STILLWATER — When examining the offenses in the Big 12, the attention normally centers around the skill position players that rack up yards and points at a rapid pace.
Not so when Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy and defensive coordinator Glenn Spencer discussed Mississippi State, the SEC foe the Cowboys will face in their season opener Saturday afternoon at Reliant Stadium in Houston.
The first thing that jumps out to them? The Bulldogs' offensive line.
“What you get from Mississippi State is a lot of mass up front,” Gundy said.
Saturday will mark the debut of OSU's new-look defense under Spencer. The contest against Mississippi State will certainly reveal more about the revamped unit than a game against, say, Savannah State, the squad the Cowboys obliterated 84-0 in last season's opener. Yet it won't necessarily illustrate how this defense will fare against the Big 12's spread offenses that will make up the bulk of OSU's schedule.
But this matchup will test the Cowboys' toughness, which goes hand-in-hand with the more aggressive philosophy that Spencer is striving to instill.
One part of the Bulldogs' offense that does match with the Big 12's landscape is the presence of a strong quarterback, as Gundy said he expects Tyler Russell to be in an NFL camp this time next year.
But Mississippi State will most likely try to attack OSU on the ground, using that strength and bulk in the trenches to try to spring 1,000-yard rusher LaDarius Perkins.
That line is anchored by guard Gabe Jackson, a preseason All-SEC and All-America selection by several outlets. But every projected starter stands at least 6-foot-4 and weighs at least 300 pounds. The Cowboys have seen Baylor's Cyril Richardson and Oklahoma's Gabe Ikard, two other preseason All-American linemen, but the Bulldogs' run-first style has become the overwhelming minority in the Big 12.
That presents an immediate challenge for the OSU front seven, particularly the defensive linemen. Calvin Barnett and James Castlemen present a formidable starting duo at tackle, and the backups will get an early chance to prove Gundy's positive comments about the depth at the position are warranted. An inexperienced defensive end group must be ready. Safeties Daytawion Lowe and Shamiel Gary will also need to assist in stopping the run.
When Mississippi State throws, the Cowboy cornerbacks will be able to show their new approach to play more press coverage on the receivers. Those receivers, however, might not provide the best measure of OSU's technique improvement in that area, as the Bulldogs are attempting to replace their top three pass-catchers from a season ago.
Since the summer, the Cowboys have watched film on the Bulldogs. In recent weeks, they've tried in practice to simulate what they'll see Saturday.
But Spencer admits it has been difficult to fully imitate the style of offense the Bulldogs will bring to Reliant Stadium.
“I'm not just saying this, but we've got to wait and see,” Spencer said of how his defense will match up. “Really, we will find out, because that's the only test that's true … I'll be looking forward to seeing us perform, just like everybody else.”