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Texas-Oklahoma State Preview: Scouting The Cowboy Defense

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The Cowboys defense is hard to get your head around if you care to dig beneath surface statistics in which they rank 100th in FBS in total defense and surrender 27.6 points per game. Most people don't. So if you just like to eyeball a box score and looks at points and yards surrendered to gauge defense, this post may not be for you. Consider yourself warned: this essay contains community college level statistical analysis!

The excellent Oklahoma State blog Cowboys Ride For Free addresses some of OSU's counterintuitive statistics, particularly in how OSU's defense has been affected by pace and game context (OSU led Kansas 56-7 at halftime, replaced all starters in the late 2nd quarter, and ended up "surrendering" 28 points to KU; Louisiana had two pick 6s and didn't score an offensive touchdown until the 4th quarter etc).

According to the Football Outsiders, which takes those very things into account along with opponent strength and looks at performance during standard downs (i.e. while a game is still competitive) the Cowboy metrics suggest that they may actually have a pretty good defense.

Or try something more basic: OSU has surrendered 43 first half points on the year. 95 in the second. Double their first half performance and I think you may have a better gauge of their true performance when games still matter. To Gundy's credit, he has been uninterested in Beauty Contests and has been quick to get starters off of the field.

Cowboy DC Bill Young is a veteran with stops at USC, Miami, Ohio St, OU and Kansas on his resume and they're pretty multiple in what they do. I imagine he's watching the OU tape right now. He'll pick that scab until we prove that it won't bleed.

So let's forget the statistics for a moment - let's look at their personnel. Maybe our eyeballs can tell us more than the abacus.

DL

The Cowboy DTs (Rogers, Nicholas, Castleman) are undersized and totally average. Nicholas has some quickness. That's it. The DEs are pretty good players with good size (both go around 260/265) with the ability to play the run. Jamie Blatnick is their best defensive lineman, a DE with bull rush power and some playmaking ability (1 int) and he leads the Cowboys with 3 sacks. Richetti Jones is an active pass rusher who is finally finding some consistency after a somewhat disjointed career. They were able to rush the passer well at A&M when the Aggies quit running the ball, but before that they were pretty well contained.

LB

I like OLB Shaun Lewis. He's undersized (5-11, 220), cat quick, and exactly the kind of athlete who gave our OL problems against the Sooners. Lewis leads the Cowboys with 6 tfl and is 3rd on the team with 25 tackles. Fortunately, I'm not particularly impressed by either remaining Cowboy LB - MLB Lavey and OLB Elkins. Just dudes.

DB

This is the main strength of the Cowboy defense and the core of all that they do. They're big time ballhawks with 10 combined ints and 4 forced fumbles over 5 games. CB Brodrick Brown spanked Jeff Fuller in College Station, ended the Aggie's last drive with a clutch interception, and leads the Pokes with 3 ints and 5 Pass Break Ups. He's undersized at 5-8, 185, but has man strength and excels at getting under bigger guys and altering their routes. He's more quick than fast. Justin Gilbert is the other corner and he's a big-time athlete with a perfect frame for CB. He has 2 picks on the season, but he's inexperienced.

Safeties Markelle Martin and Daytawion Lowe are the their top 2 tacklers and they're quality. I think Lowe is more of a tough guy than a good all around player, but I like Martin a lot. He has lateral range and some ball instincts and he does a good job of covering for Gilbert and Brown. The Cowboy secondary will let you throw underneath them all day, but they jump intermediate routes mercilessly.

Overall

The Oklahoma State defense stinks meme is overdone and false. I won't go so far as to say that they're good, particularly after the ass-kicking I saw them absorb in the 1st half against A&M, but what makes for good defense is being redefined. Spread offenses and 30 years of rule changes favoring offense will see to that.

Once I dug into each game, and based on what I saw against A&M and Arizona, it's pretty clear they're being dismissed unfairly. Basically, they want to turn you over or get you behind the sticks with a negative play. If they surrender a play or a cheap score while doing that, they shrug it off and line back up. If they steal enough possessions from your offense to give to theirs, you'll find yourself out of the game and it's over before it started.

If Texas doesn't come out strong on offense, we'll lose by double digits.

On the positive side, I think they've got four guys in their starting eleven that aren't doing much for them. All four of them in their front 7. If we can't get enough play from our OL or the QB position to exploit that fact, it's going to be a tough day.