STILLWATER — It's easy to get wrapped up in the Oklahoma State offense, especially after a performance like Saturday's 61-34 victory against Louisiana-Lafayette in the Cowboys' season opener.
There was the good. See: 666 total yards, the ninth-best output in school history. See: Tracy Moore's career day, with seven catches for 112 yards and a touchdown. See: Joseph Randle's first 100-yard rushing performance in his first collegiate start.
Then there was the not-so-good. See: Brandon Weeden accounting for 14 of the Ragin' Cajuns' 34 points because of two interceptions returned for touchdowns.
It was a lot to digest on that side of the ball, as usual. Which, in turn, made it just as easy to virtually neglect the performance of the OSU defense on Saturday night. As usual.
“At times, I thought we really played outstanding,” OSU defensive coordinator Bill Young said.
Granted, ULL is a team that the Pokes' defense should have handled. The Ragin' Cajuns ranked in the bottom third of the nation in total offense last season, have no clear answer at quarterback and an offensive line that lacks depth and experience.
But the OSU defense did not allow a touchdown until the fourth quarter, when most of the first unit was off the field. The Cowboys got a pass rush without much blitzing, recording five sacks and four quarterback hurries. And they held ULL tight end Ladarius Green, a legitimate NFL prospect, to one catch for negative-1 yards.
“We stepped up,” said cornerback Devin Hedgepeth, who snagged his first career interception Saturday. “I know there were a couple of points on the board, but as a defense, we didn't give up too many. We came out and played as a team, and I think it was a statement game.
“We're a great defense, and we can play with anybody in the nation.”
To make that type of statement based solely on Saturday's performance is a stretch. But all of the above shouldn't just get pushed aside, either, simply because of the opponent.
OSU's defense, for the most part, executed well.
In some cases, it was the usual suspects making the defensive plays for the Cowboys.
Markelle Martin was all over the field, racking up nine tackles, a forced fumble and three pass breakups, including one that should have been an interception near the Cowboys' end zone. Richetti Jones forced his way into the backfield and got pressure on the quarterback.
But some newer faces also emerged—ones that the Cowboys were already banking on filling key roles this season.
Linebacker Alex Elkins, who didn't even play football until junior college, recorded six tackles and recovered a fumble in his first Division I game. Nigel Nicholas, a new starter on the interior, had three tackles, a forced fumble and a sack. Freshman defensive tackle James Castleman had three tackles in his collegiate debut.
In the secondary, Hedgepeth had the Cowboys' only interception, while redshirt sophomore free safety Daytawion Lowe returned from shoulder surgery to record six tackles and a pass breakup while starting in place of an ineligible Johnny Thomas.
To see those inexperienced players that have been thrust into prominent spots already making an impact has to be encouraging for the OSU coaching staff.
Thursday's Alamo Bowl rematch against Arizona will surely be tougher a challenge for the Cowboy defense. The Wildcats still have their trio of outstanding skill players in quarterback Nick Foles, wide receiver Juron Criner and running back Keola Antolin.
But UA has also replaced all five of its offensive linemen from a year ago. The unit should be better than ULL's, but it's another line that the Cowboys' front seven will need to overpower if it wants to show it can be a force in the Big 12.
OSU is trying to prove that it has a good enough defense to win a national championship. It hasn't exactly done that yet. But Saturday night's performance was a promising start.