for loss and three sacks. That pressure from the front seven let the defensive backs play the tighter coverage they advertised coming into the season, totaling six pass breakups and two interceptions.
Spencer also lauded the senior leadership all three levels of the defense, which includes the likes of Calvin Barnett, Shaun Lewis, Caleb Lavey, Daytawion Lowe and Justin Gilbert. And one of those seniors gave props to the guy calling plays.
“Guys were able to pin their ears back and go to the ball,” Lewis said. “Credit to our defensive coordinator, Glenn Spencer, he really helped us to think less out there. And we were able to play fast out there today.”
Spencer knows Saturday's performance was not perfect. He wished Gilbert and Shamiel Gary could have corralled possible interceptions that popped off their hands. He counted two occasions where the unit over-pursued and gave up a big play as a result.
Gundy, too, was quick to remind his team that, while the defense's performance was “awesome” Saturday, the unit needed to keep it up in October and November against the Big 12's potent spread offenses.
Spencer echoed those same thoughts. But he also didn't shy away from saying his players deserved to enjoy the evening.
Even if their coach was the first to bolt off the field after their dominating performance was over.
“Our guys have taken a lot of beatings over the years,” Spencer said. “They know it's just one game, but at least for one night — for one night — they can be proud of what they did. I sure am proud of them. For one night, they can say, ‘Hey, we did our part to win a game.'
“And maybe they'll love that feeling and that taste so much that they want to do it again and again.”