STILLWATER — Tyler Johnson surveys the Oklahoma State defense, rattling off a roll call of difference makers.
“Shaun Lewis, he's making plays. He's a leader,” Johnson said. “Caleb Lavey, making plays — leader. Tyler Johnson, making plays — leader. Daytawion Lowe. Shamiel Gary … and there's more.
“Those are veteran guys and leader-caliber guys. And we're all making plays and having fun and trying to get things done.”
Calvin Barnett and Justin Gilbert, too. All seniors, seven starters in all on defense; a large cast that has combined for 177 career starts. And that doesn't include backup cornerback and nickel back Tyler Patmon, who made 33 starts at Kansas before transferring to OSU.
The Cowboys' 2013 defensive improvement involves several factors, including a more aggressive approach and enhanced speed. But experience, gained and utilized by OSU's senior citizens, so to speak, may be most critical.
“You can't coach experience,” said Lewis, whose 38 career starts — all consecutive — leads the team. “That's the biggest thing that sets us apart from past years' defenses. The guys who are out there have seen what the Big 12 has to throw at them.”
For a change, the Cowboys are throwing a gauntlet at enemy offenses.
OSU ranks solidly in the conference's defensive rankings, allowing 18.3 points (No. 3), 117.5 rushing yards per game (No. 2) and 355.2 total yards (No. 4) entering Saturday's game at Iowa State.
By comparison, the Cowboys allowed 28.2 points, 141.7 rushing yards and 421.7 yards of total offense a year ago.
While these versions of the Big 12's offenses aren't producing like recent editions, and OSU has yet to hit the heavy hitters of its schedule, the results are notable and noticeable, by the numbers and by appearance. The Cowboys look like a legit defense, passing the eye test like never before in the Mike Gundy era.
They have an older look, too.
Not that anyone's carrying an AARP card, although Johnson is 27, with another birthday coming up Nov. 2. They've just been around. Learning. Training. Observing.
“It makes a huge difference,” Johnson said of the experience factor. “It started for me just watching the guys in front of me, and watching those guys make plays. Being around Ryan Robinson and Richetti Jones from a leadership standpoint.
“Then, rotating in and out with Ryan Robinson last year.”
With so many seniors starting, it's not surprising that their names dominate OSU's statistical categories: tackles, sack, interceptions and pass breakups.
Defensive coordinator Glenn Spencer said the experience factor extends to his play calls, allowing for more flexibility due to a greater understanding of his concepts.
“Any coach will tell you, and I'll for sure tell you, it's not the calls, it's guys who can execute the game plan,” Spencer said. “It allows us to put in some different things in a game plan that maybe younger kids couldn't handle. Our kids can handle it.
“They know how to respond after a sudden change, whether we have a turnover or bad field position. You have a maturity on the defense and kids who have played a lot of snaps. It's invaluable. You can't coach it. It only happens with experience. And we've got the luxury of that happening.”
It's not a luxury that can counted on annually.
Seniors depart, and the makeup of the next crew can vary.
“And then you've got to find out how to win in those situations, also,” Spencer said.
Next season will be like that for the Cowboys, with younger players needed to start building their own career start totals.
So the current seniors carry a responsibility of not only producing on the field, but aiding in producing replacements.
“Our coaches do a good job of telling us, and we know, that our younger guys are looking at us,” Lewis said. “I've been talking to a lot of the younger linebackers and telling them to get prepared for next year, showing them how to be successful in this league.
“I think they're taking the teaching well.”