STILLWATER — Glenn Spencer gets to the point in motivating his defenders to be aggressive and decisive.
“One of his quotes is, ‘If you think, you stink,'” said Oklahoma State linebacker Caleb Lavey. “That means you're too slow; you're reading too much.
“That's one of the things he lets us do, just go out there and play football. We still have a few reads here and there, but it's just go out and play the game. Play your game and make plays.”
That's not to suggest there's no place for smarts in this OSU defense. Yet the brainwork prep and planning are done during the week in the meeting rooms and on the practice field.
Come Saturdays, the Cowboys want to ball, with free minds feeding a frenetic style of play.
And that's a good thing.
“That's what makes playing in this defense so fun,” said Lavey, named the Big 12 Defensive Player of the Week for his role in last Saturday's 21-3 win over Mississippi State.
“We had a blast out there on defense. A lot of fun.”
It hasn't always been all that much fun for the OSU defense, a common source of criticism in recent seasons. Many of the complaints have focused on a perceived passiveness, one factor in the change in coordinators — and philosophies — from Bill Young to Spencer.
For Cowboys players, Spencer's aggressive shift has been liberating.
“We go out and play aggressive and play with attitude and don't worry about some assignments we used to worry about in the past,” said safety Shamiel Gary, who may have produced his best game as a Cowboy against the Bulldogs, totaling 10 tackles and three pass breakups.
“It's always easier to play when you're not overthinking and just reacting. It's easy playing off instinct and not worrying about your next two steps.”
It's just one game, but so far, the OSU defense is more than passing Spencer's sniff test.
The Cowboys thrived in turning up the intensity against Mississippi State. After some initial success, the Bulldogs crossed midfield just three times after the first quarter. OSU produced two interceptions and on third downs — an old Cowboys bugaboo — allowed the Bulldogs a 12 percent success rate (2-for-16).
“Guys were able to pin their ears back and go to the ball,” said OSU linebacker Shaun Lewis. “Credit to our defensive coordinator, Glenn Spencer.
“When you don't have to think so much on the field, you can just give great effort. That's what you want to be able to do as a defense.”
Spencer cautions to not get the wrong idea. His players do think, and he prefers them smart and savvy.
He suggests that some players benefit from their experience in the system. And any player can help himself on Saturday by putting in the mental work during the week.
“They've got to think and they've got assignments they've got to do first,” Spencer said. “With Shaun and a lot of guys, they've played a lot of football and they know their job, so they don't have to think as much as they did as sophomores.
“You have to have some complexity to stop some of these offenses. I wish it wasn't like that. I wish we could just sit there in our base defense and play from that all day long. But we can't.”
What they can do, however, is make it all seem and feel less complex.
“There's a fine line between putting too much in, to where they do think and the slow down, and in not having enough,” Spencer said. “If we can get them on Saturday to not think as much and have enough schematically to defend what you're seeing, that's what you're hitting at.”
Against Mississippi State, after months of preaching and promising an improved and more aggressive defense, the Cowboys hit their mark.
And people were talking about the defense.
And talking good.
“It was really nice to have everyone actually talking about the defense for a while,” said OSU tackle James Castleman.
It's about time, according to Lewis.
“I've been here for four years, this is a great feeling,” Lewis said. “This is what I came to this school to do. And I'm glad we have an opportunity to do it this season.”