Oklahoma State football: Grading the Cowboys by position
It's finals week at Oklahoma State, which makes it the perfect time to give the Cowboys their report card.
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Defensive line: B
Calvin Barnett, who was named the Big 12 Defensive Newcomer of the Year, and James Castleman gave the Cowboys arguably their best defensive tackle combination in a decade. They consistently plugged the interior, which helped OSU rank third in the Big 12 in rushing defense (140.6 yards allowed per game).
Nigel Nicholas, Cooper Bassett, Ryan Robinson and Tyler Johnson all contributed at defensive end, but did not possess the consistent pass rush or threat to make a big play that Jamie Blatnick and Richetti Jones brought to the position a season ago.
OSU ranked fifth in the Big 12 in sacks.
Other than a subpar performance against the pass at Arizona, this position group was solid all season.
Caleb Lavey brought a steady presence in the middle with 51 tackles, while Alex Elkins led the team with 73 stops and Shaun Lewis continued to fill the defensive stat line (56 tackles, four quarterback hurries, four pass breakups, one forced fumble, one fumble recovery).
Linebacker also proved to be a position of depth, as Lyndell Johnson, Ryan Simmons and Joe Mitchell all displayed valuable speed and athletic ability.
The back end of the Cowboy defense was, by far, the group that was the most disappointing this season.
Cornerbacks Brodrick Brown and Justin Gilbert, who were touted before 2012 as perhaps the best duo in the Big 12, combined for zero interceptions during the regular season after each tallied five a year ago. And they consistently struggled in pass coverage, getting beat early in the season by the deep ball and then leaving too much cushion for receivers to make the catch down the stretch.
Additionally, another season-ending Achilles injury to Devin Hedgepeth was a blow to the depth at that position, throwing true freshmen Kevin Peterson and Ashton Lampkin into immediate playing time.
Daytawion Lowe has developed into a physical player at free safety, recording 68 tackles, one sack, four pass breakups, two interceptions and a forced fumble. Shamiel Gary had numerous problems in pass coverage early on, but improved as the season went along. Zack Craig also had a knack for the big play.
Special teams: C+
Kicking and punting master Quinn Sharp gets an A+, as he led the nation in field goals (2.08 per game), ranked first among kickers in scoring (11.67 points per game) and was named the Big 12 co-Special Teams Player of the Year.
The Cowboys also returned two kickoffs for touchdowns, including one by Gilbert that was an electrifying display of speed.
So why the low grade?
OSU allowed three returns for touchdowns, two on kickoffs against Texas and Kansas State and one on a punt against Oklahoma. All three plays drastically swung momentum and were a big factor in each loss.
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